Sipping vodka cocktails in the Hanson Distillery tasting room in Sonoma, one thing is clear: Wine tasting rooms have never been this fun. Don’t get us wrong, because the hundreds of wineries from Petaluma to Cloverdale have a good thing going, and this is, after all, Wine Country. But a handful of enthusiastic local spirt-makers are creating artisan vodka, gin, whiskey and liqueurs that are putting something other than wine on the local tourist maps. And my tasty cucumber vodka gimlet with edible flowers is (literally) proof of that.

Walking past huge copper stills at the heart of the family-run distillery, it’s hard to figure out where the myriad pots, towering condenser columns and spiraling metal pipes start and end. Inside one kettle, patriarch Scott Hanson points to a half-way point where wine is slowly heated and sent into columns as steam. In fact, Hanson’s vodka is — appropriately — made of grapes, giving it a different flavor profile than traditional potatoes or wheat. It also makes the finished vodka gluten-free (though there’s some debate as to the fact that all distilled spirits undergo a process that makes them gluten-free).

Inside two blue barrels, Scott’s son, Brandon shows how they naturally flavor their lineup of mandarin, ginger, cucumber and yes, habanero vodkas with actual fruit and produce. Permeable bags of fragrant Hawaiian ginger are pulled out of one barrel, trailing the unmistakably peppery sweet smell. It’s hard not to just dive in and swim around inside for a little while.

It’s all in the family, with brothers Chris, Darren and sister Alanna all taking a role in the production. “The boys got me into it,” says Scott Hanson. “The vodka space is dominated by ’nightclub’ vodkas. We wanted to do the opposite of that. We were looking for something more creative.” The Hansons also share space with the multi-generational Ceja family, who help them with the winemaking process that precedes the distilling.

“We cater more to the culinary world, to chefs and mixologists,” said the senior Hanson. Each of the flavors, including limited seasonal releases like boysenberry and espresso, are designed to complement cocktails. The habanero vodka, for instance, adds a spicy-but-not-too-spicy kick to bloody Marys, featured at Disney resorts and a reputed favorite of Walt himself…READ THE FULL ARTICLE

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