Monday, February 24, 2014

An Evening with Dr. Bill Lumsden

Dr. Bill talking passionately and humorously about whisky.  It's good to see someone who loves his craft.

On Feb 18th, Wine World & Spirits hosted Dr. Bill Lumsden, the Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation at The Glenmorangie Company.  With a fantastic title like that, he's certainly on the short list of people to meet in the whisky industry.  Before we got into tasting his work, he spoke at length about Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.  Incredibly, he designs the flavors of both products.  And, he readily admits that there could not be two drams so different on one's shelf.  He kept referring to having to having to take off his Glenmorangie head before putting on his Ardbeg head.

Here's some notes about the distilling process for Glenmorangie:
Glenmornagie stills have incredibly long necks.  This causes more reflux to occur and less oils to make it through.  The result is more of the light floral tones found in their whisky.
Casks are incredibly important to the flavor of whisky.  So much so, that they actually own the American casks and lease them out to American Distillers before having them shipped over to Scotland.

From their website:With 60% of the flavour coming from the cask we knew that if we improved the quality of our wood, we would improve the quality of our whisky. Which is why we are passionately, and scientifically, committed to creating the perfect casks in which to mature our precious spirit.
This journey has seen us travel to the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, USA, to hand select slow growth oak tees with a highly porous nature before air seasoning the oak for at least two years, heavily toasting and lightly charring it to maximize the flavour potential, and finally leasing the resulting casks to Bourbon or Tennessee producers for four years. Then, and only then, are they ready to be called a Glenmorangie 'designer cask'.

According to Bill, harsher tasting Scotch is often a result from reusing the barrels too many times (he then jokingly named a rival distillery under his breath)    They only use theirs twice (a total of three times including when it was filled with American Whiskey)
After the success of the Signet, I asked him if he had any plans to push the boundaries of Scotch further (the Signet is a very unique dram, and a must try if you can)  His face glowed and he started talking about the fact that he has about twenty nine experiments running right now!

He did mention one experiment that might have actually single handedly gotten the Scottish whisky laws amended.  The law used to state that to be called Scotch, it had to be made and aged in Scotland for a minimum of three years in oak.

He spoke a little bit about Ardbeg this evening.  But, as he was here for the unveiling of Companta, most of the evening was spent talking about Glenmornagie.

Some interesting facts about Ardbeg:

They bought Ardbeg for 7.7million pounds, not including the major renovations needed, as the distillery was in disrepair.  They were not the highest bidder, but were considered the one company who would serve that brand and let it grow to its full potential.

Ardbeg is a very small distillery.  It only has two stills; one wash still and one spirits still.

If you have never tried it, it is incredibly peaty.  They make the peatiest whisky in regular production.  Personally, I really enjoy the Ardbeg Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan.

 Some photos of the evening:

Dr. Bill with the Tacoma Whisky Society

Dr. Bill with yours truly

The good Doctor with John Slagle, of Wine World and Spirits

Spoils of war! My hand signed bottle in front of a few whisky books in my collection.

From Wine World's page about his visit:
The Glenmorangie Companta is the fifth release in the Private Edition series, a highly awarded line of limited releases including the Sonnalta PX, Finnealta, Artein, and Ealanta. The Companta (Gaelic for ‘Friendship’) is the result of a marriage of two different cask finished whiskies. The first whisky started its life in 1999 and rested for the usual 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels, much like the Glenmorangie Original. However, Dr. Lumsden decided to put the whisky into a small parcel of Grand Cru Burgundy casks from the prestigious Clos de Tart winery in France. There it matured for an additional 4 years, making the whisky just shy of 15 years old. The second whisky started its first 10 years in 1995, again in ex-bourbon barrels. In 2005, Dr. Lumsden shifted it over to sweet fortifed Côte du Rhône wine casks from the Rasteau AOC. There it acquired an impressive eight additional years. The two whiskies were married together at a ratio of 60% Clos de Tart, 40% Rasteau and were allowed to mingle for together for six months before being crowned ‘Companta’.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

2bar delivers Independent Spirits

When I made it out to 2bar, I realized I was in familiar territory. Located at 2960 4th Ave South, it's in the same building complex that used to house one of the best liquor stores in the state before privatization. If you were looking for really hard to find independent stuff, this was the place to go. The state is no longer present but thanks to 2bar, you can still get quality independent liquor there.

