Still Life

Introducing Captive Spirits, Ballard’s New Microdistillery

Big Gin, a particularly vibrant juniper juice, will be available in March.

By Christopher Werner December 19, 2011

The Captive Spirits label. Photo courtesy the distillery.

Big Gin is the name of the flagship liquor Captive Spirits will produce. It’s a play on Ben Capdevielle’s nickname for his dad, Big Jim, a craft distiller in Wisconsin. Big Jim’s dad also was a distiller, a purveyor of Templeton Rye during Prohibition.

Capdevielle along with Holly Robinson and Todd Leabman—"he’s our brains," explains Robinson—are carrying on the family tradition with their Ballard-based operation. Though he might not say as much, it’s obvious owning and operating a distillery is a lifelong dream of Capdevielle’s—the guy was positively gleeful when he showed me around their spirits lab last week.

Three years ago Capdevielle set the wheels in motion; since then the Linda Derschang and Tom Douglas alum quips that the owners "let our strokes of genius come sporadically." You can’t force inspiration or settle for just any space, says Robinson, a Walla Walla native. "It’s like starting a restaurant."

In September Captive Spirits took over the back room of 1518 NW 52nd Street, now tricked out with a 100-gallon Vendome-made still and boxes upon boxes of bottles waiting for their juice. That will come in March, when 1183 dictates spirit makers can commence self distributing.

Big Gin also is a reference to the spirit’s robust flavor. What botanicals Capdevielle uses he won’t reveal, but he says to expect "a very vibrant gin." Savory and a bit spicy, he compared it to something your grandpa might swill. Junipery? "Oh yeah, big time." According to Robinson they sampled juniper juice of all stripes to create something "that’s missing from the market."

The trio wants to keep Captive a small-batch outfit but they do aspire to implement a mail-order system and release an aperitif and a whiskey, barrelling for which could start in the summer. Bottling parties are in the cards but a tasting room isn’t. But Big Gin shouldn’t be hard to come by at local watering holes. "The bars around Ballard have been incredibly supportive," said Capdevielle. "They keep asking, ‘Where is it? Where is it?’"

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