Denny Bar Co. Distillery
● By Laura Christman
Etna's Craft Spirits
Story by Laura Christman
Photos by Taryn Burkleo
No matter what direction you are going,
you can always find yourself coming home.
An aviation mechanic, marketing specialist, contractor and accountant walk into a bar …
No, wait, that’s not right. They walk into an 1800s brick building in the small town of Etna and turn it into a bar, plus restaurant and distillery.
Denny Bar Co., which opened in January 2018, has quickly become a popular destination. Its reach goes beyond Siskiyou County’s Scott Valley, drawing customers from throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon.
The story of the distillery is a blend of entrepreneurship and friendship. Partners are longtime friends with strong ties to the region. Sparrow Tang’s background is in aeronautical technology; his wife India in marketing. They own two helicopter service businesses. Cole Laustalot is a general contractor; his wife Patricia a certified public accountant and the chief financial officer for the Tangs’ helicopter businesses.
“Each of us has our own area of expertise we bring to the team,” Patricia says.
Sparrow and Cole have been friends since kindergarten at Fort Jones Elementary School. Patricia met them at Scott Valley Junior High School and the three graduated from Etna High School in 1993.
Cole and Sparrow share an interest in quality spirits. They’d dabbled in distilling at the hobbyist level. A few years ago, when the former pharmacy and soda fountain they grew up with – a Main Street mainstay in Etna – stood empty, they pondered its potential as a distillery.
Their idea became an offer and soon a done deal. The friends-turned-business-partners expanded their original plan for a distillery to also include a bar and 75-seat restaurant. It took a year and a half of construction to make it happen.
Honoring the history of the two-story, red-brick building was important. The original 1880 mercantile served the valley’s miners and settlers. In 1892, a high school with 15 students was started on the second floor. Denny Bar & Parker Co. was established in 1896, later becoming Denny Bar Co., part of the first chain of retail stores in California.
The walk-in safe from bygone days remains and now stores the
“It’s a neat old building,” Cole says.
“People enjoy coming in and seeing the space,” Sparrow adds.
Etna, with a far-flung location (a two-hour drive from Redding) and population of about 740, is perhaps not the first place that jumps to mind for a distillery and fine-dining establishment.
““Everybody told us we were crazy – ‘You are going to do what? Where?’” Sparrow recalls.
“No financial anybody supported it,” Cole says.
But the location made perfect sense to them.
“How can you not do it in a small town? This is the lifeblood of America,” Sparrow says.
The area’s natural beauty and the friendly community were big draws, Patricia says. “Our hearts have always been there. We were really wanting to go home to the community we grew up in and love so much.”
She notes a nice entrepreneurial energy was already in play in Etna, with breweries, restaurants and other businesses.
“We’re happy to be part of the catalyst. There are a lot of successful businesses in town,” Cole says.
Craft distilleries are experiencing a renaissance, similar to what happened with small breweries. Handcrafted, unique and off-the-beaten path are desirable traits.
Denny Bar Co. produces whiskey, bourbon, gin and vodka with its 300-gallon still. Sparrow and Cole learned the science of distilling through self-study and by taking courses at Moonshine University in Kentucky. Different spirits are produced in different ways. Bourbon, for example, is made with a grain mix of at least 51 percent corn and aged in new American oak barrels for at least two years. Gin offers flexibility in flavoring. Denny Bar Co.’s gin features 13 botanicals, including orange peel, rose petals, cardamom and elder flower.
“We have a more citrus-forward gin. It’s not that super junipery, piney bite,” Cole says.
Whatever spirit is being distilled, Sparrow says, “you want to put the best ingredients in to get the best product out.”
An advantage for Denny Bar Co., he says, is the water. “It’s right out of the Marble Mountains.”
Tours of the distillery, with complimentary tastings, are offered Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Spirits are bottled at the distillery and each is bottle is hand-labeled. Commercial space in Fort Jones is used for corporate operations. The business has 23 employees.
The Denny Bar Co. logo features a compass, encompassing the idea of being open to new directions, according to Patricia.
“Life is an adventure. That was kind of our inspiration,” she says. “And no matter what direction you are going, you can always find yourself coming home.” •
Denny Bar Co. • 511 Main St., Etna
Hours: 11 am to 10 pm Wednesday through Saturday; 11 am to 7 pm Sunday
www.dennybarcompany.com • (530) 467-5115