Opening in October of 2012, it consists of Nathan Kaiser, Chris Lehmann and Zach Zelinski & Zack Stockman, who oversee night time operation:

Nathan Kaiser is the owner. He used to be the COO of Blue Box, and has been involved in startups of one kind or another for years. He wanted to get back into the business of making things. The 2bar name comes from his family's farm in Yoakum, Texas. And, he wants to carry on the 2bar legacy.
He wants to grow the business and still stay true to the craft. He sees a groundswell of the DIY (do it yourself) culture emerging into the mainstream, and considers craft distilleries to be an integral part of this Renaissance.

Chris Lehmann, head distiller, is a living, walking encyclopedia on whiskey making knowledge. His favorites are single malt Scotches, so it will be interesting to see if they decide to start producing a single malt American whiskey in the future. When I showed up, he had just had gotten back from Springbank distillery in Scotland. There, they still employ about 40 people, compared to the average of 5-8 per distillery (most work at large distilleries has been automated.) He worked alongside them, learning some of the very subtle parts of the craft.

Chris & Nathan, with their new bourbon barrels

Why Liquor?
Nathan wanted to get back into making real-world products, instead of just offering virtual solutions. With a degree in Microbiology and a love of moonshine, 2bar Spirits was a perfect combination of education and interests.

2bar Spirits is about quality, locally sourced and produced spirits and about celebrating moments in time.

There are two cultures that tend to emerge in any business. One is where each employee hoards all the knowledge and techniques that they have amassed over the years, in order to gain an edge over their fellow employee. While this can greatly benefit the individual, the company as a whole can suffer greatly. The other culture is a culture of sharing. When one person learns a new technique, he shares it with all of the coworkers who will benefit or are interested in hearing about it. These companies have lower turnover, happier employees, and most importantly, tend to do really well over time. Nathan has based all of his businesses off of the later model.

Family Legacy
The original 2bar was (and still is) a cattle ranch in Yoakum, Texas. His grandfather is 82 and still works it. His Grandfather’s dad passed away with he was only eight years old and he and his then 11 year old brother had to start supporting the family and the ranch with their mother.

Although there are no records (or court submittable evidence!), there are hints and rumors of moonshining stories the family passed down over the ages. Whether true of not (again, no evidence!) Nathan sees his distillery as a way to honor his family heritage. One thing that has plenty of evidence is the family work ethic. This is integral to Nathan's business dealings.

They work with and buy directly from local farmers, not through distributors. They like to deal with people instead of conglomerates whenever possible. In this business especially, relationships matter. This ties into why they make liquor in the first place. When I asked if they would go to a distributor if one of the family farms they worked with went under, Nathan's response was, “No, we'd find another farmer.”

And with these relationships, they are looking more to consistently improve their offerings than to keep a consistent flavor profile.

Each fermentation tank is named after someone lovely.  This is (obviously) June Carter

Right now, they make a sipping vodka and moonshine, with bourbon aging in barrels for later release. It will be coming out soon, but they haven't given a date yet. Their first batch was laid into casks in January of this year. I was able to smell a sample, and it is coming along nicely.


High notes, sweet. Almost reminiscent of Jameson 18 year. The mash is primarily made from local wheat, but doesn’t have as much of a ‘play-doh’ taste as some wheat based whiskey that I’ve tried.

Smooth for a moonshine (smoother than Bruichladdich Rocks, for comparison), nice depth of flavor. If you’ve had other moonshine before, don’t be afraid to try it at their tasting room before you pick up a bottle. It's very drinkable. I’d prefer mine straight over having it in a mixed drink.

Nathan, “Overall, Moonshine is a precursor to Bourbon. If you were to put it in a new charred oak barrel it would become a Bourbon. In the case of 2bar Moonshine and 2bar Bourbon, we have used different mash bills for both, though both are still majority corn. Also, our Moonshine is a standalone whiskey. It was never meant to go into a barrel, it if was it would have the harshness associated with other moonshines or white dogs.”

