Spirit Works

Timo and Ashby Marshall have taken their small craft distillery to the top of a burgeoning spirit industry in America and here in Sonoma County.

American Distillery Institute names grain-to-glass craft distillery ‘Distillery of the Year’

It takes grains, sugars, yeast and water to make whiskey and other alcohol spirits. But the most favored and rewarded spirits are equally prized for what surrounds the bottle and barrels as much as what the final fermentation inside the bottle offers. This is where a craftsman’s touch, artisan approach and a pursuit for both the authentic and the original earn top shelf honors.

All this is true at Sebastopol’s Spirit Works Distillery, which just won “Distillery of the Year” from the American Distilling Institute. The small craft distillery, led by owners Ashby and Timo Marshall, was recognized for its series of premium spirits and also for its local community involvement, industry leadership and environmental practices.

“As a distillery deeply committed to quality and innovation in making and serving the best grain-to-glass spirits in the world, Spirit Works continues to raise the bar,” said Erik Owens, vice president of the American Distilling Institute (ADI).

The award was announced on July 14 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic when Spirit Works’ The Barlow tasting room remains closed to the public. In accepting the award, Ashby Marshall credited their dedication “to being authentic and transparent in all we do,” as reasons the small distillery topped 400 other ADI members and a growing industry of 3,000 other American craft distilleries, including a dozen in Sonoma County.

Spirit Works grain-to-glass approach includes using only organic grains and other ingredients and a holistic hands-on approach of milling, mashing, fermenting and distilling all their spirits at their Sebastopol facility.

“We don’t have any smoke and mirrors,” said Ashby. “We started with our grain-to-glass principles and we’ve stuck to them.”

Opening at their Sebastopol location in 2013, Spirit Works now produces a wide selection of high quality spirits including vodka, gin, sloe gin, barrel gin, navy strength gin, straight wheat and rye whiskeys and most recently, a four grain straight bourbon whiskey. The Marshalls and their small team of workers also produce spirits for other distillers and are in constant production.

Like a few other local distilleries, Spirit Works converted its distillers to produce 700 gallons of hand sanitizer to respond to the early shortage when the COVID-19 pandemic descended.

The Spirit Works story began in rural England with Timo’s family recipe for sloe gin. Spirit Works’ award-winning version of the sweet-tart cherry-like spirit is handmade in small batches and uses imported sloe berries from Bulgaria. The grains for the whiskeys and bourbons are all organic and from California, Pacific Northwest and western Canada. The handcrafted batches are all aged in American oak barrels.

The ADI “Bubble Award” also recognizes Sprit Works allegiance to diversity and community as a woman and family-led company and also for their leadership where the Marshalls helped win a new distillery business model in California that allows on-site customer tastings, called a type 74 license.

That license isn’t doing much good right now as all distilleries and breweries in California have been ordered to close to the public during the pandemic.

“It’s a real challenge right now because we can’t engage with our customers and many of our restaurant customers are closed as well,” said Ashby.

Online orders can now be placed and pickup can be arranged at The Barlow location. Shipping is also allowed within California. Curbside pickup is usually available Tuesdays to Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Prior to their distillery days, the Marshalls both worked in environmental justice work and have carried that philosophy with them in their current enterprise.

“We try to do good in the world as we just go about our business,” said Ashby, “Sometimes, lo and behold, lots of good things happen.”

Spirit Works supports many local nonprofits with donations and partnerships. They recycle their water in all the various distilling, fermenting and production processes and they preach their environmental gospel to the rest of the craft distillery industry. Spirit Works whiskeys, gins and bourbons also are available these days at several independent grocery stores and other outlets.

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