Visiting Broad Branch Distillery, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Although I love visiting distilleries when I travel, it’s nice sometimes to have a “home game.” I had toured Broad Branch Distillery in Winston-Salem, North Carolina once before, but when my family was visiting from California recently I visited again.

We didn’t get a full tour the second time, but distiller Joe did take us into the working part of the facility where they were distilling at the time. There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh distillate off the still.

Although they are now making rye whiskey and rum and other spirits, the first product I had from Broad Branch was the Nightlab 1.0. According to Joe, this is made in the style of North Carolina distiller Frank Williams who passed the recipe on to Broad Branch. The mashbill includes corn, rye, malted barley, hops, and sugar.

Whether you get a tour or not (cost is $10 and includes a tasting — check the distillery website for the current schedule), a tasting is in order on any visit. Our group tried everything on offer, which included Night Lab unaged whiskey, Smashing Violet (Night Lab infused with blueberries), Rye Fidelity (Rye-Fi), Sungrazer rum, and Nobilium whiskey (their base spirit aged for 2 years in European oak barrels).

Since I already own the Night Lab and Smashing Violet (and too much rye and rum), I took the opportunity to take home the last available bottle of “Supercollider,” a.k.a., “The Big Blend Theory.” (Thanks to my brother-in-law Wayne for buying this for me!)

With distiller Joe Tappe and my bottle of Supercollider.

According to Broad Branch, this is a “collision between 100% WA State Rye Whiskey and fresh Honey Crisp and Fuji apples, mashed and fermented together, then distilled. Rested in new oak and finished in brandy barrels, the result is a delicious, refined spirit with gentle flavors of cooked fruit, maple, and spice.”

Having now tasted the Supercollider, I have to agree with their description. Delicious straight up, on the rocks, or as part of any fruity, whiskey-based cocktail.

Visiting Alley 6 Craft Distillery, Healdsburg, California

Toward the end of a visit to Napa Valley, my mind turned from wine to whiskey, so on our way home we passed by Silver Oak and Jordan in the Alexander Valley and stopped at Alley 6 Craft Distillery in the Sonoma County city of Healdsburg.

The Story: A distillery amid hundreds of wineries is a unique niche. Krystle and Jason Jorgensen founded Alley 6 in 2012 after Jason worked a dozen plus years as a bartender. As he tells it, he wanted to find a way to drink cheaper.

They are committed to being a true craft distiller, selling only “grain to glass” liquor made entirely on-site (milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, barreling, and bottling). They now have two 123 gallon Alembic Copper pot stills that they bought from the larger Sonoma Distilling Company down the road.

The Liquor: Five liquors are offered for the $10 tasting (1 of our 2 tasting fees was waived because we bought a bottle).

The Single Malt Whiskey was aged just over a year. The “heavy charred” American oak 10-15 gallon barrels help accelerate the aging process, but the spirit still had a young taste.

The Rye Whiskey was my favorite. Although aged less than 2 years, the 22% malted barley and sub-90 proof take some of the rough edges off this spirit.

If I had more space and money, I would have gotten a bottle of the Apple Brandy. Being in California, it reminds me of John Steinbeck’s drinking “California calvados.”

The Spiced Peach liqueur, we were told, was supposed to be a peach brandy but it got over-oaked and so was salvaged with sugar and spice. The result was pleasing as it is sweeter than a peach brandy but less sweet than many peach liqueurs.

Finally, the Harvest Gin is grape-based (an easy choice in wine country) and adds distinctive local laurel and wild fennel. If I wasn’t limited to one bottle, I would have gotten one of these, too.

The Visit: The distillery is located in a metal building in an unassuming industrial office park off the main road. You enter the cozy tasting room through the main door.

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The Poet’s Corner stained glass piece behind the tasting bar was salvaged from a bar in Colorado. Nice touch.

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We asked if we could have a “tour” of the facility but were told initially that it was a mess because they were setting up for an event later. I said all working distilleries are messy, to no avail.

During our tasting, owner/distiller Jason Jorgensen came in and we asked if we could get a photo with him, and when he opened the door to the distilling area hit him up for a tour. He gladly welcomed us to see where the magic happens. I’ve seen a lot messier distilleries, so hopefully the host won’t be as reluctant to let future guests poke around. That’s half the fun, after all.