In May 1963, American Distilling Co. in Sausalito (located where the Whiskey Springs condo development now stands) caught fire and two-thirds of the largest distilling operation on the West Coast burned down. Sixty years later, a liquor company has finally returned to Sausalito.
Unsinkable Whiskey, along with Marin Coastal Gin, has been launched by the Sausalito Liquor Co. Begun in 2021, the Sausalito Liquor Co. is the brainchild of Sausalito resident Scott Jampol, whose background includes 10 years at OpenTable in marketing, and some time at Yahoo.
“I was burnt out on tech, and wanted to do something local, something that brought people together. My definition of that was to look into opening a spirits business,” Jampol says.
Starting any new business has its challenges and obstacles, but liquor involves federal, state, county and city agencies.
“For every mountain I climbed, there was a bigger mountain behind it,” Jampol says and laughs.
“What are we going to make? And how are we going to make the spirits truly great?” Jampol says. “I spent the first year on the formulation side of it.”
Then, the 51-year-old had a curious epiphany.
“If I am going to start a spirits business, I have to be a really good bartender,” he says. “So, I started bartending a night or two a week at the Sausalito Cruising Club. It’s not only a great way to understand how and what people drink, but you get a sense for humans. If you haven’t had a hospitality job, you should get in one at some point. Seeing how people treat you and how you treat others is just amazing, on both the good and the bad side.”
Jampol investigated opening an actual distillery in Sausalito. He soon realized that was perhaps too big of a mountain to climb right now.
“The No. 1 priority of the business was to get the product out into consumers hands,” Jampol says. “Start to build an audience here in the Bay Area and spread it out from there. We will have a location in Sausalito when we find the right spot.”
Jampol brought in master distiller Steve Wright, of the Thoroughbred Spirits Group in Canada, as his right hand man. The two of them decided to concentrate on two whiskeys and a gin.
“I saw so much sameness in the business. Everyone is trying to out craft each other with numbers and descriptions and proof. It’s their great-grandfather’s whiskey, etc., even if it was launched last year,” Jampol says. “I decided to go the other way. Let’s not try and compete on the craftiness of it, let’s try and compete on the approachability of it, the deliciousness of it.”
The Unsinkable whiskeys are a sourced bourbon and a sourced rye. The mash bills are pretty standard: 80, 10, 10 (percents, corn, rye, barley) for the bourbon, and 74, 11, 15 (percents, rye, corn, malted barley) for the rye.
“We are sourcing whiskey,” Jampol says. Which is not at all unusual, Metallica’s Blackened X whiskey is sourced as is much of WhistlePig.
“I didn’t want to buy from the large corporations that a lot of other people are buying from,” Jampol says. “I wanted to find boutique places where the whiskey itself would be really unique. So, the rye comes from a boutique distillery in Kentucky and the bourbon comes from a producer in Tennessee.”
What really localizes Jampol’s whiskeys is the barrel finishing. Wine barrel finishing is not new (as evidenced by Angel’s Envy or Noble Oak), but Jampol California-izes his product by using Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon barrels for the bourbon, and uniquely, Napa Valley port barrels for the rye. The cabernet adds a nice astringency to the bourbon’s natural sweetness, and the sweetness of the port nicely offsets rye’s tendency towards spiciness. The Unsinkable rye is 95 proof, and the bourbon comes in at 99 proof. Both whiskeys are $54.99.
“Die-hard whiskey folks want higher proof,” Jampol says. “But everyday whiskey drinkers want something they can have a couple of. Whiskey is usually between 80 and 130 proof, so we came in comfortably in the middle so that we can appeal to different groups.”
The name “unsinkable” comes from the Liberty ships that were built in Sausalito during World War II. The imagery is unmistakable on the bottles.
“That mentality of unsinkable is what defines the kind of people that have defined Sausalito in the past as well as today,” Jampol says.
For the Marin Coastal Gin ($34.99), he decided to go in a different direction — seaward.
“Gin is a great tapestry to work from, you have one rule, it needs to be juniper first, and from there you can add lots of different things that can make it local,” Jampol says. “With our Marin Gin, we are really honoring the way the land crashes into the ocean, this wild aspect of it. You can see that on the bottle.”
The abstract nature of the label yields to a product that while still freshly junipery assertive has a nice subtlety to it. One can almost visualize the redwoods of Muir Woods as they yield to the salty umami of the sea. Two types of juniper (Albanian and Italian) add the pine notes, while orange and lemon peel, nori seaweed (sourced from Santa Rosa’s Strong Arm Farm), angelica root and seed, licorice root, orris root, cardamom and coriander round out the palate. Ninety proof props it all up nicely.
“The gin curious will love it,” Jampol says. “Gin has come a long way, especially American gins. We really wanted ours to tie it in as closely as possible to Marin County and Sausalito. We wanted — as you sip on it in a gin and tonic or a martini — for it to make you feel like you are in Marin County.”