So, where can you get it?  As of July 2013, this is the most complete list!
You can find 2 Bar Spirits at:

Company Name Address City
T&C - Town & Country 343 East Winslow Way Bainbridge Island
BevMo! 1100 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue
Black Bottle - Bellevue 919 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue
Total Wine & More 699 120th Avenue NE Bellevue
Archer Ale House 1212 10th Street Bellingham
BevMo! 114 West Stuart Road Bellingham
Copper Hog 1327 North State St. Bellingham
Green Frog 1015 N. State St. Bellingham
Liquor Depot 1255 Barkley Blvd Bellingham
Market - Lakeway 1030 Lakeway Drive Bellingham
The Real McCoy Home Bar & Kitchen 114 Prospect St. Bellingham
2point0 Cafe and Wine Bar 1912 201st Place SE Bothell
Preservation Kitchen 17121 Bothell Way NE Bothell
Edmonds IGA Market 550 Fifth Avenue So. Edmonds
Broadway Liquor - Everett 2027 Broadway Avenue Everett
Fall City Liquor 33625 SE Redmond-Fall City Rd Fall City
King's Market 160 Spring St. Friday Harbor
Rumor Mill 175 First St. Friday Harbor
Flat Iron Grill 317 NW Gilman Blvd Issaquah
Bridle Trails Red Apple 6625 132nd AVE NE Kirkland
Brix Wine Cafe 9749 NE 119th Way Kirkland
Metropolitan Market - Kirkland 10611 N.E. 68th St. Kirkland
Lopez Village Red Apple Market 214 Lopez Road Lopez Island
Wine 101 11601 Harbour Pointe Blvd Mukilteo
G3 Liquors - West Olympia 400 Coopers Pt. Rd SW #24 Olympia
Ramblin Jacks 520 E. 4th Ave. Olympia
Total Wine & More 625 Black Lake Blvd Olympia
Burrata Bistro 19006 Front Street Poulsbo
HIGH SPIRITS LIQUOR STORE 19880 7th Ave NE STE 101 Poulsbo
BevMo! 2180 148th Ave NE Redmond
Redmond Ridge Liquor Store 22310 NE Market Dr #108 Redmond
611 Supreme 611 E Pine Street Seattle
BalMar 5449 Ballard Ave. NW Seattle
Barrio - Capitol Hill 1420 12th Ave. Seattle
Bastille Cafe and Bar 5307 Ballard Ave Seattle
BevMo! 10700 5th Avenue NE Seattle
BevMo! 850 NW 45th Street Seattle
Bick's Broadview Grill 10555 Greenwood Ave. N Seattle
Blackboard Bistro 3247 California Ave. SW Seattle
Bob's Lake City Liquor 9824 Lake City Way NE Seattle
Cal's American Classic - Seattle 404 Terry Avenue N. Seattle
Calamity Jane's 5701 Airport Way South Seattle
Capco Beverages - West Seattle 4100 SW Alaska Ste#A Seattle
Columbia Tower Club 701 5th Ave. South Seattle
Copper Coin 2329 California Ave SW Seattle
Crow Restaurant & Bar 823 5th Ave. N Seattle
Crown Hill Liquor & Wine 1120 NW 85th Street Seattle
Delancey 1415 NW 70th St. Seattle
Delicatus 103 1st Ave. S Seattle
Downtown Spirits 2300 7th Avenue #A Seattle
Esquin 2700 4th Ave. South Seattle
Etta's Seafood Restaurant 2020 Western Ave. Seattle
Green Leaf Belltown 2800 1st Ave Seattle
Innkeeper 2510 1st Ave Seattle
Kangaroo & Kiwi 2026 NW Market St Seattle
Local 360 2234 First Avenue Seattle
Lottie's Lounge 4900 Rainier Avenue So. Seattle
Metropolitan Market - Admiral 2320 42nd Ave. SW Seattle
Metropolitan Market - Uptown/Mercer Street 100 Mercer St. Seattle
Northwest Liquor & Wine - Capitol Hill 1605 12th Ave Seattle
QFC 9999 Holman Road Seattle
QFC 2746 NE 45th Seattle
QFC 8400 35th Ave NE Seattle
Radiator Whiskey 94 Pike Street Seattle
Ray's Boathouse 6049 Seaview Ave. NW Seattle
Row House Cafe 1170 Republican St. Seattle
Roxy's Backdoor 462 N 36th St Seattle
Royal Room 5000 Rainer Ave Seattle
Seattle Yacht Club 1807 East Hamlin Seattle
Skillet Street Food 1408 E Union Seattle
Spur 113 Blanchard St. Seattle
Steelhead Diner 72 S Pine St. Seattle
Tanakasan 2131 Sixth Avenue Seattle
The Sexton 5327 Ballard Ave NW Seattle
Total Wine & More 2701 - 184th St SW Seattle
Trace Restaurant 1112 4th Ave. Seattle
Tractor 5213 Ballard Avenue NW Seattle
Triple Door 216 Union Street Seattle
Vessel 624 Olive Way Seattle
Wine World Warehouse 400 NE 45th Street Seattle
Central Market - Shoreline 15505 Westminister Way No. Shoreline
North City Bistro 1520 NE 177th St. Shoreline
BevMo! 3126 NW Randall Way Silverdale
Snoqualmie Casino 37500 SE North Bend Way Snoqualmie
Snoqualmie Tobacco Company & Liquor Store 37500B SE North Bend Way Snoqualmie
Bon Bon 926 W. Garland Ave Spokane
Casper Fry 928 S. Perry Suite #B Spokane
Central Food 1335 W SUMMIT PKWY Spokane
Eggers South Hill Liquor 5611 S. Perry Street Spokane
Huckleberry's Natural Market 926 S. Monroe Street Spokane
Jones Radiator 120 East Sprague Spokane
Pita Pit 6314 N Ash Street Spokane
Stella's Cafe - Spokane 917 W Broadway Ave Spokane
The Swinging Doors 1018 W. Francis Avenue Spokane
Total Wine & More 9980 N Newport HWY Spokane
Adriatic Grill 4201 S. Steele st. Tacoma
BevMo! 2330 S. 37th Street Tacoma
El Gaucho - Tacoma 2119 Pacific Ave. Tacoma
Metropolitan Market - Tacoma 2420 N. Proctor St. Tacoma
Pop's Liquor Store 2805 6th Avenue Tacoma
BevMo! 17197 Southcenter Parkway Tukwila
BevMo! 700 SE 160th Ave Vancouver
Total Wine & More 4816 NE Thurston Way Vancouver
Vashon Liquor Store 17607 Vashon Highway SW Vashon
Barking Frog - Willows Lodge 14580 Ne 145th St. Woodinville
B&G Friday Harbor Liquor


