Most distillery tours involve you and a group of tourists trudging after a young, chipper and enthusiastic guide around towering, gleaming stills, while the said enthusiastic guide enthusiastically regales you with well-rehearsed anecdotes in the large and pristine warehouse.
Not Tripp Distillery.
Tripp has one guy. Maybe sometimes his dog. And a giant Scottish pot still, nicknamed “Big Butt Sally.” And it’s in a small warehouse that feels like a garage slash man-den, decorated with Kansas City and SF Giants sports memorabilia.
Tripp Distillery is Jason Tripp’s passion project. He works a regular job and comes in on the weekend to distill. His young daughters, he explains, sometimes help label the bottles: “If the labels are all messed up and off-center, it’s because it’s because we literally use child labor.”
There’s not much of a tour to speak of, since the room is quite small and you can easily see the still from the bar that lines the entrance. Usually, on Saturdays and Sundays, Big Butt Sally is humming along while the residual heat toasts the room up in the otherwise always-foggy-always-chilly Pacifica region slightly south of San Francisco.
But what you come to Tripp for is the ambiance. It feels like an old-fashioned sitcom, where everyone knows everyone else, and you instantly and inexplicably feel like you know them all as well. All of the patrons are clearly regulars, and they come to drink Jason’s (extremely reasonably priced) $6 cocktails, which also come with your choice of hot dog or sausage. The $6 also buys you a full and generous flight of Jason’s spirits: a rum, a vodka (distilled from rum) and a gin (made from the vodka that’s distilled from rum). Since he’s not allowed to charge you for it, he’ll also give you free samples of higher proof 174 rum or whatever he’s tinkering with at the moment: for instance, color-changing absinthe.
The vodka is the award-winner (lightly sweet and very quaffable), but the rum is the crowd favorite. It’s made of a mix of (mostly) Paraguay sugar and (some) molasses and distilled in Big Butt Sally before it is aged for 3 to 6 years. Due to the cold seaside temperatures of the facility, Jason is trying to capture a more Scotch-tasting rum. It’s bottled at cask strength and has an interesting briny nose and the bottle we brought home tastes a bit like salted caramel; side note: your mileage may vary since the colors of each bottle seemed to vary significantly and we pulled the darkest bottle.
Usually, a distillery tour is a one-and-done type of deal. You visit, you taste a flight, and you might pick up a bottle or two the next time you visit a liquor store. Tripp distillery is a repeat-visit (and visit-often) type of joint. We highly recommend you go and visit (it’s about a 20 minute ride from downtown SF): pull up a chair, sip some generous pours of spirits, and chat with your neighbors, who when we went, ranged from local brewery owners to a crew of 40-something year-old couples, amiably complaining about their children to anyone who would listen.