In 2008, a craft distillery license was established through the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Over the past five years, there has been an increase in craft distilleries across our state. In late 2012, there are 56 craft distilleries and 12 more applications pending through the WSLCB.
A variety of craft spirits are being produced at these distilleries, but the most popular are vodka, gin, brandy and whiskey. There is a catch to being able to produce these spirits, however: At least 51 percent of the ingredients must come from Washington. The magic of the craft distilling license is that it requires producers to stay local.
With so much agriculture in our state, you would think finding enough ingredients wouldn’t be a problem.
Orlin Sorensen, co-owner of the Woodinville Whiskey Co., educated me recently on why this isn’t necessarily true.
“For a long time, rye was considered to be a nuisance weed in Washington,” he said. “We were struggling to find enough of it to stay above the 51 percent requirement. Now we have acres and acres of Woodinville Whiskey rye planted for us in Quincy.”
Rye grain is the base ingredient used in whiskey.
“The sky’s the limit because of our vast agricultural resources,” Sorensen said of Washington’s potential for spirits. “We grow a huge amount of soft winter wheat that makes incredible vodkas.”
Potatoes can be substituted for wheat as the base ingredient for vodka.
And don’t forget about Washington’s most famous crop: Fruit. Apples, pears, plums, peaches — any fruit or combination can be made into wine and then distilled to make brandy.
There is a strong theme of regional pride in the Northwest right now when it comes to the products we produce, particularly alcohol.
“Washington consumes craft beer at a rate of 35 percent, compared to about 8 percent on the national average. We’re very prideful about where our products come from and we expect local production.” Sorensen said. “In the next 20 years, I certainly see Washington as a national leader of the spirits industry as much as we have been with beer and wine.”
With a vast brewing and wine making culture, and now supplemented with a growing distilling scene, all the ingredients are in the pot for a bright future of alcohol in Washington.
• Colin Robinson is an English major at Central Washington University. He holds both the CWU Wine Trade Professional Certificate and CWU Professional Sommelier Certificate. His future plans include working in the wine and spirits industry in Washington state.