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SONOMA COUNTY DISTILLING CO. W R I TT E N B Y S T E V E N S E I M

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irect-fire may sound like a terrifying phrase to many new American distillers. Yet anyone steeped in the values of old world distilling will appreciate a classic technique at work. Adam Spiegel of Sonoma County Distilling Company in Rohnert Park, California is proving the value of this traditional distillation method. With a name like Sonoma County they have big shoes to fill, and Spiegel says directfire is helping them reach their goals. “We want to be able to have that little bit of burn, the caramelization,” begins Spiegel. “It’s flavor development.”In order to utilize direct-fire they have developed several custom practices for production and safety. Many of their systems were created by Spiegel and staff with the help of a fire engineer. They built custom fireboxes which house 20-inch burners and also act as structural support for each still. Each firebox also ensures proper venting of CO2,

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which they don’t have to pay taxes for. But work on the fireboxes is never done, and Spiegel said they plan to modify them soon. Heating their stills with flame presents a slew of challenges, with the most important concern being safety. “There’s a lot we’ve done to protect ourselves and the people that work for me,” Spiegel said. A master valve tied to the natural gas line and a sensor can cut the gas and instantly shut off all flames if it reads a high enough concentration of fumes. Spiegel will also get a text and a phone call from an alarm company. They also use fire blankets (replaced annually) to help seal remaining seams around their fireboxes. No part of the distillery is un-monitored by cameras, and they do not run any equipment unmanned. Further, the city is regularly involved in monitoring Sonoma County’s protocols, and Spiegel says “every fire marshal in

Sonoma County has come to this facility to ask ‘How are you doing it? What are your safety procedures? What’s your evacuation plan?’ etc.” While using flame creates a unique product, it can also ruin a distillate rather quickly. Depending on how well their agitator separates everything, leftover solids in a still can burn. A serious enough burn means discarding an entire batch, but thankfully that rarely happens. In regards to lighter scorches, Spiegel said, “For the most part, the mantra is to go through and manage the burn. It’s a consistent impurity, but it’s ours.” For tours around the distillery (and the very hot equipment), extra precautions are also necessary. Spiegel said they mark boundaries around certain equipment to keep people from getting too close. Tours must be scheduled in advance, and they are tightly controlled by the guiding

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Artisan Spirit: Summer 2016  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Summer 2016  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.