Washington is a hotbed for distilling. According to the Washington Distillers Guild, Seattle has more distilleries than any city in the country and the Guild estimates that the state has more distilleries than any other state in the country that produce spirits for retail sale.
That’s a lot of liquor. And a lot of passion. Seattle's local spirits reflect the creativity and love that the makers have for the product.
At 3 Howls in SoDo, founder and distiller Will Maschmeier started his distillery after getting laid off from a healthcare job. “I’d been making liquor in my basement and toying with distilling for years, and I always thought it would be fun to do in my retirement.” Because he had a noncompete clause with his former employer, he had to find a new industry. “I just kind of went for it. I found this space almost three years ago now.”
Maschmeier makes vodka, gin, whiskey and rum—3 Howls was the state’s first rum distillery—which ferments in a cypress wood tank: “Growing up in Central America, they have these really great rums, and anywhere in the developing part of the world, they don’t have big stainless steel tanks. They have big wood tanks. I wanted to try and be a little more traditional about the way I go about fermenting my rum.” Tours of 3 Howls are available.
The first distillery in the state since prohibition, Sound Spirits started with vodka, but has since expanded the line to include gin, aquavit, whiskey and a specialty liqueurs including cacao, menthe and “Vow of Silence,” an herbal liqueur from an old French recipe.
Steven Stone, owner and head distiller, said he’s a fan of not just base spirits but also the things that make interesting cocktails. “Interesting liqueurs end up driving interesting cocktails,” he said. “We’ve made it so that our liqueurs aren’t so sweet. They’re more straightforward, and so you can actually enjoy them with soda over ice. You don’t have to get fancy cocktail-wise.”
The distillery has plans for expansion, and Stone said he’s looking for the perfect building that will allow them to increase capacity. Until then, visit the Interbay facility for tours and tastings, and check the website for updates.
Westland Distillery in SoDo only makes single-malt whiskey, and Director of Marketing Steve Hawley said Westland is likely the largest manufacturer of single-malt whiskey in the country, and the largest distillery in the state.
Westland has a flagship whiskey, a peated whiskey and a sherry wood whiskey, in addition to single cask releases. Washington state is an excellent fit for the whiskey, which is made from barley.
“Washington state is the best barley growing climate in the United States,” said Matt Hofmann, master distiller at Westland. In addition, the climate, especially near the coast (Westland ages the whiskey in Hoquiam, Wash.) is cool and temperate, perfect for aging whiskey.
“We just let it sit in the ambient air, and that naturally produces the whiskey that we want,” said Hofmann. “It’s both the path of least resistance and the most compelling way to make a product, in our minds. Let Washington state play as big of a role as us.”
While visiting Seattle, a tour and tasting at a distillery or two will quickly reveal just how much these distillers love what they do. Said Stone, “You get into something and you want to see it succeed. You don’t get the chance to create something very often.”
One Last Toast
Find some more spots for local spirits.
Copperworks Distilling Co.
Take a tour of this distillery on Friday and Saturday afternoons, or stop in any day for a tasting. Copperworks is located near the downtown waterfront, and makes gin and vodka—make sure to try the limited-edition aged gins. This gin is aged in American oak barrels, lending it a flavor similar in some ways to whiskey. (Some might call this "ginsky.")
A micro-distillery in Capitol Hill, Oola gives tours on Saturdays at 3 pm (RSVP via the website or 206.709.7909). See where they make their gin, whiskey and vodka, or buy a bottle to enjoy. The sales room is open Thursday-Saturday.
Head to Fremont for this distillery, which makes vodka, whiskey, rye whiskey and gin. The tasting room is open Wednesday-Sunday, or book a tour of the distillery online.
This Belltown restaurant sources the majority of their ingredients within a 360-mile radius of Seattle. Thus, the bar includes a variety of local spirits, including 3 Howls Spiced Rum, Big Gin and Old Ballard Aquavit.
Zig Zag Cafe
This cozy spot near Pike Place Market is a great spot for dinner or small plates and stellar cocktails. Find it on the Pike Street Hill Climb, up the stairs across the street from the Seattle Aquarium.
Located in Belltown, Rob Roy is a favorite among locals. Stop by for the daily happy hour from 4-7 pm for drink specials and free Goldfish crackers. The regular cocktail menu is extensive, making this a good spot to find a new favorite.