By Gregory Daurer | Jan 10, 2023
Dormishian says he originally intended to make "rum, whiskey, and gin." But while Falcon Spirits Distillery does in fact make the latter (and very well at that, judging by the wins for its gins at the Good Food Awards), Dormishian says, "There wasn't enough money and there wasn't enough space for barrels" to produce whiskey when the company began.
That hasn't stopped Falcon's portfolio from blossoming into a diverse selection of innovative spirits. In addition to its Botanica Spirivs Gin, plus a barrel-aged one, Dormishian makes two versions of herbal-liqueur amaro with the moniker Aplomado; a vodka and an unaged brandy; a raspberry and a coffee liqueur; and two types of an Italian-style amaro called fernet.
The diversity in that product lineup reflects the well-traveled, technically detailed, and cultured hand preparing the spirits themselves. After spending childhood in Iran -- reveling in the culinary background of his grandmother who was originally from Soviet Georgia and made her own preserves and wines -- his family relocated to Cupertino, pre-Silicon Valley. Dormishian subsequently studied biochemistry and chemical engineering, which led to him working in vaccine research and studies involving fermentation. While pursuing his degree at the University of California Berkeley, he paid for his school by working as a bartender. (The San Francisco Chronicle has published his recipe for a three-citrus margarita.) You can include wine- and beer-making in his background, as well.
A onetime finance director at UC San Francisco (Dormishian also has an MBA in finance and operations), he set about transitioning to a new career. Travels -- and spirit tastings -- throughout Europe beckoned him to open his own distillery. Before returning to America, Dormishian ordered his still from the German manufacturer Arnold Holstein in 2011.
Experimentation is a key to his success. Dormishian says of
his use of herbs, "I have used as many as 75 herbs/ingredients per formulation to create a library of flavors. Right
now, I have a catalog/notes of over 300 herbs.” He describes his Apertivo Aplomado as "gentian-forward," but it also contains damiana, marigold, and annatto seed. His Amaro Aplomado incorporates vanilla beans, allspice, licorice, and rosemary. Dormishian has helped further popularize the Italian-style amaro, fernet, in the Bay Area with Falcon's three Fernet Francisco offerings, which the distillery's site says incorporate -- besides a dozen hand-picked ingredients -- “a holy wisp of fresh fog."
Dormishian describes the making of his Botanica Spirivs Gin as "pretty complicated." It's ultimately a mixture of different distillations, which begin with a six-times distilled non-GMO corn base that Dormishian purchases. Flavors married together by the end of the entire process -- with vapor distillation taking place along the way -- include bergamot orange, lavender, juniper, angelica root, and Persian cucumbers. Just like all his other creations, Dormishian incorporates “fresh ingredients” throughout the entire process.
Since beginning in 2011, Dormishian has increased his production space from around 1,500 square feet to around 4,000. Production volume has gone up, as well, during that time. This year, Dormishian expects to produce over 16,000 bottles. In addition to California, distribution takes places within the states of Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, New York, and Missouri, as well as into Calgary, Alberta in Canada.
Recognition has followed along the way. In 2014, Dormishian was named San Francisco Magazine's "Best of the Bay" Spirit Distiller. In addition to a plethora of Good Food Awards for its products, Falcon Spirits earned Double Gold at the 2022 San Francisco Competition for its Aplomado Amaro (made using artichoke) and its Fernet Francisco Manzanilla, as well as a Gold for its Fernet Francisco Ruibardo (made using rhubarb).
Dormishian plans to release two new amaros, a liqueur, and a new fernet. But not every experiment finds its way into a bottle labeled Falcon Spirits. Owing to Dormishian's dogged attention to the stability of his spirits, some experiments don't make the cut. For instance, one apertivo displayed promise. "It tasted fantastic to me," says Dormishian. "And I let it sit, put some under the sun. I put some in the cupboard, and I waited." But unfortunately, the color and flavor noticeably changed as it aged.
Dormishian says, "We take our time making products we care about."
Challenges: Dormishian says, "It's the same as any other business -- sales." In Dormishian's case, things are further complicated by regulatory matters: he has California licenses for his still and for the distilling, but he "can't do tasting in-house and I can't do sales -- so I depend on my distributors to do the sales."
Opportunities: "We were about to release a lot of new products, right before the pandemic," says Dormishian. "So, I'm just slowly releasing them now. I think those are good. I have five new products coming out."
Dormishian also does consulting work for outside distilleries.
Needs: “Space," he says. "I'm running out of space here."