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Speaking of small-batch spirits

The lines, ever-blurring

Yesterday I went to the Hangar One Vodka/ St. George Spirits distillery in Alameda for a party. I've been to their tasting room before but never back to where the stills are. (The area is only open to the public for the Saturday tour.)

They have what looks to be three itty bitty little stills back there. That seemed a bit small to me for all the vodka they produce, and it turns out not everything that gets bottled there runs through them.

Most smaller gin and vodka distilleries operate like this one: They buy column distilled vodka from a larger manufacturer, work some magic on it in a pot still, and bottle it as their product. In the case of gin, they soak herbs and citrus in purchased vodka and redistill it into gin.

At Hangar One, they take grape wine and distill it into vodka- that's the magic. Then they blend this grape vodka with wheat-based vodka made elsewhere to create their final straight vodka product. The wheat vodka part of the finished goods doesn't go through their still.

For their infused vodkas, they let the fruit (or other flavor) soak in purchased wheat vodka and distill it into really flavorful vodka product, then blend this with more of the plain wheat vodka to bring it down to the desired flavor level of the final product.

So without knowing the specific quantities of each of the liquids involved (and assuming this is a trade secret) the line seems a little blurred as to whether this company and others are making flavored vodka or instead making then blending vodka flavorings. On the other hand, if my definition of making flavored vodka meant that all the vodka has to have flavor in it before being (re)distilled, there probably isn't a single product on the market that would qualify.

I suppose I should state that this is not a comment on the quality of the final products, just me nerding out on the definitions.

So perhaps that's a less romantic picture of how craft distilled products are made, but all the craft is still there, just on a different scale than most of us conjure up naturally. But this may help explain why these tiny distilleries are able to sell products at prices not that much higher than those of all column-distilled brands. And in the case of the ultra-expensive designer vodkas where the price reflects more the millions spent in marketing them than the care in making them, these small batch spirits seem like a real bargain.

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