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bevmo: Decent Selection, Knowledgeable Staff

Old picture.  They ARE open!

A fair number of local offerings!

John Jacob from Mischief & Dry Fly's Wheat Whiskey are here along with others

Price is obscured, Balvenie 21 is almost exactly what it was before privatization.
A few weeks ago, I visited the Bellevue Bevmo during it's grand opening. They took over the old WSLC site on 1100 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, WA 98004.  It is almost twice as large as the old store, which is a good thing, because they stock beer and wine and cocktail party supplies as well.

I was impressed with how incredibly friendly and helpful everyone there was.  They have a fair selection of local brands as well.  Their prices are competitive.  It will be interesting to see how well they fair, when they are so close to Total Wine and More.  I think their friendly service and local selection will help them stand out.

From their press release:

Seattle, Wash. -- Oct. 30, 2012 –BevMo! (Beverages & More!), the ultimate neighborhood specialty beverage retailer, today announced it will open four more retail locations in Washington state in the communities of Bellevue, Northgate, Bellingham and Ballard. In addition to the three BevMo! locations that recently opened in Tacoma, Silverdale, and Tukwila, Seattle area residents in Bellevue, Northgate and Ballard will now be able to experience BevMo!’s unique and fun “one-stop” specialty beverage shopping experience in their own backyard. The new Bellingham location will be the first BevMo! store outside the greater Seattle vicinity. Both the Bellevue and Northgate stores will open this November with Bellevue opening November 9th followed by the Northgate BevMo! opening on November 16th.

