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Oola Distillery’s 550-gallon Seattle-made alembic still. Actual distilling happens here.

IN 2008, WASHINGTON STATE PASSED A BILL calling for a new craft distillery license, changing the game for small-batch spirit makers who were suddenly able to set up shop affordably. Since then, a crop of new microdistilleries has popped up—so many, in fact, that keeping them straight has become a sobering affair.

To create this complete guide to the Washington microdistilleries that currently make and sell spirits, we surveyed the nearly 40 with an approved craft license (some small distillers choose to use a regular license instead). Among our findings: a honey-vodka operation on an island, a Capitol Hill distillery that doubles as a dance studio, and lots and lots of sweet, flavored liqueurs made with distilled spirits.

With so many talented Washingtonians getting into the game, it’s hard not to catch the spirit.








Bainbridge Organic Distillers


Who
To create the first 100 percent organic distillery in the state, liquor marketing vet Keith Barnes and his son Patrick use stills from Vendome, a storied Kentucky company in business since the early 1900s. What and Where Juniper grows in Washington, but any distiller worth his botanicals will tell you the stuff’s no good for spirits. So for his Heritage Organic Doug Fir Gin ($35), Barnes uses juniper from Albania. The gin, plus the Battle Point Organic Whiskey ($47) and Bainbridge Legacy Organic Vodka ($33), are all available to sample at the tasting room, but only the vodka is regularly stocked in state liquor shops—the others require special order. When Tasting room hours are 10 to 5 Monday through Friday and 10 to 3 on Saturdays.

Bainbridge Organic Distillers, 9727 Coppertop Loop NE, Ste 101, Bainbridge Island, 206-842-3184; bainbridgedistillers.com



Black Heron Spirits


Who
As his winery grew, Tefft Cellars winemaker Joel Tefft grew increasingly disillusioned with the bureaucratic responsibilities of the big wine biz. So in 2009 he left his namesake winery to start Black Heron Spirits. What and Where At his West Richland headquarters, Tefft distills a liquor laundry list—vodka, gin, limoncello, cordial, whiskey, grappa, and brandy—using a 300-gallon, American-made copper pot still, one of the biggest in the state. See it on a distillery tour, then head into the airy tasting room to sip as you soak up some desert sunshine—the stuff pours through the many windows at this sampling sanctuary. When Black Heron is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5 and is bookable for private parties of 50 people or fewer. Products available in state liquor stores or by special order.

Black Heron Spirits, 8011 Keene Rd, West Richland, 505-967-0781; blackheronspirits.com



Challenger Ridge Vineyard and Cellars


Who
Known for being one of a few pinot noir crafters this side of the Oregon border, Challenger Ridge in Concrete is a six-partner, 67-acre winery (you can camp there, provided you buy one bottle of wine per adult per night). Back in 2009 it started repurposing wine barrels to age fruit brandies and liqueurs. Famed Walla Walla winemaker Rusty Figgins is charged with distilling; with his Leonetti pedigree you know the guy makes good brandy. What and Where The specialty here is brandy made with grapes grown on the premises. The Trappers Peak Brandy ($35) is on sale at the winery’s estate tasting room just west of Concrete. (There’s also a Woodinville tasting room, but it stocks wine only.) When Try Challenger Ridge’s wine, brandy, and small-lot liqueurs between 11 and 5 on Saturdays and Sundays at the Concrete tasting room, a 110-year-old farmstead with all-wood walls and floors and a cozy fire.

Challenger Ridge Vineyards and Cellars, 43095 Challenger Rd, Concrete, 425-422-6988; challengerridge.com



Dry Fly Distilling


Who
Former corporate marketers Don Poffenroth and Kent Fleischmann famously helped draft the ’08 legislation that allowed craft distilleries to flourish in Washington State. The bill also included the controversial 51 percent rule, which stipulates that just over half the ingredients in state-made craft spirits have to be grown here. (That’s one reason you see a whole lot of Washington-made fruit brandies and grain-based spirits.) It’s worked out well for them: Poffenroth and Fleischmann say they will sell 10,000 cases of liquor this year. What and Where The distillery plucks grains for its spirits (gin, vodka, whiskey) from the amber waves at Winsota Farm just outside Rosalia—about 20 percent of the farm’s total crop makes its way into Dry Fly mash. The distillers’ goals are lofty: They aim to get their gin and vodka (both $30) on shelves in every state of the union, and they ship to Canada as well. When Tours and tastings happen Monday through Friday from 8 to 5 and Saturdays from 10 to 3.

