(UPDATED 3/26/2020) Description of a fun and informative tour (and tasting) at Dry Diggings Distillery, located in El Dorado Hills, CA. NEW: See Update below.
The Renaissance Society class A Cook’s Tour of Sacramento recently visited the Dry Diggings Distillery. We were all looking forward to both the tour of the distillery as well as a tasting of its product.
Dry Diggings Distillery is family-owned. The distillery and tasting room are located in a business park – but don’t be put off by the location. Once you enter the tasting room you are transported back in time to the Gold Rush era.
Our group was warmly greeted by Cris Steller, the owner, and his daughter Erica. Cris explained the background of the distillery and how it has evolved to date.
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The distillery tasting room is a very attractive space where great attention to detail is evident. The walls are covered with reclaimed wood removed from an old home in Sutter Creek. The metal roof was reclaimed as well. The gleaming wood bar, the focus of the room, had been originally sourced from a Nevada house of ill-repute.
To the left of the bar the walls are covered with wallpaper, hand-made in Benicia, featuring a reproduction of an 1860’s design/pattern. The window coverings and lighting fixtures complete the Gold Rush era décor.
In addition to describing what went into creating the tasting room, Cris and Erica shared a variety of interesting tidbits about the historic area. I certainly learned a lot! I had not known, for example, that before current day Placerville was known as Hang Town (that I knew) it was known as Dry Diggings.
Note: Merriam-Webster defines dry digging as “…an alluvial mine in an arid region. (usual use plural). Also called dry placer.”
After the introductory comments, Cris led our group into the back room distillery where he explained in detail the process undertaken from start to finish. He explained the workings of the equipment involved, and the importance of the precise management of temperature to ensure the best product.
The fermentation, distillation, blending and bottling of product all takes place on site. Additionally, locally grown fruit and grain are used to produce their spirts.
Dry Diggings has its own style, doing things differently to accomplish its vision. For example, there is no filtration, so you may see “stuff” floating in the bottle. No problem – it is just soluble sugar.
The type of still (stainless steel, copper) and the type of barrel (“charred” oak, hand/machine made) all play a part in finishing the product. As with wine, “blending” of product is an art – not a science.
In short, there is no doubt of the passion Cris has for the process – and end product.
After the tour of the distillery, it was time to return to the tasting room. Erica took over and was a most gracious and knowledgeable hostess as she poured our tastings and explained the attributes of each. She also provided suggestions as to how each spirit could be used in varied cocktails.
The tasting included six quarter-ounce pours or 1.5 oz. (total) of alcohol. Our flight included (from first to last):
- Engine 49 Vodka
- Syrah Brandy
- Engine 49 Rye Whiskey
- Engine 49 Bourbon
- Bodie 5 Dog California Whiskey
- Rumtopf Liquor (local fresh fruit/light rum)
I don’t as a general rule drink hard liquor, let alone “neat”, so I am not the best judge of the spirits we sampled that day. However, I was in the company of a number of knowledgeable fellow classmates who spoke highly of the offerings sampled.
To sum up, it was, all in all, an informative and fun way to spend a late afternoon/early afternoon! Check out Dry Diggings if you are in the vicinity!
(3/26/2020) Dry Diggings Distillery is making and donating hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray to first responders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dry Diggings Distillery owner Cris Steller has switched his facility from producing craft liquors to making hand sanitizers and disinfectant spray – which is then bottled and donated to first responders.
This all costs money, so head distiller Casey Newman has established a GoFundMe page to help keep the facility open and producing these much needed sanitation supplies.
The small family-owned distillery is also still selling its existing stock of craft liquors, its only other source of revenue.
Dry Diggings Distillery Snapshot:
- 5050 Robert J Mathews Parkway, Suite 850, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
- (530) 313-4000
- Hours: Monday – Tuesday (Closed/or By Appointment); Wednesday – Thursday (Noon to 5:00 p.m.); Friday (Noon – 7:00 p.m.); Saturday – Sunday (Noon to 5:00 p.m.)
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