Shining up Sonoma
FRED AND AMY GROTH get into the Christmas spirit while hand-bottling their newly released Hooker’s House Corn Whiskey.
Listen closely, and you just might hear the country twang of Waylon Jennings’ “Good Ol’ Boys” as Fred and Amy Groth make the rounds today (Friday), delivering Mason jars of what they affectionately call “Sonoma Shine.”
“It’s basically moonshine,” beams Fred, as he hand-fills jars with the 94-proof, clear liquid. “But the government doesn’t have a classification for moonshine, so we’re calling it Hooker’s House Corn Whiskey. I think it’s going to be a white Christmas.”
The new liquor is the latest offering from the Groths, who also take credit for the HelloCello line of limoncellos and Hooker’s House bourbons. Thanks to a special liquor license, these booze buffs will be offering tastes of their spirits today, Friday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Sonoma Market.
The un-aged whiskey has a smooth, lighter flavor making it suitable for mixed drinks or, as Fred advises, “sipping right out of the jar.” It is made by a “semi-famous moonshiner” at an “undisclosed location” in the southeastern United States, Fred teases.
It retails for under $30, and Amy and Fred will be delivering cases personally to several locations in Sonoma and San Francisco. The Groths seem to prefer doing things by themselves – each of the 450 jars of whiskey were individually bottled, labeled and packaged by the couple at their Eighth Street East distillery.
“Amy and I can do 50 cases in two hours,” Fred boasts. But the couple is also known for getting friends and family in on the action. Such is the case with their peeling parties, where dozens gather to drink citrusy cocktails and peel lemons for the next batch of organic limoncello. For their newest endeavor, they’re turning to friends, neighbors and the online community of Kickstarter.com for help.
While they already have the first (licensed) distillery in Sonoma since prohibition, they need upgraded equipment to launch a new line of business. Amy and Fred are looking to revive the lost Sonoma art of distilling brandy, like Joshua Chauvet did in Glen Ellen at the turn of the century.
“There’s a rich history with distilling brandy in this area,” Fred said. “Between the vineyards and the orchards, there’s just a ton of fallen fruit out there.”
The pair are seeking $15,600 through a Kickstarter campaign called “Start the Still: Return Craft Distilling to Sonoma” to purchase a state-of-the-art still, custom made to meet their expanding distilling needs.
“It would let us make smaller batches of specialty items,” Fred said, explaining that a winery could contract with them to make a brandy of their choice with excess fruit. Support the Kickstarter campaign at kickstarter.com; the Groths will post updates on the project on their Facebook page, Start the Still.
Once the still arrives, the Groths have their own plans to make brandy, including flavored apple and pear brandies. Seeking contributions from $1 to $2,980, like all Kickstarter campaigns, the couple is offering incentives to donate. A $25 contribution gets your name painted on the wall of the distillery, while $449 will buy a limoncello crafting class for 10.
“It’s not that much (money), but it’s great having help,” Amy said. “It’s fun for us to get the community in on what we’re doing.”
The Groths have no plans on slowing down anytime soon. Right on the heels of Hooker’s House Corn Whiskey will be three types of Sugar Daddy Rum, named after Sonoma icon Alma Spreckles’ pet-name for her sugar-baron husband. The light, amber and dark rum will hit shelves in January.
“By the end of February, we’ll have 14 products on the market in a little over three years,” Amy says. “We just can’t stop.”