The San Francisco Coast is renowned for its wild, murky waters, with strong tidal currents and enormous waves pounding the shoreline. In the distance, when the infamous coastal fog clears, the jagged silhouette of the South Farallon Islands sits on the horizon. It is this rugged and remote island chain within the Gulf of the Farallones that inspired the name Gin Farallon.
The weathered cliffs of these islands lie almost 30 miles out into the Pacific. Currently a marine reserve and off limits to the public, the Farallon islands, or Los Farallones, have a long history of exploration, exploitation, and nowadays, conservation.
The word Farallón means “cliff” or “steep rock” in Spanish. Our first product, Vodka Farallon, launched in 2014 and was produced in partnership with the Montara water district. We were given special access to a deep, granite aquifer in the mountains overlooking the coastal cliffs of Montara Beach. This unfiltered, mineral-rich water gave Vodka Farallon a uniquely smooth and balanced flavor and mouthfeel. In 2015 we launched Gin Farallon, and in 2020 we further extended the brand line with two new expressions: Holy Wood & Cask and Blackfruit.
A Brief History
Early Native Americans feared the islands and avoided traveling there. No one deliberately set foot on Los Farallones until it was first explored by Sir Francis Drake in 1595. His crew hunted marine mammals, such as sea lions, and collected seabird eggs, which began a pattern of exploitation that would continue for the next 400 years.
Many believe that the islands’ dangerous presence lead mariners to skirt far offshore, which led to the late discovery of the San Francisco Bay by land in 1769. Nineteenth-century sailors referred to the islands as “The Devil’s Teeth.” It is a forbidding and hostile environment, one that presents serious navigational hazards, causing many shipwrecks over the centuries. And perhaps most notably, the waters surrounding the islands are a well-known feeding ground for populations of great white sharks.
From 1810 and well into the Gold Rush, wildlife exploitation continued for profit. Hunters lived on the islands during summer to harvest Northern Fur Seal pelts for trade in China and, due to a chicken shortage in nearby San Francisco, collect the eggs of seabirds for sale. Commercial egging resulted in over half a million seabird eggs being removed by 1854.
The construction of the first lighthouse began in 1852, which only compounded the damage to the islands’ ecosystem. The advent of automobiles also had a negative effect on the Farallon Islands due to increased oceanic transport of petroleum. Tankers would empty their ballast tanks near the island’s shores and currents pushed oil waste onto the islands, killing huge numbers of seabirds, mammals and marine life. As oil-dumping issues subsided, problems like overfishing emerged, further continuing the damage for years to come.
Today, the islands chain is a National Wildlife Refuge, and protects dense populations of seabirds, marine mammals and flying invertebrates. The conservation group Point Blue conducts research and wildlife observations on and around the islands; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the islands themselves; and the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary manages the surrounding waters.
The Farallon Islands are a forbidding and isolated place — But when the marine fog lifts and the skies clear, the sight of those seldom-visible rocky peaks in the distance is unique and inspiring, giving them an enduring mystique.