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Local Distillery Wins Top Award at San Francisco World Spirits Competition

The oldest and largest spirits competition in the world just declared Petaluma-made absinthe the best in the world.

The hardworking trio behind Barber Lee Spirits in Petaluma makes spirits they like to drink. Apparently they have good taste, because the oldest and largest spirits competition in the world just declared Barber Lee’s Absinthe Blanche the best absinthe in the world.

The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, founded in 2000 and featuring entries from around the globe, awarded Barber Lee’s Absinthe Blanche “Best of Class” at its 2022 awards gala held at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco.

Barber Lee Spirits’ Absinthe Blanche was awarded ‘Best of Class’ by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC). (Courtesy of Barber Lee Spirits)

“It’s a huge deal,” said Lorraine Barber, co-owner of three-year-old, family-run distillery in Petaluma. “It lets a really broad market know about our tiny, grain-to-glass production. It helps to boost our energy and boost awareness of our brand.”

The 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition attracted almost 5,000 entries. Blind taste tests were conducted by more than 60 judges (bartenders, bar owners, educators, and more) to determine the winners. In addition to Best of Class and Best in Show, spirits also received double gold, gold, silver and bronze awards.

To make its absinthe, Barber Lee triple distills white wine, creating a white brandy base. This process adds sweetness to counteract the bitterness typically associated with the spirit. Eight organic herbs, including wormwood, are then added to the still to steep before the spirit is distilled one final time. The result is a 130 proof absinthe with 65% alcohol.

“If you try our absinthe it’s like Good & Plenty [licorice candy] on the head. It’s anise candy,” said Barber.

Barber Lee Spirits is located in downtown Petaluma. (Courtesy of Barber Lee Spirits)

The Absinthe Blanche wasn’t the only Barber Lee spirit to catch the judges’ attention — the distillery’s Apple Brandy won double gold.

To craft their brandy, Barber Lee first makes cider from fresh-pressed Gravenstein apples from Sebastopol and then distills it and ages it for at least one year in new charred American oak. The distillery’s Single Malt Rye Whiskey and Heirloom Corn Bourbon both earned silver awards in the competition.

“It really puts some wind under our wings to just keep doing what we are doing,” said Barber.

Barber Lee Spirits’ downtown Petaluma tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday. 120 Washington St., Petaluma, 707-971-7107, barberleespirits.com

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