A Guide to Northern California’s Best Craft Distilleries
Sonoma is now home to a ton of great distilleries. These are the ones to know.
It’s not too late for a summer road trip — and what better mission than a tour of Northern California’s superior craft distilleries?
We are #blessed not just with world-class vineyards but also a new generation of young — and often family-run — small-batch distillers, mixing traditional techniques (and century-old stills) with New World hustle. Most offer tastings at nominal ($10-ish) fees and several are by appointment only, so book in advance.
Below, a three-day itinerary, including some luxe options for where to bed down, including one clothing-optional spot for the adventurous among us. Just save some room in the trunk for the new additions to your home bar.
And remember: someone needs to play DD each day. So bring a few friends and split the duties up accordingly.
DAY 1: SF to Sonoma
Scoot across the Bay Bridge — well, halfway — to Treasure Island and Treecraft Distillery. Co-founder Nathan Byerly executed the best possible follow-up to an MBA with a session at Moonshine University. A trip to the tasting room is $10; the focal point here is undoubtedly the 500-gallon custom copper pot still (“one of the largest in Northern California”).
From here, head to Alameda for a tour of Hangar 1, home to its eponymous vodkas and Bentwing Brandy, a French/California blend aged in American whiskey barrels. The latter pays tribute to the former residents of these once-Navy hangars, the “Bentwing Bird,” the F4U Corsair with a super-distinctive inverted gull wing.
Finally: We’re headed to Prohibition Spirits. The husband-and-wife team behind it — Colorado transplants — came to Sonoma with a plan to produce their version of limoncello; they now offer tastings of their Jack’s Gin and Chauvet Brandies. The latter is named for a French immigrant who came to Sonoma to strike it rich during the Gold Rush, then made his fortune as a baker and distiller.
DAY 2: Sonoma to Healdsburg
Head west to Petaluma for a visit to Griffo Distillery, another family-run brand with well-accredited background (co-founder Michael Griffo has a PhD in physics). Their Wine Enthusiast-award-winning cold brew coffee liqueur is a collab with Marin’s own Equator Coffee.
Christopher and Brandon Matthies of Sonoma Brothers Distilling grew up working at their uncle’s famous Saint Helena grocery store, Olivier Napa Valley. Now they produce gin, whiskey, vodka and rye whiskey — plus a once-a-year limited release of apple brandy; get a glass at their Windsor tasting room.
Wrap up the day at Young & Yonder in Healdsburg. The five-year-old distiller — the brainchild of a winemaker’s son and his graphic designer wife — produces vodka, gin, bourbon and absinthe.
Stay: Hotel Healdsburg is a solid choice, with a 60-foot pool and accompanying pool bar.
DAY 3: Healdsburg to Ukiah
Another stop in Healdsburg before hitting the 101: Alley 6. Tours of the distillery here show the behind-the-scenes creation of rye whiskey, single-malt whiskey and harvest gin; plan your next Old Fashioned around their rye whiskey, made on premises in direct-fire copper alembic pot stills.
Our last stop, up Ukiah way, is Jaxon Keys, equally devoted to wine and brandy. The latter is produced in a century-old alembic pot still, made in Cognac, France.
Stay: The best-rated hotel in Ukiah is a Hampton Inn (“with Tuscan influences”), which means this could be a great time to finally check out the famous Orr Hot Springs, a nearby 27-acre, clothing-optional retreat with indoor and outdoor sauna, soaking pools, steam rooms and more. If you’d prefer clothing non-optional, consider private rentals, like this one.