About BevMo!
Satisfying customers since 1994 with 125 stores in Washington, California and Arizona, BevMo! is the ultimate specialty beverage retailer where beverage enthusiasts can discover the best selection of quality wines, spirits and beers, at great prices. BevMo! has garnered such prestigious awards as the Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Award for Retailer of the Year (2006) The Tasting Panel Lifetime Achievement Award (2008) and most recently two American Business Awards (2012) for executive of the year and company of the year.
BevMo! makes shopping convenient, comfortable and fun. BevMo!’s knowledgeable, dedicated and welcoming team of experts can assist both enthusiasts and first-time buyers of wine, spirits and beer to discover something new. A one stop shop for everything beverage, BevMo! also offers so much more including specialty foods, cocktail mixers, cigars, glassware and bar accessories. BevMo! also has most of its products for purchase online, for delivery or in-store pick up. To find out more about BevMo!, please visit

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Parliament Distillery: A Dream Becomes Concrete Reality

Hand finished concrete bar, by Jarrett himself.
The depth of color and professional finish translates
 quite well into his whiskey making. 

Jarrett Tomal has been distilling for quite some time.  After 16 years of pouring concrete, he decided to pursue his passion. So, he and his buddy Flynn friend put together their hard earned cash to start a distillery in Sumner, Washington.  Along with “Tall Matt” McCartney, who put in a huge amount of sweat equity and elbow grease to get it up and running, the three moved Parliament Distillery from the realm of lunch break dreams to real-world reality.

You could say the idea of opening up a distillery literally hit Jarrett in the face a few years ago. I confirmed this story on his website is true:
“It all started one wet October day while pouring a concrete slab in Eatonville. While waiting for the concrete to set up a bit he noticed a very old barn in the field behind him. He decided to check it out. As he entered the decrepit old barn he noticed in the corner was a very old moonshine still… He opened the front hatch of the still to get a look inside, just than an all-white barn owl (also known as a ghost owl) flew right out of the still into Jarrett's face knocking him to the ground. The owl flew up into the rafters of the barn and cocked his head sideways starring at him.”

He also adds that the Ghost Owl hit him on his face with its talons, but didn’t even scratch him, let alone shred his face if it wanted to.  So, when he founded his company years later, in honor of that owl he named it Parliament, after a gathering of owls.

Most of the small batch start-ups that have sprung up over the last few years start off by selling vodka & gin, as they don’t require any aging.  This gets their product to market faster so they can stay afloat, and start squirreling away whiskey in casks for future releases.  Because of this, many of them own column stills, which are optimized for vodka & gin production.

Jarrett isn’t a huge fan of vodka, and would rather concentrate on making whiskey that he’d love to drink.  If there is some sort of cosmic scale that measures the makeup of a man, with one side representing the corner-cutting businessman and the other side representing the creative artisan, the scale would soundly tip towards the latter with Jarrett.  So, they took a risk & invested in a 50+ year old alembic still.  These stills, which are very similar to the pot stills used in Scotland for making Scotch, produce more depth in their flavor than a column still.  But, this presents a business survival problem.  If you use regular-sized barrels, whiskey takes a couple of years to mature.  Smaller casks impart flavor more quickly, as there is more surface area touching the liquid.  But, even quarter casks take months to mature, and even then the liquor still has a freshness (or kick in the face harshness if you do it wrong) that is not what people expect when they buy an American whiskey.  How do you stay afloat long enough to get your product into the hands of your customers?

Moonshine on the left, Whiskey on the right
Their solution was to release moonshine first.  By definition moonshine, aka white dog, is unaged whiskey.  Most of the moonshine I’ve tried is barely drinkable on its own.  It can be used for cocktails, or the hobbyist can put it in a barrel & age it himself.  Parliament’s Ghost Owl Pacific Northwest Moonshine is an exception.  It is very drinkable and very smooth.  I enjoy sipping it neat.

After they completed their first batch of moonshine, the guys went to a ton of different bars in Washington, and sold it out of their 1984 Brown Chevy pickup.  Jarrett has a fierce loyalty to those who supported him early on.  The bars that picked up their unaged whiskey are going to be the first ones to have access to their new whiskey releases.

That first batch kept them afloat, and in the meantime, they squirreled away as much booze into casks as they could.  They used special casks from Black Swan to get more flavor into the whiskey faster.  But when they were ready to bottle, they realized that this was not enough.  If necessity is the mother of invention, then limitations are the mothers of creative innovation.  And when people get creative, they often come up with a better result than anyone would have otherwise.

