Seattle is home to many great wineries and breweries, but before last year, our city hadn't operated a distillery since Prohibition. Now, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, 12 (!!!) craft distilleries are licensed to operate in Seattle—from Sound Spirits in Interbay, to several in Fremont and at least two on Capitol Hill.

Chase Jarvis, one of four partners behind Stil173, says that distilling started as a hobby for him and a few friends, but it was the state's liquor stores that prompted them to go into business (they hope to be selling vodka and gin by the end of this year). "You go to a state store and it's all low ceilings, fluorescent lighting, early hours, bad selections—the experience is mediocre to shitty all the way through," says Jarvis, who adds that Stil173 is still hunting for a place to set up operations. "We're trying to flip that historical model on its head. We want to create a community hub, the way a coffee shop might be."

Learning the hard way
  • &y via Flickr
  • Learning the hard way
Depressing liquor stores are just part of the picture. Washington State has become a friendlier place to craft distillers. In 2008, lawmakers passed a law to allow 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 through the state's early-to-bed liquor stores (that law also lowered craft distillers' licensing fees from $2,000 to $100, to match the fee already paid by craft breweries and wineries). And this past year, lawmakers raised the amount of spirits a craft distillery can distill from 20,000 to 60,000 gallons annually.

Support The Stranger

Mike Almquist, owner of Vin Co., runs a 20,000 square foot winery, distillery, tasting room, custom crush facility (where customers can make wines and custom spirits), event space, and most recently, restaurant (Book Bindery opened in the space last Friday) off Nickerson Street on Queen Anne. He's been making wine for years, and distilling spirits from the waste wine for over a year. "We have a dozen grappas, three dozen brandies, we’ve made rum, whiskey, bourbon, tequila... anything that a customer has wanted to make, we've made," Almquist says. Currently, Vin Co. is in the middle of wine-making season, but come November the space will be reconfigured back into a distillery. His next project is creating take-home blending kits—neutral spirits with a number of flavors used to make gin, for example, or whiskey. "We're trying to take some of the mystique out of the process and make it more accessible," says Almquist. "We have people in the tasting room, eating simple food while watching people make wine. We’re about a foot away from them. Our goal is to make the process fun."

Before the passage of these new laws, there was no incentive for distillers to pay higher rents and other costs to operate a distillery in Seattle. Now, however, distillers are seeing distilleries as a boozy alternative to coffee shops, with tastings and tours—i.e. as a late-night gathering place and an alternative venue for customers to buy liquor.