Recently, with a deal from Groupon, a friend and I hopped onto a distillery tour given by Road Dog Tours. Did you know that there are 82 distilleries in the state of Washington? Neither did I, and 16 in the Seattle area, alone. Ever since a law that passed about 3 years ago, distilleries have started to crop up all over Washington. First, it was wine. Then, it was beer. Now whiskey! Who knew?!
Like any other liquid process (coffee, wine, beer), whiskey and the art of making whiskey is all about the nose and the pallet. With those two senses, you will be a success at making your beverage of choice. The owners of the three distilleries we visited also possessed one important sense … passion. All were very passionate about their product.
Our tour starts in downtown Seattle, across from the Four Seasons Hotel. After a little confusion from a couple who were looking for the food tour, we (13 in all) are on our way. First stop the SODO district (SOuth of DOme; though of course the dome no longer exists, the district name remains). Here we visit Letterpress Distilling (owner Skip Tognetti) where soft-spoken Greg meets us. Greg gives a great tour and well explains the intricacies of starting the process of making beer and having a final product of vodka. It starts with the wheat and barley. I have to say this was my favorite because they make limoncello – a favorite beverage in Italy. Start with a vodka base, add lemon zest, and sweeten with blackberry honey. One of the amusing stories that Greg shares is after a very long time of zesting lemons by hand, they invested in a zip-zester, which has become Greg’s best friend.
Our next stop is Old Ballard Distillery in the Fremont District, only a few miles away from downtown. Here we have Distillery 101, which I love. Graphics! Explaining the difference from what is brandy and whisky. One starts from fruit, the other grain. Fifty percent of vodka is water, and the water is what is very important. Use any old water, and you have cheap, ah-hem, inexpensive vodka. Use spring water, and you will taste the difference. With my first smell of the Raspberry Vodka, I smell the spring water. The owner, Lexie, refreshing and upfront, does not prep us for this; simply it is what you smell. Fascinating! The Aquavit is a Scandinavian style and has my interest. One type, the citrus, is good with oysters, we are told. Moreover, the winter like style, is good with roasted lamb. I buy a small bottle of each for a future test of the validity of this. Lexie is proud to share that her distillery is all women run, women owned, and women financed. Though her hours are three days a week, she says if the door is open “come on in.”
Next and last is Sound Spirits, Washington’s first craft distillery since prohibition. While the other two distilleries are open partial hours, and at Letterpress they have fulltime jobs to support their passion, this distillery is open 7 days a week, and there is a gift shop. Owner, Steven Stone, is more cavalier in his approach. After being a successful distillery owner for some time, he can relax a bit with his success, though still at it 7-days a week. No rest for those with the passion. My choice from here is “Old Tom Gin,” which is an old style (as in George Washington times). This distillery relies heavily on the spices in producing their vodka and gin, and Old Tom has cardamom juniper, and elderflower. Interesting!
The tour ends all too quickly; it is hard to believe that 2-1/2 hours have passed. As we enter the van for our return to the city we receive a Road Dog Tour t-shirt. Nice! If you sign up for the tour, Lane was our driver, and he was quite entertaining. He spent some time in the brewery business here in Seattle, and then moved to Australia and lived for a year. There he worked for a brewer and upon his return to Seattle found the business had exploded. His passion is to be a brewmeister, one day, and I wish him the best. He has the personality that is important in the industry of making people happy. Road Dog Tours is a good investment for touring distilleries, while drinking (not more than 2 ounces) and NOT driving. Cheers!