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Distillery Watch: Hutch Handmade Spirits

Seattle has a new rye guy, and his name is Kyle Hutchins.

August 18, 2010

Hutch’s rye whiskey should be ready around 2014.

Two years ago, Kyle Hutchins was wondering aloud to a colleague about craft spirits. Specifically, he wondered why Washington didn’t have any. Hutchins is a microbrew beer fan, and he didn’t understand why there was a dearth of small-scale local spirits.

"You should talk to my Dad," his colleague told him.

"Dad," as it turns out, is Don Poffenroth, one of the two founders of Dry Fly Spirits in Spokane. Poffenroth and his partner Kent Fleischmann wrote the legislation that made it affordable for craft distillers to do business in Washington State.

That legislation also stipulates that at least 51 percent of the ingredients that go into a Washington-made spirit are grown instate. That’s meant tricky business for a lot of would-be distillers, including Hutchins, who wanted to make rye whiskey.

Hutchins is a marketing expert—he’s worked for a decade as a marketer and corporate consultant—and he saw an opportunity in rye, both because the whiskey has made a comeback in recent years (before prohibition rye was ubiquitous, since then we’ve become a nation of bourbon drinkers) and because he saw an opportunity in the rye market at the $40 to $50 range. He also likes it better than bourbon.

"But there’s not a lot of rye grown in Washington." Explained Hutchins. "It is a noxious weed that farmers want off their property." He eventually found an organic farmer who grew a little rye for bakery flour, and struck a deal with him to grow more.

Hutchins studied under Poffenroth and is currently tweaking his mash recipe. Once he gets the whiskey in the barrel, he says he’ll probably age it for three to four years; given Washington’s climate, he doesn’t think two is enough. In fact, one of his concerns is that Washington distillers are bottling too early, producing an inferior product that may give locally grown spirits a bad name.

When his first batches are bottled, Hutchins will open a tasting room—he hopes to open somewhere central with lots of foot traffic, which he estimates could account for any where between 10 to 20 percent of sales. We’ll look out for Hutch rye whiskey in a few years.

To learn about other craft distilleries in Washington, click on the "microdistilleries" tag below.

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