Until recently, Seattle hadn't had one functioning distillery since Prohibition. Now, thanks to the passage of several laws, 12 relatively new distilleries have licenses to operate in Seattle, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Chase Jarvis, one of four partners behind Stil173, an up-and-coming maker of vodka and gin, says, "We want to create a community hub, the way a coffee shop might be." Like all of the other new distilleries, Stil173 got its license within the last year—in fact, Jarvis's particular project is so new that he hasn't yet found a place to house the business. He nevertheless plans to be selling locally made spirits by December.
The reason for the booze boom? In 2008, lawmakers began allowing craft distillers to hold on-site tastings and sell up to two liters of their own liquor per person, meaning that distilleries wouldn't have to sell strictly through the state's early-to-bed liquor stores. Last year, lawmakers raised the amount of spirits a craft distillery can distill from 20,000 to 60,000 gallons annually.
Before the passage of these laws, there was no incentive for distillers to pay the higher rents and other costs that come with operating in Seattle. Now, distillers are seeing their businesses as late-night gathering places where customers can tour, taste, and buy locally produced liquor.
Michael Almquist, owner of Vin Co., runs a 20,000-square-foot winery and distillery off Nickerson Street on Queen Anne. He's been making wine for years and distilling spirits from the waste wine for over a year. His next project is creating take-home blending kits—all the alcohol and spices you need to make gin in your home, for example. He said the state, long disparaged as retrograde in its liquor laws, has done something good here. "They're making great changes," Almquist says, "great for distillers and great for consumers."