The passion continues for the Spirit Works distillery in Sebastopol

A lot has changed since Timo and Ashby Marshall started Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol’s Barlow ten years ago.

“To begin with, we now have a staff,” said Ashby Marshall, co-founder and chief distiller. “Sometimes (people) don’t believe that we did everything ourselves. It’s always weird to have help.

In 2012, Spirit Works was among the first three companies to move into The Barlow, along with Woodfour Brewing and the Kosta Browne winery. Back then, the property had yet to become the bustling outdoor marketplace it is today, with wineries, breweries, restaurants, artisan shops and, of course, a distillery.

“When we signed our lease, the larger concept of The Barlow was still on paper,” said Timo Marshall, co-founder and chief operating officer. “But they needed someone to believe in them, and we needed someone to believe in us. So it worked out well.”

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, Spirit Works Distillery has been a passion project for the husband and wife team since day one. Among their award-winning spirits, you’ll find vodka, gin and whiskey produced with organic red winter wheat; their best-selling four-grain bourbon; and a delicious, juicy sloe gin made with fresh sloe berries.

To commemorate the anniversary, Spirit Works is releasing a limited-edition 8-year-old rye whiskey ($90), the brand’s oldest release.

“There were two barrels that I had my eye on in the cellar for a while,” said Ashby Marshall, who created the limited-release rye. “One had lovely fruity notes, while the other was very spicy, with coriander, cardamom and caraway. I felt like the flavors would blend beautifully together.

The brand’s guiding principle is what they call “grain to glass”, reflecting the couple’s commitment to producing their spirits with organic whole grains.

“‘Grain to glass’ sounds like a good marketing term, but it’s extremely important to us,” said Timo Marshall. “Some craft distillers simply buy alcohol, modify it a bit, then bottle it. But we start production with high-quality raw materials and process everything on site. We want to know where all our ingredients come from. .

Just like their customers. Over the past few years, Timo Marshall said, many people have moved away from asking what ingredients go into their products to instead asking where the ingredients come from. They are more invested in learning the intent of the brand and they want to buy products that support the local economy, he said.

Spirit Works Distillery celebrates its 10th anniversary at Sebastopol’s Barlow with the release of an 8-year-old rye whisky. (John Burgess / The Democrat of the Press)

Change for distilleries

Among the most significant industry changes the Marshalls have experienced since launching Spirit Works is the passage of the Craft Distiller’s Act in 2015.

Before the law was passed, craft distilleries in California were not allowed to sell their spirits directly to consumers in a tasting room. They also couldn’t charge for tastings or tours, or accept tips.

“People would come for a tasting and we wouldn’t charge them anything,” Timo Marshall said. “Then they would want to buy our products, and we would tell them to buy our spirits elsewhere. They were very confused.

Now customers can purchase up to 2.25 liters of spirits per day directly from the tasting room. This allows the distillery to experiment with small batches of new products and get consumer feedback before deciding whether or not to launch new products on the market.

“The Craft Distiller’s Act has had a huge impact on the creativity and imagination of the craft distillery industry as a whole,” said Timo Marshall. “Once it passed, distillers started making these really fascinating spirits in California. It has been an incredible change for our industry.

Spirit Works has not been immune to the effects of the pandemic, with the tasting room forced to close for months. Fortunately, the Marshalls were able to retain all of their staff and maintain production.

For California’s craft distillers, the unforeseen silver lining of COVID-19 was the passage of Assembly Bill 920 in March 2022. Designed to “mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on distillers Craft Spirits and Resulting Loss of Revenue,” the temporary bill 920. bill allows craft distillers to ship up to 2.25 liters of spirits directly to consumers, which was not previously allowed. Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an interim measure to extend the bill until January 1, 2024.

“Being able to ship directly to consumers has been a huge change,” said Timo Marshall. “Before, customers had to go to the tasting room to pick up their spirit shipments, which limited our geographic reach. The bill has really helped us grow our business and hire more people, which is great for our community and the economy.

A cocktail at the Spirit Works distillery in Sebastopol. (Loren Hansen)

Looking forward

While the laws and legalities in the craft spirits industry may have changed over the past decade, Marshalls passion for producing grain-to-glass quality spirits remains strong.

In the coming months, the distillery will launch an exclusive Founder’s Reserve wheat whisky, hyper-local rye vodka, homemade citrus bitters and a unique sloe amaro.

They also produce personalized spirits for private customers, which is a large and growing part of their business.

“The fact that we’re still here after 10 years is huge for us,” said Timo Marshall. “We love seeing how Sonoma County has grown in its appreciation for craft spirits, and it’s amazing to think of all the people we’ve come in contact with over the years through the distillery. We are so happy to be where we are in the industry.

You can reach editor Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or [email protected]

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Elisha A. Tilghman