Up and coming Mendocino County distillery shakes up the bourbon world

Bay Area

MENDOCINO COUNTY (KRON) — The Bay Area is well known for its food and wine scene, even beer. Now, it’s making its mark in spirits.

Take a look at one of the small distilleries that is shaking up the bourbon world.

The harvest is over. The grape leaves turning to rust and yellow before they hit the ground in the quiet vineyards of Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties.

But in a warehouse surrounded by vineyards just outside of Ukiah, there’s still plenty of activity.

“The process we use hasn’t changed for 500 years,” Crispin Cain said.

Crispin Cain is overseeing the production of his bourbon at Tamar Distillery, also known as American Craft Whiskey Distillery.

“I approach the fermentation of mash from a winemaking perspective,” Cain said.

Visitors stopped by for tastings during last weekend’s “Taste of Redwood Valley” event.

This distillery was the exception to the action is at local wineries, but there are surprises here, such as bourbon ice cream.

Cain has been making bourbon for 36 years.

He started by learning the process of making cognac from a Frenchman, using old school double still European techniques.

He follows the American rules of proper production, including the correct barrels.

“Made of American white oak and charred on the inside and we must leave it undisturbed for two years after which we get to call it straight bourbon whiskey,” Cain said.

But he’s not trying to crank out mass quantities.

“I don’t let anything escape me and pay attention to quality before I pay attention to economics and that makes a huge difference,” Cain said.

Much like Napa Valley wines shook up the French in the 1970s by winning blind taste tests, Cain is doing the same to long-time bourbon and whiskey producers in Tennessee and Kentucky.

“A two-year-old bourbon beat all the best bourbons from Kentucky and bourbon country and I’m starting to shake up the industry in a real way,” Cain said.

It may not be long before California is known for its distilleries, as much as its wineries.

“In the next ten years, market research shows that craft spirits will occupy 15 to 20-percent of the national spirits market and so we’re just ahead of that curve,” Cain said.

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