Sonoma distillery can now offer tastings

Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB933 last week, distilleries giving the same rights that wineries and breweries have enjoyed for decades – the ability to charge for tastes of their products. This was especially good news for Sonoma’s Fred and Amy Groth, whose Prohibition Spirits distills everything from HelloCello to Sugar Daddy Rum.

Within hours after the bill was signed into law on Thursday, the Groths were offering tastes at their distillery on Eighth Street East in Sonoma.

“We did celebrate – this is something we’ve worked on for a while,” Fred Groth said, adding that the celebration was a one-time event. “We don’t want to have a tasting room and be open for set hours. We’ll be doing it by appointment only.”

The Groths do want the option to lead educational tours of their unique distillery, which now includes a custom-built still. Fred Groth said he and wife, Amy, plan to teach visitors about different types of spirits and how they’re produced in Sonoma, which can now be capped off by a taste of the liquors they offer.

“Previously, you could give samples under certain circumstances. But you couldn’t charge for it, so what’s the point?” he said.

John Carr, a spokesman for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said distilleries will be held to the same standards as wineries and breweries, which means they could be the site of under-aged sting operations. ABC officials will also ensure spirit companies follow the letter of the law when it comes to how tastes are doled out.

“One change is that there is now a limit on how big a ‘taste’ is and how many can be provided (given or sold),” he wrote in an email, explaining that individuals are limited to six tastes per day, and a single taste cannot exceed .25-ounces. “In addition, tastes cannot be provided in the form of a cocktail or mixed drink.”

California was one of just a handful of states that maintained a law prohibiting distillers from selling samples of their spirits. While breweries and wineries successfully lobbied for exemption of the Prohibition-era law in the 1970s, the state’s few craft distillers found themselves with an odd loophole in which they could give samples of their products away at public tasting events, but could not charge for it. This year, the Groths joined the 28-members of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild to change that inconsistency.

“We were apart of that group, which all contributed some money to pay for a lobbyist to promote the bill,” Fred Groth said.

Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was in favor of evening the playing field and agreed to author AB933, colloquially known as Taste California. After it was introduced in April, the bill earned unanimous support in both the state Assembly and Senate, before landing on Brown’s desk last week, which he immediately signed into law.

That same day, the Groths had friends and supporters lining up to buy tastes of its entire line of locally produced spirits, from Hooker’s House Bourbon and Corn Whiskey, to Solano Vodka and its ever-expanding line of HelloCello flavored cellos.

The timing could not have been better for the Groths. With their new still, they are working with wineries such as Muscardini Cellars and Annadel Estate Winery to create small-batch brandies with their excess fruit. The new law will allow them to further promote this new line of business at Prohibition Spirits.

“We can do tours, show people how the still works and end it all with a taste,” Fred Groth said.

Book a still tour by contacting hello@hellocello.com.