This defines their second release, Parliament’s Ghost Owl Pacific Northwest Small Batch Whiskey.  Their single malt barley has some wonderful pepper notes, caramel, vanilla & spices.  But on its own, it wouldn’t have enough depth of flavor.  As Jarrett says, “You can’t beat Father Time when it comes to aging”.  There are things that happen over time in the cask that makes whiskey taste the way it does.  By adding 40% 5 year old bourbon, they get that depth and smoothness.  This results in what Jeff, a visitor during my interview, referred to as “Caramel Corn”.  He was loving it, and so do I.  I tasted something closer to a Maker’s 46, which has additional complexity by being aged with French Oak staves.  But, Jarrett assured me that he is using all first fill American Oak casks in the blend.

Their still produces only 5 gallons for their moonshine runs, as they make tight cuts for a smoother flavor, and in Jarrett’s words, “It contains less of the fusels that can cause a hangover”. They employ a few extra tricks to get the fusels out of the whiskey after distillation too. “It’s done all the time in Scotland, but it seems that people over here with their huge production runs don’t feel the need to do the extra steps.”

These same fusels are what turn into wonderful fruit notes in an aged whiskey, after it has been laying in the charred innards of a barrel for long periods of time.  So, for their runs that are to be laid into casks, the still produces about 6.5 gallons.

He distills by smell & taste, just like the old timers. Often, newfangled equipment will say what is coming off the still is good when it wouldn’t meet his standard.  His cuts are tighter than larger distilleries.

Trader Joe’s is expanding their liquor selection to include more locally made whiskey.  After their buyer got a taste of theirs, they called up and bought nearly the entire run of their first batch of aged whiskey, grabbing 90 cases before anyone else could get to it.

Right now, besides Trader Joe’s, about the only place you can get their aged whiskey is from the distillery itself.  I have seen their unaged moonshine in other places, such as Wine World & Spirits.  I encourage you to go out and grab some now, while it lasts. The next batch isn’t going to be ready until after Christmas.
Parliament Distillery

13708 24thst East, suite 103
Sumner WA 98390
Hours of operation:
Noon to 6:30pm,
7 days a week!
(253) 447-8044

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Heritage Distillery Company is Now open in Gig Harbor!

“A lawyer, an engineer and a teacher decide to open a distillery”… If you have a good punch line for this joke, send it our way. In the meantime, we'll be enjoying the fine, fine spirits of Heritage Distilling Company. Because, that is what happened on November 3rd in Gig Harbor. Financed by 18 friends and family, this craft distiller promises to deliver some incredible offerings, as well as some new and very exciting programs. They are located just past the Inn at Gig Harbor. For those staying there, the distillery & attached pub are a pleasant surprise in easy walking distance.  Founded by the husband/wife team of Justin & Jennifer Stiefel, Heritage Distilling Company, (HDC for those in the know) has a lot of things going on:


Nonna, the production still
Hailing from Italy, this 2000 liter pot still features an offset bell, which adds depth to the flavor of the final product. Instead of injecting additional steam into the system, they are using latent heat of condensation to drive the column, which is the next step in the process of making vodka. This gives their flavor more depth, and results in a better product. Justin spent a lot of time researching different stills, and I'm impressed with his decision.

The MicroStills
When HDC is experimenting to make a new offering, they use one of their micro stills; O'Neil, George, Harold, Lester, Jake or Olson. They all come from Hillbilly Stills out of Kentucky.  They are named after Jennifer’s and Justin’s grandparents and old family names.
More importantly, these are the same stills that they use for their “My Batch” program.

The names of the microstills are named after the Stiefel's grandfathers, because they like to tease that Grandpa can get the job done, but when you really need someone to do the dirty work efficiently, you go to Grandma (Nonna). The grandfathers are: George, Harold, Lester, Jake, Olson & O'Neil.

My Batch™
This program is the most exciting thing I've heard of in the local distillery industry since I started following it. I swear 6 months before I had even heard of HDC, I was wishing that someone would start up a business to do this. Here's why:

Right now it is illegal for an individual to distill alcohol as a hobby in their own home. And, the paperwork, building codes, licensing process, and cost of equipment is almost always too big of a hassle for the hobbyist to overcome. But, there are a lot of law-abiding citizens out there who have always wanted to give it a try (I certainly am one of them). HDC has worked through all of the legal issues, and now you can distill your own liquor at their distillery, under their guidance. When you are done, the product can be bottled, and you can buy it at a reduced price. When combined with the My Batch fee, the cost of each bottle is still very reasonable.

