Grass Valley-based South Fork Vodka wins national, international awards |

Grass Valley-based South Fork Vodka wins national, international awards

Local craft distillery South Fork Vodka has gained national and international distinctions this year, including third place in the USA Today “10Best” Readers’ Choice Award for best U.S. craft vodka distillery.

Initial nominees for this award, announced late last month, were chosen by editors and experts in the field, and then the “10Best” list was determined by popular vote.

“It’s very exciting. Unlike a tasting competition, which we’ve done very well in … it was a lot of our fans who really helped us establish this position, and we have them to thank,” said South Fork Vodka co-founder Jon Dorfman.

Co-founder Dan Kennerson said, “We’re really grateful just to (have been) nominated, and let alone voted all the way up to number three and … (we’re) looking forward to making our community proud.”

South Fork was also named “world’s best vodka” by the Bartender Spirits Awards in August — earning “Vodka of the Year,” “Vodka Producer of the Year,” and a double-gold distinction — among 400 spirits submitted from 34 countries.

Double-gold is the highest level of distinction in the competition, and was awarded to seven out of the 400 entries.

The competition’s stated goal is to evaluate which spirits “should become additions to bar inventories,” judged by top members of the U.S. bar industry on five categories: mixability, balance and versatility, taste, mouthfeel and finish, and package and price.

The distillery has been earning awards since its 2018 inception, winning double-gold and “Best in Class” distinctions in the Craft Distilled Spirits Competition in Sonoma that year.

The knowledge behind consistently producing award-winning vodka came from an extensive research background, according to Dorfman and Kennerson. Both were formerly employed in a research facility, working with fuel-grade ethanol, and became familiar with methods to selectively destroy fusel oils — which they later learned are responsible for some of the bitterness, burn, and harsh aftertaste many consumers would like to avoid in spirits.

After spending some time leasing their method to other spirits producers, and noticing the success it was having, they decided the best way forward was to start their own company.

“We think we’re set to have a pretty good year for 2021,” said Kennerson, adding that South Fork received a boost in local awareness and support as a result of its sale and donations of hand sanitizer, which they made a temporary pivot to producing in April as COVID-19 led to widespread sanitizer shortages.

The sanitizer is still available through their website — — and at some local retailers, but according to Dorfman, South Fork has returned to a full-time focus on spirits.

Dorfman emphasized that it has been essential for South Fork that they continue to gain community awareness of their product, saying, “We’ve really relied on the community to make it known that we are making the best stuff here.”

Dorfman said some of South Fork’s biggest supporters, particularly when it comes to spreading the word about them, are the establishments that serve their vodka.

“When bars and restaurants can really get back to full scale in a safe way, we’re really eager for that,” he said. “That will help us to continue to produce world-class spirits in the long term.”

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at

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