Dry Fly Distilling, 1003 E Trent Ave Ste 200, Spokane, 509-489-2112; dryflydistilling.com



Fremont Mischief


Who
Mike Sherlock’s family didn’t follow him into the commercial fishing business, but distilling was a different story. Wife Patti and son Jon Gretz are partners in Mike’s mischievous new venture. What and Where Twelve years ago the Sherlocks discovered a small distillery in Canada that would make their rye whiskey recipe—a family heirloom—which explains why the brand-new distillery is already serving up aged spirits. (They plan on making future batches themselves.) Mike says the Fremont Mischief Whiskey ($33)—aged in oak barrels for several years—leaves you with a “buttery, caramel feeling.” At the Canal Street tasting room and distillery, the Sherlocks serve 80-proof Fremont Mischief Vodka ($28) and John Jacob Whiskey ($33), from the family’s rye mash recipe. The vodka and both whiskeys are available at state liquor stores. Mischief also makes limited batches of gin. When Stop by the wood-paneled tasting room to sip samples and peruse the plentiful paraphernalia (cocktail kits, martini glasses, lapel pins…) Monday through Saturday from 11 to 6 and Sunday from 11 to 4.

Fremont Mischief, 132 N Canal St, Fremont, 206-547-0838; fremontmischief.com

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(Clockwise from top left) Sun Liquor’s 20-gallon test still; 10-gallon barrels aging bourbon at Oola; Project V’s four stills, homemade from used and repurposed materials; corn and wheat mash in the still at MacDonald.

Golden Distillery

 




Who
Semiretired restaurateurs Jim Caudill and Bob Stillnovich use 90 percent Washington ingredients in their whiskeys and brandies, a fact they credit to the highly arable Skagit Valley. What and Where Two whiskeys and five brandies (raspberry, blackberry, apple, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah) are currently in stock. Golden ages its offerings in small (10-gallon) barrels as opposed to larger and cheaper 55- to 60-gallon drums, increasing the surface-area-to-volume ratio and resulting in faster aging so their stuff tastes older sooner. (That’s a good thing.) Head out to Bow to visit the tasting room, which, the whiskey makers boast, “might have the best view of any distillery in the world,” looking out on the Samish Bay. The single-malt Samish Bay Whiskey ($36) is sold at select state liquor stores. When Look for the school-bus-yellow shingle marked “Tasting Room and Sales”; hours are a little loosey-goosey so call ahead to confirm someone will meet you there.

Golden Distillery, 9746 Samish Island Rd, Bow, 360-542-8332; goldendistillery.com



It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere


Who
Distiller Colin Levi personally picks most of the fruit that goes into his brandies and liqueurs, and he says he’s experimented with just about every sort of fruit there is, including Asian pear, a memorably unpalatable distilling fruit. What and Where Levi is all about capturing the essential character of fruit and grains in his pear, rhubarb, and elderberry liqueurs, corn whiskey, and Chilean-style brandy. All products are available via special order at state liquor stores, but the tasting room in Cashmere, decked out with Prohibition-era photos and other Chelan County artifacts, is definitely worth a visit. When It’s 5 O’Clock schedules visits to its tasting room by appointment (call ahead) weekdays from 10 to 5 and weekends from 1 to 5.

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere, 207 Mission Ave, Cashmere, 509-860-0102; 5oclocksomewheredistillery.com



MacDonald Distillery


Who
Among the ranks of liquor-industry-vets-turned-distillers is Glen MacDonald, who spent 25 years in the distribution biz.What and Where MacDonald says his unaged Ty Wolfe White Whiskey ($38) keeps selling out, so if you can score some, do it. A line of fruit liqueurs is coming soon, some of which has been sourced from the backyard of distiller and friend Ryan Hembree (also of Skip Rock Distillers). MacDonald’s Snohomish tasting room—housed in a historical building that, 100 years ago, was a stable for the local fire department—is on the building’s second floor, so you can overlook the still, and, when it’s open, get a big boozy whiff of what’s cooking. Be sure to sample the floral Isis Gin ($33), less junipery than your average gin. When Distillery tours offered by appointment only, but the tasting room is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5.

