The husband and I recently took a mini vacation/work trip to San Francisco. As part of my “work” on the trip, we visited two distilleries and several bars in the area. Yes, sometimes my job is so tough, I know. Anyway, the first distillery we visited while in the Bay Area was Distillery No. 209. We spent a couple hours talking to Arne Hillesland, The Ginerator, learning about the distillation process as well as tasting their various spirits. It was definitely a good time.
The history of Distillery No. 209
The roots of Distillery No 209 go all the way back to late 1800s with William Scheffler, owner of the winemaking facilities of Edge Hill Estate in Napa Valley, California. He built a distillery on the property and registered it with the Federal Government and was given the license number of 209. He produced high quality spirits at the distillery, even winning a medal in France (for brandy if I remember correctly).
At some point the distillery stoped distilling and converted to a hay barn. That is, until Leslie Rudd took over the property in the late 1900s. Rudd noticed the faint words “Registered Distillery No. 209” on the outside of the building and decided to restore the distillery. However, the facility wasn’t right anymore for producing spirits. So Rudd decided to relocate the Distillery No. 209 to San Francisco. To be more specific, he decided to relocate to Pier 50 in San Francisco, right behind AT&T Park where the SF Giants play.
The making of Distillery No. 209 spirits
Distillery No. 209 currently has five spirits available. The first, and most popular, is their flagship No. 209 Gin. A small amount of this gin is rested in either Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc barrels to be sold as Barrel Reserve gin. The other two spirits they produce are a Kosher for Passover vodka and gin.
So, let’s start with the flagship No. 209 Gin – because that’s what we all want to try first, right? The base is a four times distilled high proof neutral alcohol made from corn that they bring in from an outside distiller. We sampled a drop of it on our fingers and found it to be smooth and sweet, not strong like I expected from a high proof spirit. When they are ready to make the gin, the neutral alcohol and the botanicals are combined in the copper alembic still and left to macerate overnight.
Hold on, let’s pause here to talk a bit about the botanicals in No. 209 Gin. By law, gin must contain juniper berries. And 209 has juniper berries – from Italy.
But the gin also has dried bergamot orange peels from Italy, dried lemon peels from Spain, coriander from Romania, cardamom from Guatemala, cassia bark from Indonesia and angelica root from the United Kingdom. The smells when stepping into the botanical room were absolutely wonderful.
When listening to Arne talk about the herbs, spices and citrus that goes into each batch of gin, you can tell a lot of time and effort is put into the ingredients they use. Sip the gin and you’ll notice each flavor come through at various points, it’s pretty awesome. This is definitely a company that cares about the products they put on the shelves.
Now back to the making of the gin… After macerating over night, the spirit is distilled again and separated according to heads, heart and tails. The heart being what you enjoy in the bottle. Purified water is added to get the proof down to bottle strength (92 proof) and then its bottled and shipped out. The finished product is citrus forward with a spice finish. It’s very different from the juniper heavy gins most people think of when they hear the word gin.
The Kosher for Passover vodka and gin are both made from sugar cane instead of corn or grains. The process is overseen by the Orthodox Union and various pieces of equipment in the distillery have tape over them signifying they have been approved as Kosher for Passover.
The Kosher for Passover vodka is very smooth and sweet. It’s definitely one I would enjoy all year long as I love sugar cane spirits. Since the Kosher for Passover gin cannot contain cardamom, it instead has bay laurel. The taste is more robust than the flagship gin and the bay laurel really comes through.
The last two spirits we were lucky enough to sample at Distillery No. 209 were the Barrel Reserve gins. Some of the No. 209 Gin is rested in Sauvignon Blanc barrels and some is rested in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from sister winery Rudd Oakville Estate. The aging time depends on the barrels used, if I remember correctly the Sauvignon Blanc is rested for less time than the Cabernet. The Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Reserve Gin had a light straw color and a lighter flavor than the other barrel rested gin. The Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve Gin had a darker brown color with caramel and vanilla notes. I forgot to write down my tasting notes for these gins, but I do remember that I loved them both (especially the Cabernet barrel gin). I think the Cabernet Gin would be good in a Negroni while the Sauvignon Gin would make an excellent martini.
Distillery N.o 209 doesn’t offer public tours of their facility due to restrictions from the port, so I can’t encourage you to visit. But, I can tell you to pick up a bottle (or more) of their spirits, especially the No. 209 gin. Enjoy it in a martini (with a twist), a gin and tonic or any of your favorite gin cocktails. And stay tuned because I’ll be sharing some cocktail recipes with it real soon. I promise.
I’d like to give a big thank you to Wendi, Joe and Arne for taking the time to show us around the distillery and allowing us to sample the spirits. We greatly appreciate your time and truly enjoyed the experience.
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