The new “Spirit of Washington”

I’m off shaking up drinks in Malaysia (fun travel stories to come!) so this week’s blog is by Executive Chef Cameo McRoberts, Account Manager Heather Jones and Sous Chef/Multimedia Designer Travis Childers! It’s  all about Washington handcrafted spirits. It’s so exciting to see how many amazing distilleries keep popping up.  I missed this fun and libacious tour – but hope you will enjoy reading about it as much as I did.

Happy Holidays! – Kathy

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If you haven’t heard, Prohibition is over. So why has it taken nearly 80 years for local gin to get out of the bathtub and into the bottle? Following the success of Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane as well as accommodating to a rapidly growing industry, Washington state has expanded legislation to allow greater production of locally distilled spirits. Dry Fly is Washington’s first distillery since Prohibition and a great local success story, selling to over a dozen states as well as Canada. Now, roughly ten distilleries have been licensed and at least 18 are in the application process. The major difference between a distillery and a craft distillery is that ‘craft’ distilleries use Washington grown products in up to fifty percent of its ingredients. Either way as any distiller will tell you, making great spirits takes more than a bathtub and a lot of time. The Kathy Casey Food Studios – Liquid Kitchen crew took the opportunity to spend a chilly but beautiful Sunday afternoon in late November, tasting a few.

Before embarking on an all-day, straight spirit tasting adventure, there was a little planning involved. To insure that our finely tuned palates wouldn’t be sullied by an accidental afternoon sloshing, dim sum from Bamboo Gardens laid the necessary foundation for warding off public drunkenness.

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Sound Spirits’ distillation apparatus!

The first stop on our spirited adventure was Sound Spirits, Seattle’s first distillery since prohibition. Their Ebb and Flow Vodka is made from 100% barley mash and produced one tiny batch at a time in their octopus-themed space off 15th Ave West, between Queen Anne and Magnolia. Set to release a gin and an aquavit later this year we were excited to try master distiller Steven Stone’s shiny unmarked bottles.

Ebb and Flow is what you’d call a complex-character vodka.  To put it simply, it HAS flavor. Each time you distill a spirit you remove the inherent flavor notes of its base ingredients. Multiple distilled vodkas taste crisp because they cease to have any flavor left. Sound Spirits vodka offers a creamy barley hint while also giving it a sweet note and a smooth texture. Sipping this vodka straight does not evoke memories of a high school dare but suggests a flavor profile inherent of barley and crisp clean cascade water. One benefit of being licensed a ‘craft’ distillery is that you can sell your product on site, so unlike most places you can in fact walk away with a bottle of vodka.

Still stuffed but whistles sufficiently wetted, we turned northeast to Woodinville where a pocket of distilleries are popping up alongside wineries and tasting rooms ready to educate you and yours on the exciting craft of making hooch.

Pacific Distillery, producers of Voyager Gin and Pasifique Absinthe are one of the largest in the local market, but you wouldn’t know it entering the distillery. I see Voyager on the shelves of most liquor stores and around these parts it’s a pretty common spirit, so I guess I expected a Wonka-esque type scene with steam and copper pots, a bottling machine spinning labels and filling bottles. This is not the case, and shame on me, nor should it be.

Pacific actually holds bottling parties when a batch is ready, so keep an eye out maybe you can lend a hand.

labeler Hand-hammered copper alembic pot still commissioned from Portugal

A hand-cranked bottle labler on the left and on the right, a hand-hammered copper alembic pot still commissioned from Portugal!

Each batch of Voyager’s London Dry-style American Gin is made in a single, beautiful, copper alembic still. Where most commercial gin is really vodka with botanicals infused into it after distillation, Mark Bernhard, Pacific ‘s founder, selects a blend of juniper, coriander, angelica, cardamom and other herbs, carefully distills together to create a more balanced and unique gin. The same still and the same level of passion are used to create their Pasifique Absinthe; a true absinthe made with a combination of carefully sourced herbs, a large part grown by Mark himself.

Master Distiller and Proprietor Marc Bernhard with a glass of Pacifique Absinthe Verte Supérieure

Master Distiller and Proprietor Marc Bernhard with a glass of Pacifique Absinthe Verte Supérieure

The best part about discovering absinthe is discovering what absinthe is not, and Mark will tell you in great detail why absinthe deserves a second chance. Absinthe’s sorted history and its mythical accounts as a aphrodisiac and hysteria make it as much a conversation piece as an acquired taste. The distillery may be modest in size but that little copper pot produces a queen’s ransom in gin and absinthe.

Over the river and through the woods was Soft Tail Spirits and our next adventure spot. They are the makers of Soft Tail Vodka and Soft Tail Grappas. Soft Tail Vodka is made with Washington apples, now this is not to say that it is an apple brandy or an apple ‘flavored’ vodka. Since vodka can be made with any sugar bearing material, apples are a perfect, sustainable commodity for a uniquely local product.

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Soft Tails three types of Grappa: Grappa Blanco, Grappo Gallo & Grappa Reserve!

Named for the Soft Tail Harley and what the distiller quipped as the finish on each of the Soft Tail Spirits, the distillers have a great sense of humor and passion for their product. Grappa is traditionally made from distilling the pressings of wine grapes, given that Soft Tail is tucked in amongst a whole barrel full of local wineries, squeezing every little bit of extra firepower out of what might become oenological compost is also a mighty sustainable approach to spirits. They offer three types of grappa. Grappa Blanco is a fine tasting product, crisp and fragrant. Grappa Giallo is aged in oak barrels and has wonderfully complex earthiness that will appeal to those who fancy whiskeys, and tequila. The Grappa Reserve will challenge your pallate but has a great after taste.

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On the right, Woodinville Whiskey Company’s column still and a batch of Headlong whiskey on the left!

Our last stop was Woodinville Whiskey Company,  the newest of the local distilleries. Since the distillery movement is  still in its infantile state, offering whiskey when the doors open is unthinkable. Whiskey, bourbon and rye are the culmination of a master distillers mash bill (the blend of grains chosen) and time. Most of what we enjoy happens once the distillate has aged in oak barrels. Woodinville Whiskey has the years of experience brought by former Maker’s Mark master distiller David Pickerell, a state of the art column still and a whole heap of new oak barrels. So while we wait for the birth of Washington whiskey we are sufficed with an un-aged ‘white dog’ whiskey named Headlong. White Dog is the term for the untamed, un-aged flavor that comes from a whiskey that hasn’t yet seen the inside of an oaky barrel. It’s a little like firewater but an interesting insight into how flavor changes through aging and maturation. Woodinville Whiskey also offers a 100% certified organic Washington wheat vodka named Peabody Jones.

column still

By then the sun had set and the temperature dropped about twenty degrees, but we barely noticed for all the handcrafted goodness warming our bellies. However, the booze had finally burned its way through dim sum and was demanding a second helping of something warm and preferably carbo-loaded. So with Woodinville in our rear view we headed home for a lot of water and a couple slices of pizza and by 10:30 pm we were fast asleep. A good day indeed.

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-Heather, Cameo & Travis

Posted by Kathy Casey on December 17th, 2010  |  Add Comment |  Posted in Recent Posts

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