MacDonald Distillery, 104 Ave C, Snohomish, 360-862-0272; macdonalddistillery.com



Oola Distillery


Who
Oola founder Kirby Kallas-Lewis runs his Union Street distillery and tasting room with the aid of managing director Brandon Gillespie, a former Mighty-O Donuts GM. Talk about creative confluence: Kallas-Lewis’s wife KT Niehoff runs her dance company out of an adjoining studio. Outfitted with a kitchen, the studio doubles as an event space for tasting parties and culinary wingdings. What and Where Oola’s long list of products currently in the works includes a chili-laced vodka (made with peppers grown in Yakima); at press time only its caramelly gin and a smooth wheaty vodka were in the bottle. The gin and vodka are currently available to sample at the Capitol Hill tasting room, a two-level construction that Kallas-Lewis hopes to one day turn into a bar celebrating handcrafted libations of all sorts. When Visit the handsome metal-and-repurposed-wood tasting room—designed by neighborhood architect Graham Baba—between 2 and 8 Tuesday through Thursday; Friday and Saturday from 2 to 10; and Sunday from 2 to 6.

Oola Distillery, 1314 E Union St, Capitol Hill, 206-709-7909; ooladistillery.com



Pacific Distillery


Who
Master distiller Marc Bernhard is a hero among fans of absinthe for his Pacifique ($63), an earthy take on the Green Fairy that required years of research and experimentation inside his old-school copper alembic stills. Bernhard famously grows his booze botanicals (wormwood, lemon balm, hyssop) in his own garden, but he’s not afraid to shop elsewhere. His commitment to buying the best flavor agents from far-flung sources helps keep his products at the top of the heap—on par with some of the best new spirits you’ll find anywhere. What and Where In addition to the Pacifique, Bernhard makes Voyager Gin ($26), a popular mixer with a subtle sweetness and a lovely citrus aroma. Call ahead to schedule a tour of Pacific’s Woodinville distillery. When Pacific welcomes visitors for tours from 10 to 3 on Saturday, but suggests emailing mbernhard@pacificdistillery.com to make sure the distiller will be on duty.

Pacific Distillery, 18808 142nd Ave NE Ste 4B, Woodinville, 425-350-9061; pacificdistillery.com

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Project V’s Dan Smith stirs grain mash, which is pumped to the old bathtub where Mac Kenney squeezes liquid out of it and Mo Danger Heck handles the spent grain.

Project V Distillery and Sausage Company


Who
True crafters: Al Danger Heck, his wife Mo Danger Heck, and friends Mac Kenney II, Jason Smith, and Perry Sanders created Project V out of a garage hobby, using four stills they built themselves. Mac, Mo, and her brother Dan work full time at the distillery turning out about 400 bottles of vodka a week. Their spent grain is fed to pigs in Snohomish, and the pigs in turn are fed to Project V’s customers as sausage. What Project V has distinguished itself via its Single Silo vodka ($29), a neutral grain spirit that captures the essence of the wheat with which it’s made—the grains come from Mo and Dan’s aunt and uncle’s family farm in Withrow in Eastern Washington. Where The Woodinville tasting room, where they store bottles in an old Volkswagen bus, also sells flasks, glasses, olives, and chocolates. When Stop by Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 5.

Project V Distillery and Sausage Company, 19495 144th Ave NE Ste A130 Woodinville, 425-398-1738; projectvdistillery.com



San Juan Island Distillery


Who
Richard Anderson has been making Westcott Bay Cider for 12 years. Now with partners Suzanne and Hawkins Pingree the operation has expanded to include distilling; products include an apple eau-de-vie, three kinds of gin, thimbleberry brandy, and a lavender and wild rose liqueur. What and Where This fall, the distillers began barrel-aging eau-de-vie; in several years they hope to bottle it as Calvados-style brandy. When Find out what a thimbleberry is and watch the distillers in action by appointment or during summer hours on Saturdays from 3 to 5.

