[Samantha Rudd and mixologist Vincenzo Marianella at Copa D’Oro in Santa Monica, California. Photo credit: Ben Barkai]
Art and Living’s artisanal wine and cheese correspondents explore how Distillery No. 209 creates a modern take on an age-old spirit
By Matthew Goldfarb and Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario
The number 209 represents a story of revival and the reemergence of a place long forgotten. It is a reinvention and modernization of a vision curtailed during the dark age of Prohibition. This is the second chapter of the story that began in the 1880s on the property of the Edge Hill Winery in the Napa Valley: the story of Registered Distillery No. 209.
[Distillery No. 209’s Samantha Rudd. Photo credit: Ben Barkai]
Receiving numerous awards in 1889’s Grand Exposition in Paris, Registered Distillery No. 209 seemed to be on the rise. Established only a few years earlier, this West Coast pioneer in distilled spirits was destined to leave a lasting impression on the Napa Valley. However, the financial stresses of overexpansion by proprietor William Scheffler and widespread support of the temperance movement curtailed his dream, forcing Registered Distillery No. 209 into obscurity.
As viticulture became the dominant force in the Napa Valley following the repeal of Prohibition, the burgeoning wine industry took center stage, eclipsing the reemergence of distilleries such as Registered Distillery No. 209. However, it was the success of the wine business in the years to come, which in 1999 led to the rediscovery of Registered Distillery No. 209 by Mr. Leslie Rudd, food and wine entrepreneur, of Dean and Deluca, Rudd Oakville Estate, the Standard Beverage Corporation and a variety of other projects. Much to his surprise, after purchasing the Edge Hill Winery with the intention of restoring it to its former days of glory, Mr. Rudd discovered the dilapidated distillery. He realized that the rundown building had a story that he could tell in a new venture soon to become Distillery No. 209.
Over a century after its initial inception, the modern reincarnation of Registered Distillery No. 209 sits on Pier 50 in San Francisco, California. A far cry from the original barn-like structure in the Napa Valley, this above-water urban distillery is producing top notch American Gin under the supervision of distiller Arne Hillesland. No. 209 Gin has gained a reputation for quality in the niche market of distilled American spirits.
Utilizing an alembic copper pot still custom crafted in Scotland by Forsyths, No. 209 Gin “brings up the spice, and brings out the bergamot,” explains Mr. Rudd, who assures that the American public is in need of a new flavor profile in the distilled spirits segment. A throwback to a classic spirit with a modern twist, No. 209 Gin possesses a traditional juniper characteristic while bringing to the forefront more contemporary flavors with the addition of botanicals such as coriander, cardamom, and bergamot orange peel from Calabria, Italy. Cassia—as Arne puts it, “cinnamon’s earthier and darker cousin”— imbues more complex layers of spice that remain subtle and delicate. Hints of passion fruit, fig, dates, and the bergamot, of which Mr. Rudd is so proud, drive this gin deep into one’s flavor receptors.
Finely tuned in its blend of exotic ingredients, No. 209 Gin is refined for the modern spirit drinker. When slightly chilled, the gin envelops the tongue, first with notes of lemon zest and an herbaceous-yet-not-overpowering juniper flavor. The alcohol, while clearly present at 92 proof, isn’t overwhelming, but rather acts as the structural backbone of the spirit. Elegant and modern, the sloping shoulders of the clear glass bottle—embossed with an early 20th-century industrial font reading simply “No. 209.”—sets the stage for a new and different tasting experience.
As is tradition, we sampled this delicious gin with a variety of cheeses in hope of dispelling any negative preconceived notions of the ability to pair cheese with a distilled spirit. With the guidance of Barrie Lynn - The Cheese Impresario, we settled on two wonderful pairings: Hoja Santa goat cheese from Paula Lambert of the Mozzarella Company and Boucheron, a goat cheese from Montchevre and cheesemaker Jean Rossard.
Lambert’s Hoja Santa goat cheese is distinctively wrapped in a velvety, heart-shaped leaf from the Hoja Santa plant. This aromatic leaf imparts flavors of mint and sassafras into this creamy Chevre. Mint is fresh and clean-tasting, and the sassafras is a bit like root beer on the nose and in the mouth. These herbs and leaves hold up to the big bergamot-forwardness of No. 209 Gin.
The Boucheron delivers a full, tangy goat cheese flavor with a smooth texture. The rind, one of the cheese’s defining characteristics, contributes to the lactic acid detectable on the palate. With a little wildflower honey or fig puree drizzled over the cheese, it becomes a tangy, sweet, and acidic companion to No. 209 Gin’s heightened citrus and spice flavors. These two cheeses create additional layers of pleasure as you sip on your No. 209 Gin and perfect your tasting technique…The Cheese Highway.
In all, with his guiding entrepreneurial spirit and tremendous insight in the high-end beverage industry, Leslie Rudd has crafted a product that is a wonderful representation of the almost-too-good-to-be-true story from which it has emerged. With its roots in the Napa Valley, Distillery No. 209 has become a modern American expression of a classic, old-world distilled spirit, and has successfully continued the fascinating legacy from which it began. This is a story of history revived and the beginning of a new chapter, as Leslie’s daughter, Samantha Rudd, continues her father’s vision for Distillery No. 209.
Matthew Goldfarb created the following cocktail recipes for this article:
2 oz No. 209 Gin
2.5 oz Tonic Water
5 Sprigs Fresh Mint Leaves
¼ tsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1 oz water
Pinch of Sugar
Muddle the mint sprigs, water, and sugar together. Add ice to glass, pour No. 209 Gin over ice and add mint mixture. Add tonic water and lemon juice. Stir to blend together. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.
2 oz No. 209 Gin
3.5 oz Ginger ale
1/8 tsp lime juice
1/8 tsp freshly grated ginger juice
Fresh Ginger strips to garnish
Pour all ingredients into a tall glass. Stir to incorporate and garnish with the freshly peeled ginger strips.MySpace Art Chat