The Seattle Distilleries You Need to Know About
The Northwest crushes the rest of the country when it comes to craft spirit production -- Washington has almost as many small-batch distilleries as the other 49 states combined -- but some Byzantine state laws meant that, until a few years ago, you couldn't even buy liquor straight from the source (you had to get it from the state instead), and a new law letting distillers offer customers an actual cocktail instead of only a shot didn't pass until last year.
So, we wouldn't blame you if you hadn't been to a tasting room before, but you should really hit these eight Seattle distilleries, some of which offer free samples, some a chance to learn, and a couple which are just like any other bar... but with significantly better booze.
CW's waterfront space, just across the street from a few of Seattle's most instagrammed spots, is heavy on concrete and glass, plus features views of the spirit-slinger's signature stills made from... guess which metal. The drinks are crafted in traditional Scottish copper stills which were hand-built by expert coppersmiths in the highlands of Scotland, duh. All of their spirits are made with ingredients almost exclusively grown in Washington, and while CW offers gin and vodka, you should first try the all-malt whiskey aged in charred, new American Oak barrels. You can also get a taste for free whenever they're open.
You can glimpse the gleaming still outback through windows in this Ship Canal-side shop, but you'll probably be distracted by all the stuff inside. The tiny, and charmingly riotous, tasting room is filled with dozens of pin-up style photographs, and packed with vintage storage chests/shelves stocked with everything from barware, to CDs from their in-house record company, to actual stuff to drink. The whole thing is helmed by a local fisherman/carpenter, and Mischief actually got its start selling whiskey not in Seattle, but Japan. Once settled in, order the vanilla/caramel-flavored John Jacob, produced using a Jingleheimer Schmidt... just kidding! It's produced using a pre-prohibition recipe developed by the owner's great-grandfather.
Set inside the long-vacant La Panzanella Bakery building, Oola's steel and reclaimed wood-heavy tasting room boasts polished copper counters, liquor-lined shelves, and a window onto the production floor. When they first started, it took Oola more than a month to find a local farmer willing to sell them 10 tons of wheat -- no one wanted to fill an order that small. But once they got it, they made an award-winning bourbon, and a gorgeous honey-colored barrel-aged gin, but what you'll want to try is the flavored Rosemary vodka.
The space is pretty no frills (except for the sea monster's tentacles painted on the exterior wall), but on the plus side, it's open from noon everyday, and is just down the street from one of Seattle's best new breweries. For a fun fact, check this out: SS was the first craft distillery in Seattle since prohibition and it's one of Seattle's more prolific hooch producers, so you've got some choice when it comes down to what to drink. The pro move? Taste the Blekksprut Aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian spirit with caraway, dill, coriander, fennel, and anise.
Woodinville teamed up with Seattle chef Joshua Henderson to open a massive new distillery next to the Hollywood Tavern a few years ago, and they certainly needed the space given that hundreds of people lined up for the release of their straight bourbon whiskey last fall. They also have a 1,320 gallon pot with something called a "whiskey helmet" that was engineered and constructed in Germany. And once you try their selection and think to yourself: "I can probably make this stuff," head into their shop, buy your own kit, and make your own white lightning.
Not content turning out one of Seattle's best burgers, John Howie's opened a slightly twee, and incredibly tiny apothecary-inspired tasting with five seats, with the obligatory windows overlooking the production floor. And he's done it all just down from One of the Eastside's best new(ish) restaurants, which he... um, also owns. Not surprisingly, Wildwood is the first distillery to open in Bothell and you'll really want to sample the "farm to distillery" Kur gin, which already won best in show at the New York World Wine & Spirits competition.
The first thing you notice about Sun Liquor is that it's not a tasting room. It's an actual bar with a three-sided polished birch bar separating a glass-fronted production area equipped with an alembic-style copper test still, and the main swilling area which is dominated by a giant hand-painted world map. It's the first Seattle bar in history to distill and sell its own liquor, and was conceived by the crew behind the original Sun Liquor Lounge nine blocks away, where they were already making most of their cocktail ingredients and decided to take the next step and start making hooch. They also make a mean burger.
Situated on the Everett waterfront, Bluewater is another distiller that wasn't satisfied pouring shots, so they opened a bar/restaurant with views of both the copper kettles and the harbor. They also have a number of signature cocktails to go with eats ranging from fish tacos to beef short ribs. For some insider knowledge, tell them that you found out the inspiration for BOD involved a bad bottle of wine, a soup pot, and ice cubes. The order The Purist -- It's just 100 proof vodka w/ seasonal fruit on ice.