History of the Distillery
No.209, a San Francisco based Distillery steeped in intriguing history and even more intriguing spirits! The Distillery’s fascinating journey began in 1882 with William Scheffler at his Napa Valley winery, the “Edge Hill Estate”, and there in a small brick shed at the back of the property; Scheffler being a Distiller at heart began his lifelong desire to start developing his own spirits. Making his dream a reality he registered this little brick shed with the American Government to become a legitimate Distillery and was granted the 209th Distillery License in the United States, clearly this became the most important number in his life, a number that filled him with pride; so much so that he proudly displayed this number above his Distillery door for all to see. Scheffler’s immense love and commitment for his work clearly shone through into his spirits, developing high quality products and picking up numerous recognition awards for his work!! But then this 209th Distillery became lost in time, that is until 1999 when the founder of the now Distillery No.209, Paul Rudd; who at that time was the steward of “Edge Hill” one day came across an old brick hay barn covered in leaves and shrubs, and noticed faint lettering above the doorway which read “Registered Distillery No.209” and by chance Rudd unearthed Scheffler’s lost world and brought his legacy back into the light. And from this one fine day, Rudd got the ball rolling on the revival of this great legacy, restoration began on the estate bringing it back to its original glory. But to bring this project into the modern world it was decided to relocate the distillery, as the size of the original building was just not substantial enough to house a modern distillery, along with its location which did not fit in with the overall Distillery No.209 revival plans, so a new location of San Francisco was decided upon.
With a new Distillery based in the heart of San Francisco on Pier 50 Rudd brought Scheffler’s legendary distilling technique into the 21st Century, and incorporated these old world techniques with Distillery No.209’s “passion for excellence, innovative thinking and willingness to take risks to create No.209 Gin”. It is the only Distillery in the world to be built over water which allows it to have the perfect conditions to create their innovative libations all year round, and when I was visiting San Francisco at the beginning of the summer I literally jumped at the opportunity to go to the Distillery. I introduce the amazing Distillery No.209 Gin.
I was so excited to visit Distillery No.209, its location was just perfect out of the hustle and bustle of the main city centre overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Arriving at Pier 50 it took me a while to find the entrance wondering around the different pier sheds… I’m sure I looked a tad suspicious… and then I spotted it!! There it was a small gold plaque on a door with No.209 displayed, Arne Hillesland the Master Distiller greeted me and welcomed me into their world.
Walking round the machines it was great to be in the main nerve centre for the craft spirit, with pipes running everywhere and more No.209 bottles that I could count, and then there it was the copper still who I later learnt was called Rosie and what a sight she was!! Arne took me through the process of the Gin’s journey, explaining how they used a great quality base spirit which is 4 times column distilled with mid-west corn, their water source hailing from the amazing Yosemite (a place I feel in love with during my trip) and they use the vapour process for distillation taking a total of 11 hours from initial stages to end product!! Arne clearly took massive pride in his work and outlined the Distillery’s main aim is to create spirits that are consistent in flavour, he wants the company to be renowned for this, especially on the cocktail scene, as he knows the importance of flavour for barmen to create their recipes.
Arne’s botanical room was quirky and very cool, bringing me over to a repurposed shipping container and referring to it as his “Bot Cave”. Sliding open the doors to the container I was immediately met with a lovely aroma from all the magical botanicals stored within. Arne walked me through all the ingredients that he uses for the No.209 Gin, sourcing them from all corners of the Earth as he wants to use the best ingredients possible. A few examples of these botanicals:
Juniper sourced from Italy
Coriander seeds from Romania
Guatemalan cardamom seeds
Cassia bark from South East Asia
Arne’s “Bot Cave” not only houses the all-important botanicals but also unusual devices, one that allows him to individually retrieve seeds fully intact from their pods and another that grinds ingredients down to get the full flavour from them. I tried out the seed machine, (apparently I was a “pro”, and clearly I have missed my calling in life…) it was hard work turning and turning that rotating spindle handle round and round; I felt like I had done a full upper body work out by the time I had finished; thinking I would have a full bucket of seeds I looked and found I had the smallest handful… (Maybe I hadn’t found my calling….)
Arne’s process is very hands on, he prepares the botanicals the night before the distilling as he wants to keep everything as fresh as possible; and next morning he feeds all his freshly prepared botanicals into Rosie and the magical process to create No.209’s Gin is truly on its way. When speaking with Arne it was very evident that he is extremely passionate about No.209 and has devoted a lot of time and creative flare to develop the spirit that they have today.
As much as I loved learning everything about No.209’s history and process, this was the big moment I was waiting for (also could be a dangerous moment… full American sized measurements of No.209’S spirits on an empty stomach.. this could have turned interesting… but my good old Irish blood could take it!!)
Flagship No 209 – (46%)
Their original flagship gin packs a punch, taken straight it is smooth and warming but when some water or tonic is added it brings out the gin’s floral characteristics. Arne explained that they wanted a profile that was approachable for the American palate and also wanted it to stand out in a cocktail.
Perfect Serve – Tom Collin’s Cocktail
The Reserve Collection
With the Reserve’s Arne highlighted that he didn’t want to make something that couldn’t be discerned with gin, he just wanted a top note of the wine flavours.
Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Reserve Gin (46%)
The Flagship Gin is 4 months on the wood, aged in medium toast French barrels which gives it a nice spicy note and had a hint of colour. This Reserve Gin bursts with flavour, having a citrus undertone with a tropical pineapple finish which subtly hits the back of the throat.
Perfect Serve – French 75, the hint of wine matches perfectly with the champagne.
Chardonnay Barrel Reserve Gin
Also 4 months on the wood, aged in medium toast French barrels, this has the best finish; extremely creamy and buttery, with a sweet butterscotch note to finish.
Perfect Serve – Vesper
Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Reserve Gin
This Reserve leaves the gin 7 months on the wood, Arne describes it as a cross between a Cognac, Rum and an Aged Gin; so has very interesting characteristics. The oakiness really shines through in this one, with sweet toffee hints and a spicy oak finish.
Perfect Serve – Old Fashioned
My time at Distillery No.209 was fascinating I could have stayed and spoke with Arne all day about the history, the gins, cocktail ideas, the list was endless. The team at No.209 were so welcoming and are doing great work down at Pier 50! They are doing Scheffler’s legacy proud and creating products that are taking not only America but other countries further afield by storm. Their Reserve Collection is an amazing concept that works so well merging not only wine which Napa Valley is renowned for, but also merges history, an ode to William Scheffler himself, incorporating the spirits humble beginnings from a shed on Napa Valley Estate to the modern gin era. I cannot wait to see what No.209 has in store for us next, it is definitely a spirit that I recommend everyone should!