Every major region of America has local distilleries. Both Seattle and Portland have tours where locals and tourists alike can venture through an array of neighborhood distilleries.
Erika Degens, owner and partner of Stone Barn Brandyworks in Portland, says there is something admirable about local distilleries.
“It’s an entrepreneurship and that’s what’s appealing,” Degens said. Degens and her husband started Stone Barn Brandyworks in 2009, a year after Oregon expanded their alcohol legislation to allow new business opportunities for craft distillers.
Similarly, Washington state passed a bill in 2008 establishing a craft distillery license. The Washington State Liquor Control Board classifies a craft distiller as a maker who produces no more than 60,000 gallons a year and can only “sell two liters per day per person for off-premise consumption.” Both the Washington and Oregon laws allow for onsite tasting and sale of spirits – a key factor in the success of local distilleries.
Kent Fleischmann, who owns Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane helped draft the Washington bill.
“We were the very first distillery in Washington state,” Fleischmann says. “We were the guys that had to really lobby and change legislation so there are laws allowing us to have distilleries here.”
Fleischmann says there are already at least 100 distilleries in Washington alone. “It seems like everybody wants to be a distillery in Washington state.”
One might think the biggest competition for local distilleries would be national makers, but Fleishmann says that other regional makers are more of an issue. “The big makers are never a concern of ours. These are companies that have established themselves and for most cases have really good brands. It’s actually the smaller distillers that bother us.”
That isn’t to say that big makers don’t pose certain threats to local distilleries, though. Kristin Johansson, the operations and marketing director of New Deal Distillery in Portland, says the marketing and distribution muscle of the big brands can be an issue for local distilleries.
So, why is the Northwest such a focus for the new trade? Fleishmann from Dry Fly Distilling says it’s the type of place where these concepts can flourish.
“The resources are really wonderful here in creating good spirits for us. We use almost 100 percent locally-grown products.” These products include wheat for their vodka, gin, and wheat-based whiskeys and corn, apple, hops and a unique grain.
“We make a whiskey from a grain called triticale, which grows naturally here and nobody’s ever made whiskey from this grain,” Fleishmann says. “It’s really our own version of a rye.”
Similarly, Degens from Stone Barn Brandyworks says one of her favorite parts of crafting spirits is working with the local produce. “We love the color of fruit, the taste of fruit and the different things we’ve been able to do with the fruit.”
But when it comes to enjoying craft distillers, Dry Fly’s Fleishmann suggests trying the alcohols alone. “We don’t really encourage a lot of mixers to go with it,” he says. Instead, sip a little of the good stuff straight and enjoy the local flavor.