Redwood Empire Whiskey

Jun 28, 2019

True To Northern California

“Going to the woods is going home,” beams John Muir, the celebrated Scottish-American conservationist, in his 1901 collection of essays entitled Our National Parks. As one of the crucial figures in shaping the environmentalist movement in the United States, Muir has become a particularly important folk hero in Northern California, a region he extolled and called home for the latter portion of his 76 years. His writings on Yosemite and the natural splendors of the American West inspired poets, painters, and—importantly—lawmakers to take a proactive approach to protecting our lands for future generations.

The ethos of Muir’s words and spirit is essential to Purple Wine + Spirits, which has been based among the towering trees in Sonoma County since Derek Benham founded the business in 2001. Benham, who grew up in California with a mother who enjoyed bird watching and hiking, continues to have a profound respect for nature that bleeds into every facet of his personal and professional life.

All of this leads to the June launch of Redwood Empire Whiskey. The team at Purple has been steadily amassing the assets to be at the top of Western whiskey in the near future—Redwood Empire is both the largest producer of whiskey and has the largest inventory of aging whiskey in the state of California. This is how they got there.

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Redwood Roots

Northern California is a unique place, one of the few in the world where Giant Redwood trees grow, and the famed “Redwood Empire” stretches from San Francisco to Humboldt Bay and on to the Oregon border. It is a rugged, sparsely populated area still dominated by forest, from the protected groves of Muir Woods to the massive forests of the Humboldt Redwoods. Nestled among this wooded wonderland is Redwood Empire Distilling in Graton, CA, where it’s been making craft spirits in west county Sonoma since opening in 2014.

Sonoma Craft

The area North of San Francisco has of course become synonymous with quality wine and—more recently—beer production over the last number of decades, but the region is currently hard at work in making its name within the spirits game as well. The same cool climate that helps grapes slowly ripen in the summer makes it a perfect place to produce sublime whiskey. Aging barrels in Sonoma’s moderate climate allows for a slow and even extraction of flavor, producing a whiskey of exceptional balance and complexity.  Purple’s custom-built micro-column still allows the team to extract extra “heads” during distillation, yielding smooth tasting whiskeys. The small distilling team of four people, led by head distiller Jeff Duckhorn, is hands-on in every step of the production process, from distilling to blending—they’ve affectionately dubbed the resulting whiskey as “Sonoma Boutique” style.

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Planting Ahead

For Derek and the rest of the team at Redwood Empire Distilling, living and working among the redwoods has been a constant reminder of what trees do for the planet’s environment. Accordingly, they have partnered with Trees For The Future (TFTF), an NGO responsible for planting over 170 million trees since 1989. TFTF trains farmers to plant and manage Forest Gardens that help them sustainably feed their families, raise their incomes and end deforestation. The cause resonates strongly with the character of Redwood Empire Whiskey, which led to the company announcing that for each bottle of Redwood Empire Whiskey purchased, TFTF will plant a tree.

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The Lineup

Each Redwood Empire whiskey is named for a specific and notable tree from the woods protected by our US National Parks System.  All three whiskeys are select blends of aged whiskeys between 3-12 years and are showcased in striking new labels that feature quotes from John Muir.

Redwood Empire_Lost Monarch

Named for the tallest tree in the Redwood Empire’s Grove of Titans, this blend of rye and bourbon is crafted from three to five year-old rye, and five to twelve year-old bourbon.

Redwood Empire_Pipe Dream

Standing at 367 feet, “Pipe Dream” is the fourteenth tallest tree on earth. Blended from barrels that have been aging anywhere between four and twelve years, this bourbon is a deep golden color with rich, complex flavors of vanilla, roasted pecans and a slight woody char.

Redwood Empire_Emerald Giant_sm

This expression’s namesake is the tallest tree in the Emerald Grove. It is blended from rye barrels aged three to five years and brings an amalgamation of spice, orange peel, a hint of honey and peppery cinnamon finish.

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