San Juan Island Distillery, 12 Anderson Ln, San Juan Island, 360-378-2606; sanjuanislanddistillery.com 
 

A shop table at Project V holds 15-gallon demijohns and parts for a still.

Sidetrack Distillery




Who
Sidetrack is the new venture from Larry and Linda Person, owners of the U-pick berry operation Lazy River Farm, and their nephew David O’Neal. What and Where Try Sidetrack’s liqueurs (strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry) and brandies (strawberry and blueberry) at the tasting room on the farm in Kent. If it’s nice out, bring a picnic. Their products are also available at select state liquor stores and by special order. Calling all boozy brides and grooms: Sidetrack will soon open up the farm to weddings and culinary events. When Sip your samples Saturdays from 11 to 5, Sundays from 11 to 4, and by appointment.

Sidetrack Distillery, 27010 78th Ave S, Kent, 206-963-5079; sidetrackdistillery.com





Skip Rock Distillers






Who Ryan Hembree’s self-described “home-brew hobby gone crazy.” Formally educated in winemaking at Washington State University, Hembree previously worked as agricultural coordinator for Snohomish County while making beer, wine, and cider at home. He definitely appreciates the new opportunities the craft distilling laws provide farmers—and hobbyists. What and Where Skip Rock Potato Vodka ($34), the only potato vodka being made in the state. It’s “a little different, but a whole lot harder” than wheat vodka, says Hembree. His vodka has a richer profile and is more robust than wheat vodkas, and doesn’t lose its flavor when you make mixed drinks with it. Skip Rock’s tasting room is in Snohomish at the same locale as MacDonald Distillery. Hembree (who is also MacDonald’s Head Distiller) and Glen MacDonald have been friends for four years since meeting at a distilling workshop. Skip Rock Potato Vodka is also available as a shelf listing at state liquor stores. When Check the website or call ahead for tasting room hours and distillery tours.

Skip Rock Distillers, 104 Ave C, Snohomish, 425-330-4885; skiprockdistillers.com

Sodo Spirits Distillery

Who Sodo Spirits—run by K. C. and Amy Sheehan—is the only United States distillery making shochu, a Japanese spirit that’s lower in alcohol and calories than vodka or gin, from scratch. The Sheehans got the idea from a friend who runs a 60-year-old shochu distillery in Japan, where it’s now at least as popular as sake. What and Where To make their EvenStar Premium Cocktail Shochu ($32), the Sheehans incubate Washington-grown barley to create koji, a fungus, which is fermented with more barley, then worked through a copper still. When There is no tasting room at present but shochu is available for purchase in the retail section at the SoDo distillery and at select liquor stores.

Sodo Spirits Distillery, info@sodospirits.com; sodospirits.com



Soft Tail Spirits


Who
Master Distiller Dennis Robertson has been operating his Woodinville distillery since 2008. This year, with apprentice Matthew Farmer, he unveiled a second tasting room where they hold barbecues in summer and bottling parties from time to time. What and Where One of the first craft distilleries to open in Washington, Soft Tail makes grappa from the leftover grape bits (called pomace) from a nearby winery. Its popular vodka sold more than 620 gallons this year. When Soft Tail has two tasting rooms in Woodinville; one is open Saturdays and Sundays only from noon to 5, and the other is open weekdays from 9 to 5.

Soft Tail Spirits, 14356 Woodinville Redmond Rd, Woodinville (Sat & Sun). 12280 NE Woodinville Dr Ste C, Woodinville (Mon–Fri), 425-770-1154; softtailspirits.com

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MacDonald’s mash goes in the 650-liter still at one end, and 190-proof liquor comes out of the cooling tower at the other, after passing through two pumper columns.

