We left our car in the parking lot of a modern office complex. From the outside it looks like an office. Just an office.
On the inside we felt like we were in a 1930 speakeasy. Proprietor Chris Steller and his business partner, Gordon Helm, bought the bar that dominates the room at auction. Some time later a couple of guys who looked and sounded like characters from the Sopranos told them the bar came from one of the most famous brothels in Nevada. They even showed Chris and Gordon the buttons under the bar that would trip the electronic door locks to prevent the cops from getting in. 1930 high tech for the brothel business.
Most of the walls are wood from old barns in the area. Judging from the age of the barns the boards were milled from the 1860s through the 1880s. A small sitting room in the back has wallpaper that was made during the same period.
It’s a room that makes you want to put your foot on the rail, lean on the bar and talk politics with the bartender while sipping on a glass of your favorite spirits. In the tasting room, however, the servings are small. A quarter ounce. A small sampling. Just enough to give you the idea enclosed in the bottle.
I learned a little about distilling while leaning on that bar. Like ABV (alcohol by volume), i.e., 100 proof translates to 50 per cent alcohol. That mash must contain at least 51 per cent of a certain ingredient to qualify as a particular spirit, i.e., 51 per cent corn to be called bourbon. That temperature and humidity have a lot to do with the quality of the product. And that El Dorado Hills is kind to distilled spirits because of its low humidity.
Dry Diggings produces some first-rate spirits. They don’t hesitate to experiment with concepts and ingredients.
We sampled their Diamond Springs vodka. A light vodka with a touch of grape. More like a wine. Very nice on the palate.
Bodie 5 Dog California White Whiskey is a single malt whiskey sans the dark color. It leaves behind a tequila-like tang that I found to be pure satisfaction. Bodie, by the way, was named for Chris’ dog who, in turn, was named for the town.
They distill a gin-like brandy based Botanica with light gold coloring and an after taste of spearmint. So pleasant.
But my favorite stood regally on the bar in a tall, slim, dark bottle. 31 N 50 it’s called. So named, Chris told us, because California was the 31st state admitted to the union in 1850. Why? Because gold had been discovered in 1849. Granting statehood seemed like the prudent thing to do. Old Millard Fillmore was smarter than we thought.
31 N 50 is Dry Digging Distillery’s contribution to bourbon. Bourbon is the only uniquely American distilled spirit. There is debate whether its name comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky, or Bourbon Street in New Orleans. As a Louisiana native I would like to claim it for New Orleans. But since 95 per cent of all bourbon produced in the United States is distilled in Kentucky I have to say Bourbon County has the better claim.
31 N 50 is very friendly to the palate. With tones of vanilla and caramel, it is smooth and satisfying. An extraordinary product of the distiller’s art.
It’s a spirit that urges you to raise your glass to toast, as we would say on Bourbon Street, “Bon temps!”