Susan Mooney stillside chat with Lauren Patz

By March 4, 2016Craft Distilling

SCG President Susan Mooney chats with Lauren Patz 
Production Manager and Distiller
Spirit Works Distillery,
Sebastapol, CA


How long have you been distilling?
3 years.  I started as an apprentice with Spirit Works Distillery co-founder/head distiller Ashby Marshall.

What inspired you to get involved in distilling?
Before that was with Tcho Chocolate as the tour and pairings person. I did tours and presentations on how to taste. We did pairings with beer, wine, whiskey/bourbon, and cheese and would talk about how the flavors affected each other for better and for worse and which flavors enhanced or detracted from other flavors.  That is where I really developed my palate, which is one of the 3 “P’s” of distilling: Passion, patience, & palate. I’m from Napa Valley and our family is wine family so I am familiar with tasting and palette but Tcho is where I really began to develop it.

Tell us about your Apprenticeship.
An apprentice’s main job is to clean.  Cleaning allows you to understand the equipment and learn where everything is in the distillery. Taking things apart helps you to understand the equipment that you are working with which is helpful when you are distilling.  A strong understanding of the equipment is a great foundation for distilling & fermenting.  So in the initial months I was mostly cleaning tanks and polishing the still.  I was also responsible for bottling which is all hand done and the machine was a bit temperamental so I developed more of my mechanical skills. Then I did the mashing, fermenting and the distillation following the cues from Ashby for consistency of the product and learning.  Slowly mastering each piece.  You have to understand the science but you have to have the creativity and artistry as well. To be a great distiller you need to have both.  You can learn the science but you have to some creative predisposition.

What was the biggest surprise?
My biggest Aha moment was reading an article on how to taste whiskey. The big issue for me and flavor was the direction to hold it in your mouth for 5-15 seconds and let the heat blow off and then it opens up.  That changed everything for me.  I used to swallow whiskey as fast as possible – it’s strong. But doing that let the flavor come out.  There is so much flavor going on.

What inspires you?
It’s a very exciting market moment – a lot of new energy, rejuvenation in the industry.  People are doing all kinds of fun things – both bartenders and distillers.  That inspires me and eating and drinking inspires a lot of new ideas, a lot of new flavor combination insights.

Where do you see the distillery going?
I see it growing.  This is an exciting year for us and in CA.  In 2016 CA allowed type 74 licenses, which allows direct sales/tasting out of the tasting room.  I love to hand over a bottle of something that I’ve made to a customer it’s a really satisfying feeling.  Also if you can sell out of your tasting room it allows for more creativity- you can try things in small batches and see if people like it. You get to hear first hand what they think about your product which is a wonderful learning opportunity because every person and every palate is different.

Anyone you admire/are looking to in the industry?
Fun to be part of the community.  I love St. George the people and the product they are producing.  They are inspiring models for what I hope to achieve and it’s a good relationship.

Anything keeping you up at night?
Well I think the debate over what is a craft distiller over the past years has been a difficult question to answer.  I think people can make amazing product in all kinds of ways.  But the bottom line is honesty in promotion & marketing.  Be truthful about what you are doing.  If you are buying GNS, say so. For us we are grain to glass.  We love that visitors can come to our tasting room and watch us make the product. They can ask us questions about our raw materials and we can have an open and honest conversation about our process because it’s one we are so proud of.

Other thoughts?
I feel so lucky every day.  I can learn and grow. I’ve always wanted to make something. Tough industry to start in, a tough one to succeed in.

Leave a Reply