Sound Spirits


Who
Boeing aerospace engineer Steven Stone runs the distillery in his off-work hours with the help of an assistant and somehow finds time for a full-court PR onslaught: Sound Spirits gets less press than Dry Fly, but only slightly less. What and Where The vodka and gin—marketed under the name Ebb and Flow—are currently available at the Interbay tasting room (you’ll know you’re there when you see the painted octopus tentacles flopping around on the street-facing wall) and in state liquor stores. Future plans include aquavit, creme de menthe, whiskey, and, most ambitiously of all, a Benedictine-style liquor. But back to that vodka for a second: Craft bartenders are well known for their bias against vodka, but even they say Stone’s version (made from mash of barley, as opposed to wheat) has a distinctly pleasing flavor and a silky mouthfeel. When The tasting room welcomes visitors Monday through Thursday from noon to 8; Friday noon to 7, Saturdays noon to 6, and Sunday noon to 5.

Sound Spirits, 1630 15th Ave W, Interbay, 206-651-5166; drinksoundspirits.com



Sun Liquor Distillery


Who
Beer brewer turned gin crafter and all-around busy guy Erik Chapman (he manages both Sun Liquor bars) distills. Fellow busy guy Michael Klebeck, who founded the bars and runs Top Pot Doughnuts with his brother Mark, designed the brand’s distinctively rimmed bottle with the Bakelite cap. Chapman, who happens to be one of Seattle’s most studied cocktailians, tweaked his recipe by testing it in hundreds of classic and modern cocktail concoctions to help him create a versatile mixing gin. The result: a very good go-to bottle for the home bartender. What and Where Chapman worked on Sun Liquor’s flagship spirit, the round-bodied Hedge Trimmer gin ($30), for a full year before settling on a final formula in October. It is now for sale at the Pike Street distillery and in state liquor stores. Chapman says that Sun will roll out small-batch seasonal gins, eau de violette, and several more as-yet-undisclosed products in months to come. When At press time, Sun Liquor was planning to start serving samples of Hedge Trimmer at the distillery but had yet to work out logistics. Chapman said the gin will be available in Washington’s state liquor stores and at select emporiums in Oregon and California.

Sun Liquor Distillery, 514 E Pike St, Capitol Hill, 206-720-1600; sunliquor.com



Whidbey Island Distillery

Who Whidbey Island Distillery is as homegrown as they come: The Heising family runs the distillery on a nine-acre property in Langley. Tech geek Steve developed the unique low-temperature distillation process (his still is the first to operate legally on the island) while his wife Beverly tackles operations and marketing. Son Jim, meanwhile, takes care of the graphics, website, and label design. What and Where The Heisings are currently making loganberry liqueur at the distillery, available through state liquor stores. Next up: vodka and whiskey. When Tastings are currently available by appointment only, and a public tasting room is on the agenda for summer 2012.

Whidbey Island Distillery, 3466 Craw Rd, Langley, 360-321-4715; whidbeydistillery.com



Wishkah River Distillery


Who
Sue Watts runs the show solo at her Aberdeen distillery, one of the few places in the country (Watts estimates there are four or five others) where you’ll find vodka made from honey—a complicated process that begins by making mead, or honey wine. Mead’s slow fermentation process means Wishkah vodka takes two more weeks to make than grain-based vodkas. What and Where In addition to the honey, Watts makes a grain-based vodka and she’ll soon be serving her white (unaged) whiskey. A barrel-rested version will be ready several years down the line. When Tasting room hours are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from noon to 6.

Wishkah River Distillery, 2210 Port Industrial Rd, Aberdeen, 360-589-1829; wishkahriver.com



Woodinville Whiskey Company


Who
As indicated by the name, the plan at Woodinville Whiskey, a partnership between best buds Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile, was always barrel-aged whiskey. Bourbon, to be precise. They developed the recipe with the aid of former Maker’s Mark distiller Dave Pickerell. Meantime, however, they needed something to sell. Thus were born WW’s white-dog (or unaged) whiskey Headlong ($35) and its Peabody Jones vodka ($30). What and Where Alongside the clear spirits on offer, Woodinville Whiskey sells age-your-own whiskey kits: a mini barrel and a bottle of white dog—the perfect holiday gift for the hooch hobbyist in your life. When The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 with tours at 4 each day.

16110 Woodinville Redmond Rd NE Ste 3, Woodinville, 425-486-1199; woodinvillewhiskeyco.com

This article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.

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