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.
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
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
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
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
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