Visiting Stillwater Spirits on a Friday afternoon feels like walking into a party in progress. Blues music booms from wall-mounted speakers. Local brewers wander in to grab a drink and share their latest beer. The distillery dogs greet people who walk by and wonder what they’re missing. But there’s serious business happening inside those barrels.
Ever since Brendan Moylan opened Stillwater Spirits at the Petaluma Foundry Wharf in 2004, the awards have been pouring in — including best in show and best in category at this year’s New York World Wine & Spirits Competition for Moylan’s cask-strength single malt whiskey finished in port barrels and a Gold Award from the American Distilling Institute for Moylan’s cask-strength single malt whiskey.
"I tell bartenders, you pick any whiskey on your shelf and pour it next to mine," Moylan says.
"If mine's not better, I'm out the door."
Long before the first barrel rolled in or out of the distillery, Moylan was already a big part of the Bay Area beverage scene. His brewpubs Marin Brewing Company and Moylan’s Brewery & Restaurant have been local favorites for decades.
Distiller Tim Welch is working with Moylan to make a big name for this little distillery, even though they’ll produce only 50 barrels this year. In addition to single malt whiskies, Stillwater also makes bourbon, rye, vodka, gin, liqueurs, grappa, brandy and beer schnapps. Most of this is put out under the Moylan’s name, although about a quarter of production is dedicated to making spirits for other companies, including grappa for next-door neighbor Sonoma Portworks.
Welch is experimenting with mixing a whiskey finished in sherry barrels with their award-winning port finished whiskey. He and Moylan treat the barrels like they’re living beings and not containers of product.
With Ralph Steadman murals covering the walls and a steady stream of blues music playing after hours to keep the barrels company, Stillwater isn’t just a place that makes good booze. It’s also a second home for people who are passionate about spirits.