Dec. 5, 1933, was a day of celebration for tipplers around the country. Prohibition had come to an end after 13 years, and legal beer and booze flowed again.
The first distiller to open in Sacramento County since Prohibition now is operating in full swing, distilling and bottling its inaugural offering of American dry gin. The Gold River Distillery of Rancho Cordova plans to release its Wheel House brand to bars and restaurants by mid-May to early June, and then to stores. “Our distributors know they’ve got to hit store shelves sooner rather than later,” said CEO Greg Baughman. “The per-bottle retail price point should come in at $30.”
Baughman has been a home beer brewer for 10 years and concocted the gin recipe himself. For his day job, he’s a health and safety specialist for California ISO (“We control California’s electrical grid”). For more information: www.goldriverdistillery.com, (916) 476-3868.
Why call it Wheel House?
We wanted our story to tie in closely with Sacramento’s history during Prohibition, so “Wheel House” is an homage to the riverboats that transported booze up and down the Sacramento River. Two riverboats in particular ran ferry trips between Sacramento and San Francisco, and they operated as speakeasies.
The river was also used by bootleggers to transport liquor up and down the Valley.
We (Sacramentans) do like our spirits. There are a lot of historical records that indicate Sacramento was the easiest city in America to get a drink. Stills and bootleg operations (were common) in building basements in Old Sacramento, and there were speak-easies throughout and outside of town.
The gin-based Negroi and White Linen cocktails are hot, but why distill a spirit that’s still so niche?
Mostly because the demand for micro-distilled gins is picking up as the micro-distillery movement has taken off. There’s also a movement toward Western-style (American dry) gins, which are different from European gins. Classic or London-style gins have a lot of juniper berry flavor up front, while a lot of the American dry gins have less juniper and a larger variety of other botanicals.
What’s in yours?
We’re loading up Wheel House with a more floral aroma and a more robust flavor. Some of the ingredients are juniper, coriander, lemon, anise, grains of paradise (in the ginger family), orris root, angelica, licorice and cube nut berries.
I nailed down the recipe so that it’s delicious in mixed drinks or straight. When people who steer clear of gin try this one, their reaction is, “This is gin?” I say, “This is the way gin is supposed to taste.” I take pride in that.
You call your gin “grain to glass.” What’s the grain?
We use wheat mash from red winter wheat and white wheat. It comes out as a wheat beer that we distill to make the spirit. The wheat does well with the botanicals, adding a smooth, creamy character.
We’re planning on releasing a vodka at some point, but that depends on the success of the gin. If the gin flies off the shelves, that will set back the release date of the vodka. If we have time for the vodka, we could release that by this time next year.
What’s your personal go-to cocktail?
My new favorite gin-based cocktail is the Wheelhouse, one of our signature drinks. It’s a mixture of our gin, orange juice, grenadine and sweet vermouth.
Generally speaking, though, I prefer my gin straight in a chilled glass or on the rocks.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.