Marin restrauteurs redistill their passion with distillation

Alamere, French slang for “to the sea” (or more correctly “of the mother,” just sort of rolls off the tongue. In addition to being French, it is also the name of a rare West Marin tidefall (a waterfall into the sea). So, if you were a Marin County French restratueur and you were looking for the perfect name for a new distilling project, a name like that might just be perfect.

“It wasn’t our first choice,” says Susannah Souvestre with a laugh. “It wasn’t even in our original top ten. But now it seems perfect.” 

Souvestre, 39, and her husband Olivier, 44, along with their partner Bruno Denis, originally opened Le Garage in Sausalito thirteen years ago, followed by L’Appart in San Anselmo (since closed) and F3 in Sausalito (recently rebranded as the Mediterranean bistro Zalta).

“Let’s just say that I’m a person who likes change,” says Souvestre, the CEO and head distiller of the new Alamere Spirits located near Bel Marin Keys in Novato. “I like new projects, opening restaurants, and things like that.”

Souvestre had once thought of quitting college and becoming a chef. “I’m glad I didn’t do that,” she says. “I like to say my background in the restaraunt business is marrying a Frenchman.”

However, during a very low moment in that business some years ago (before Covid) when the couple were really struggling to find staff, they became somewhat “disenfranchised” with the restaurant business and decided to try and diversify as a back-up plan.

They sold their interest in Le Garage and decided on forming a distillery.

“We really wanted something we could start and do just by ourselves. We wanted to keep a ‘no employees’ policy for as long as possible,” says Souvestre. “And we wanted to stay in the food and beverage world.”

“13 years ago, you’d put an add on Craigslist and you’d get hundreds of resumes, you couldn’t even look at them all,” she says. “Then you started getting less and less, and just before Covid hit we would get just a few. Enough to hire people, but not a lot of choices. And then Covid hit and it was just a mess.”

Once the couple had decided on distilling, their French sentiment colored the most important of their decisions. They purchased a handcrafted Strupfler alembic still, a single pass still, manufactured in the Gironde region of France, a still which is used most often to produce fine French brandies.

“Brandy is what the still was made for,” says Souvestre. “It’s less efficient, for sure, but it does create an ultra-premium spirit,” she adds, calling it “The Rolls Royce of stills.”

Four years ago, the couple travelled to Vannes, Brittany to do an internship with a distiller there that operated the same type of still (currently there is only one other in the United States). Then it took two more years to finally get the still ordered and shipped. When it finally arrived, the aged technicians from the company refused to come here and put it together because of Covid concerns.

“We had to assemble it ourselves,” she says. “With help through Zoom.”

Once the pieces were in place the couple decided to start off making a vodka and two different gins.

“A lot of distilleries start off making clear spirits,” Souvestre says. “They pay the bills, while you are aging spirits, and frankly they are a little easier to do.”

Their French wheat vodka was released earlier this year and immediately won the gold medal at the 2021 San Francisco Worlds Spirits Competition.

Their two gins, a “London Dry” and a “citrus” style, use a slightly different base spirit formulation and include 13 and 15 botanicals respectively (one of which is the quite unusual: cocoa nibs). The term “London” means that all the botanicals must be all natural (no tinctures or essences) which Alamere sources through the same food distributor they used for their restaurants. Technically both gins could be called “London” but they distinguish them according to style.

Their vodka contains no additives (citric acid, glycerin and sugar are legally allowed to be added to vodka) producing a smooth clean taste, which Alamere attributes partially to the French wheat.

Their 84 proof London Dry has a bigger mouthfeel and more juniper, whereas their “California style” gin (at 88 proof) is more citrusy with Kaffir lime (which they call Makrut) lemongrass and ginger.

“We are not trying to punch you in the face with juniper,” Souvestre says.

So far Alamere has produced about 1000 cases of product and have managed to place it in several Marin County restaurants, including of course, their own.

“We started producing in April. We have tried to build up some stock in April and May anticipating that we will be too busy to do so once the restaurant’s busy season starts,” says Souvestre.

She credits opening the distillery with “redistilling” her passion for the restaraunt business post Covid. She is looking forward to both the restaraunt rebranding and introducing some new distilled products in the future, perhaps including a whiskey.

“We are not trying to sell this business in ten years,” says Souvestre. “We are in this for the long haul.”

And if their restaraunt success is any indicator then Alamere should be around for quite some time.

For online ordering or more information go here: Alamere Spirits