While they have to get every recipe approved by the government ahead of time, the recipes are written generally enough so that if a very hardcore 'student' wanted to try different varieties or proportions of the base ingredients there is some wiggle room to do so. For example, one recipe lists “Malted barley” but not the exact variety or malting method.

Details here:

Cask Club
When you join this club, HDC will take unaged liquor of your choice and put it in a 10 liter cask at barreling strength (approaching 160 proof) with your name or company on it. This can be liquor that they made, or you can pour the results of your My Batch™ session into one of the casks.

You can sample it whenever you like, and when you think it is ready for bottling, they'll bottle it for you. You can even take the cask with you if you like once your product is done aging! I must admit, while I do my own aging of store bought unaged liquor at home, it still would be nice to have the Washington Whiskey Watch logo on a cask for all who come to visit. And, the wife would be more than happy to get my current casks out of the garage. This is a very popular program, so make sure to get your own cask while there is still room.

Details here:

Example Casks belonging to the Cask Club™. Reserve yours now while their is still room!


Washington's Rye Whiskey
In addition to their two programs, they are making some incredible unaged rye whiskey, based off of George Washington's original recipe. I tried it on opening day, and it is not what you'd expect from a unaged whiskey (white dog). It is smooth and sweet. It still has plenty of flavor. It's a smooth medium finish, and is surprisingly complex. No smoke or peat at all (this is Washington, not Scotland). It's fine to sip on its own, or to add to a cocktail. There is more depth in the flavor than one would normally expect from an unaged whiskey. If you have your own micro barrel, it would be a fine addition to a barrel aged cocktail, or even mixed in with the fruits of your My Batch™ labor.

WhereskySofter Spirits
Light whiskey

Of the three, on opening day they had Wheresky Vodka ready to try. Being distilled and carbon filtered an undisclosed number of times (a lot!) this vodka is incredibly smooth. Made from local red wine, it still has a lot more flavor than your run of the mill vodka. Smooth and sweet, and would go well with all sorts of cocktails. There is a slight similarity in flavor between this and Washington's Rye, I think this has something to do with Nonna. And, it tastes great.

The Light Whiskey, not available on opening day, is something that they are looking forward to bringing back to market. It is put in cask at 160 proof, and the cask has to be either uncharred, or used. It will be lighter in flavor and color with aggressive overtones of vanilla and walnuts, and should be easy to sip.

Elk Rider WhiskeyClassic Spirits

These more traditional spirits were not available on opening day. I'm looking forward to seeing the differences between these and the Wheresky™ line.

I talked with Justin at length about his product and his business. He embodies the two diametrically opposed forces in most businesses. One is to keep the business afloat and the other is to create the best product possible.

All of their federal permits and paperwork to set up the distillery were processed in 14 calendar days. This is considered lightning fast when compared to the normal month’s long process of working through the federal government for a distillery permit. The person who processed it said it was the most complete application that he had ever seen. But this level of detail in their building codes and paperwork also is present in the quality of their final product.

Justin is passionate about making whiskey, and is a very driven businessman. And, he's very easy to get along with. Our only minor point of disagreement is that the “My Batch” and “Cask Club” processes are patent pending. While this wouldn't stop other distilleries from holding classes on distilling, the combination of every step in the process would be protected. When I asked him if he thought this was fair, his response was, “If you walk into a fair fight, you failed to prepare properly.” In spite of myself, I found I really like him. And my point of contention is more about how patents are used in America in general than this company specifically.

The tasting bar. It was *packed* on opening weekend!

They will be making gin shortly. Some of the 18 investors have land in Oregon with huge groves of 900-plus year old, old-growth juniper trees. It will be interesting to see how the age of the trees will affect the flavor of berries, and thus the gin!

50ml bottles? A local distillery combo gift pack with spirits from multiple local distilleries? They are non-committal. But, by law they are only able to sell their own liquor at their location or directly to retailers, bars and restaurants. Any combination of multiple Washington distilleries' wares would have to be sold at a liquor store or other retail outlet.

If things go well, they may consider opening more distilleries. All of them are going to have the My Batch & Cask Club programs. I certainly hope they do, as Washington State shouldn't be the only ones having all the fun.