When I first heard about a distillery from San Francisco run by a man who spends his days also running a barber shop, I have to say, I was intrigued. What followed was a story you couldn’t even make up.
Cutting hair and distilling are both skills that run deep in Salvatore Cimino’s family; he learned to make wine and distill grappa from when he was just a young boy. As a child, he would even climb inside the stills to give them a good clean! Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, 'Sal' grew up to be a Master Barber as well as now becoming a legitimate Master Distiller!
The 1512 Barber Shop
The link between spirits and barbers is in fact nothing new however, back in the days of prohibition bootleggers would use barber shops as fronts for peddling their wares, not that anything of that sort would ever happen nowadays...
Sal's years of experience have now translated into a perfection of the craft of making spirits. Using equipment he built himself, he makes whiskey in extremely small batches using a direct flame as the only heat source. Just look at this thing!
Sal built much of the equipment himself.
1512 Spirits yields less than 400 cases a year and due to Sal’s busy schedule and the extensive time commitment fermentations and direct-fired distillations take, each batch is unique and a further build on the previous batch.
Everything released by 1512 Spirits is created in-house from grain to glass. Water from Lake Sonoma with the addition of hand-milled grains forms the base of their whiskey. In a self-built, direct-fired mash tun, this is left to ferment for 3 to 4 days then hand separated between the solids and liquids. The solids are donated to a local farm, where they’re used to feed cows, sheep, and lambs. The liquid wash is transferred to a 470 litre copper alembic pot still and distilled twice over an open flame. Each distillation takes between 12 to 14 hours from start to finish and due to the lack of rectifying plates, the resulting distillate is far more flavourful, but lower in proof and yield size.
Barbershop Rye (unaged whiskey)
For Sal’s aged whiskeys (the one’s we’re allowed to actually call whiskeys) the finished distillate is placed in charred first fill American oak barrels (or ex-1512 Spirits Rye Whiskey barrels for the ‘2nd Chance’ Wheat Whiskey). Sonoma County mimics the pristine whiskey aging conditions found in that of Kentucky and Tennessee, as frequent temperature swings are habitual and allow the distillate transfer in and out of the barrel.
Once fully aged, the spirit is placed in a stainless steel tank to rest before being bottled, wax sealed, and then bottle aged until it’s ready for sale. You can be assured the product will not be sold until it can be drank from the second the bottle is opened but it can also be held back and aged further in the glass and enjoyed in the years to come as the distillate continues to evolve.
The result is some of the finest American whiskey that has come our way in a while. This is extremely small batch and accordingly, we’ve only managed to bring a small selection to our fair shores.
The man himself.
So there we have it, extraordinary whiskeys and more from a third generation Barber and Distiller, whose family have practiced both since before Salvatore’s grandfather travelled to America from Palermo! An incredible story, with equally incredible spirits to match.
A Barbershop Quartet
We’re bringing Barbershop back.
P.S. Jake may be to blame for the final image caption and video.