By Bill Lundquist

The morning was focused on law enforcement, but participants on the July 21 Hospitality Tours spent the afternoon in search of refreshment.

That included a picnic, a visit to a shrine to America's favorite beverage, and even a spot of brandy.

Welcome all

Having escaped from her moment in andquot;the slammer,andquot; tour director Jan Norwood led the participants from the Brookings Police Department to a picnic at the State Welcome Center across the highway from Harris Beach State Park.

Participants scattered to various picnic tables throughout the Welcome Center's grounds, enjoying a day that included both sun and fog, but not much wind.

Those close to the information center were treated to floral displays, inside and out, while they gathered maps and brochures.

Those eating on the outlying tables had their information packets hand delivered by Welcome Center Manager Ann Spencer.

Spencer explained that besides offering information and clean rest rooms (also decorated with flowers), the Welcome Center gives travelers a andquot;nice safe place to stayandquot; for up to 12 hours.

Unfortunately, she said, some like it so well they try to move in permanently, and have to be sent on their way.

It's the Real Thing

The tour was soon on its way a short distance up the highway to a Dawson Tract home with an entire room filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia.

There, Glenda Eckhardt has collected thousands of items bearing the familiar red logo during the past eight years.

Husband Bob said Glenda received a gift of a Coca-Cola collectible from a relative and andquot;that got her going.andquot;

The collection includes various actual Coke bottles, and some, like a heavy solid leaded glass model, meant to be collected.

The now famous Coca-Cola polar bears are there in various sizes, as well as pre-war (even pre-World War I) advertisements.

The soda-fountain past is represented by a full size menu board, and the fast food present by various andquot;Happy Mealandquot; type prizes.

A moonshiner in the hills

Participants then crossed the coast highway and drove the crooked four miles up Carpenterville Road to the Brandy Peak Distillery.

It's been 11 years since the Nowlin family moved to the area from California, bought 50 acres in the mountains, and began producing world-class brandies.

Not that brandy making was new to family patriarch R.L. Nowlin, who spent a lifetime supervising the Gallo winery and manufacturing equipment for the wine and spirit industry.

Nowlin had always dreamed of building a small distillery with wood-fired stills where he could make brandies his own way.

When son David and his wife Georgia purchased the land on Carpenterville Road, it all came together.

David grew up in Modesto, then spent 10 years selling yachts in San Diego.

andquot;I was the last person you'd have expected to become a moonshiner in the hills,andquot; he laughed.

Now, however, he admits he should spend more time on the road marketing his brandies, but is growing ever more reluctant to spend much time away from paradise.

Still, with distributors in Del Norte and Humboldt counties, and the Bay Area, along with Oregon state liquor stores, the Nowlins are thinking about expanding the distillery to keep up with the demand.

They soon discovered their own grape vines wouldn't bear fruit, and turned to Rogue Valley orchards and Illinois Valley vineyards to supply top quality pears and grapes.

Their products are not fruit flavored bulk alcohol, but the distilled essence of tons of fresh pears and grapes.

Yellow Bartlett pears (30,000 pounds last year) are fermented for a few days into a pulpy wine.

The mixture is then fed into a still fired by wood. The fire must be fed by hand every 15 minutes.

andquot;Everything we do is a real hand operation,andquot; said David.

Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, so the steam rises up a pipe at the top of the still and is cooled back into liquid by a condenser.

Every batch is a little different, said David, allowing the Nowlins to use their knowledge to blend the perfect flavor.

The pure alcohol is then reduced to the 40 percent required by law and either bottled or aged in oak barrels for years.

Grape brandies, made from varietal grapes such as pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and Riesling, are made the same way.

David said they rarely use the grape press anymore, feeling they get more flavor by distilling a thicker mixture. Mixers in the still keep the mixture from burning.

It takes a ton and a quarter of fruit, he said, to make the 200 gallons of wine that is distilled into 20 gallons of brandy.

It takes 15 pounds of pears to make one bottle of pear brandy. Dry and clear, the flavor comes from the pears within, not from sweet flavors added later.

The exception to the rule is the Nowlins' blackberry liqueur. It is made by soaking local blackberries in grape brandy for two months, then adding sugar to the bottle to sweeten the liqueur. The berries are not crushed into juice, but soaked whole.

Tour participants took advantage of the distillery's tasting room, which is licensed as a state liquor store.

They then made their way back down the twisting road, using caution and designated drivers, of course. They'd started out the day in andquot;the slammerandquot; and didn't want to end up there for real.

The tasting room and distillery is located on Tetley Road, four miles up Carpenterville Road from the South Coast Lumber mill.

It is open 1-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday from March 1 through the first week in January.

Call (541) 469-0194 for more information or visit the Web site at http://www.