You may have stopped in at craft breweries or done a wine tasting trail. But have you ever tried a craft distillery? Bourbon and whiskey distillery tours have been available at big brand homes like Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, Tennessee, or the bourbon trail in Kentucky. Other states are joining the fun with craft distillery trails.
Here in Washington, the state created laws for small distilleries to produce bourbon, whiskey, gin, vodka, and liqueurs in 2008, and Seattle now has around 80. Specific guidances require distilleries to have at least half of their ingredients grown in-state. Distillers must be small producers, making less than 150,000 gallons per year. Washington-grown ingredients have unique flavors that distinguish their products and help the state’s agribusinesses.
I started down the Seattle Craft Whiskey Trail as soon as the restrictions due to COVID began lifting. Some distilleries are not yet offering tastings, but all mentioned here are open and allowing tastings. Many are opening every week and the trail will soon be busy again. The fun of going to a distillery for whiskey, rye, and bourbon is that you can sample to understand the underlying flavors of the ingredients for comparison, and you can tour the distillery itself in some locations.
Tastings give you a half-ounce pour and you are limited to four samples. I usually sip and note the flavors, cleanse with some water, and move to the next. I’ll go back and try favorites again and then usually finish the sample of whatever I like best. If you don’t want to consume the tasting, the distillery will offer you a spit cup. Keep in mind that many of the whiskeys will be 90 or 100 proof. Imbibe accordingly.
I checked popular whiskey distilleries in the Seattle area. Let’s travel and taste!
1. Oola Distillery, SoDo, Seattle
Oola is one of the best-known distilleries in Seattle. It’s named after the owner’s beloved dog. I visited their combined distillery and tasting room. A new tasting room is opening soon in downtown Seattle. The combo distillery and tasting room is in a warehouse area in SoDo (south of downtown). I took the distillery tour and learned all about the science of making a delicious product.
The tour started with a welcome cocktail — a gin gimlet. During the tour, you learn about the local grains and herbs, like lemon verbena, that make up the products. At the end of the tour, they held the tasting. I tasted only the whiskeys. One of their whiskeys is available only to their whiskey club member because it is made in such a small batch. The price reflects the demand for this superb product. They also have a wine cask finished whiskey available to anyone. The whiskey is “finished” by letting the product sit for an extra six months in a cask that previously held red wine. It gives the whiskey a colorful finishing taste.
Tours and tastings are limited in size to about 10 people. Tastings can be done without the tour. One of the distillers gave the tour, and the head distiller came to provide us with more insight during the tasting — a rare treat!
2. Westland Distillery, SoDo, Seattle
Westland is just down the street from the sports stadiums (plan your visit on non-event days). It is an artisan distillery, trying new combinations and processes to produce unique flavors in its products. The distillery sits behind the tasting room and currently offers only virtual tours. The tasting room and bottle shop are open and offer indoor and outdoor seating. Westland only offers single malt whiskey that relies on Skagit Valley, Washington, grains. They offer a unique subgroup of whiskey that uses Skagit barley malted with Washington state peat.
In addition, they have a limited edition whiskey that uses Garry Oak casks — unique wood to Washington — that can only be retrieved when the tree has dropped a limb or died. Their whiskey flight can be mixed and matched to create the four samples you want. The tasting personnel will tell you the story behind each in terms of creation and expected flavors. There is pre-packed food available on site. Most tasting rooms do not serve fresh food. Westland also offers craft cocktail flights if you prefer. They have a variety of whimsical cocktail concoctions designed to play on the flavors of each of their whiskeys.
This was a fun tasting room where I could linger with my flight, ask questions, and enjoy the ambiance.
3. Fremont Mischief Distillery, Fremont, Seattle
Mischief is located in the free-spirited section of Seattle called Freemont, north of downtown. The Distillery faces the Freemont Cut connecting Puget Sound to Lake Washington. After your tasting, enjoy the beautiful park across the street and watch the boats go by. Watch out while crossing the busy bike path!
Mischief is a combination distillery, bottle shop, farm-to-table restaurant, and music venue. The seating for the tasting is a large outdoor courtyard where I had a view of the canal and park as well as the music stage. You can order food from the restaurant with your tasting. The tasting staff will bring all four of your selections to your table at once, accompanied by laminated info sheets to tell you about each selection. This distillery offers a variety of liquor but I tasted only the whiskey and bourbon. Each is made with grains grown in Washington and Oregon, and the distillery is on-site.
Tours are not available at this time. They have a unique “Storm Tossed” Rye Whiskey where the barrels are stored on a ship sailing in the northern Berrington Sea for a period of time. Hand-crafted cocktails are available from the restaurant which brings in the local neighborhood population.
Fremont is a kitschy and historic neighborhood in Seattle and is known for its antiques, curiosity shops, fun restaurants, and hippie culture in some sections. Save some room for the next-door chocolate factory and shop.
4. Woodinville Whiskey Company, Woodinville
About 30 minutes north of Seattle is the town of Woodinville. It has been a destination for its local wineries for years. Now it has its own Woodinville Whiskey Company distillery. Its current location is nestled in tall evergreen trees and winding hills. The wooded area houses its large distillery and a small indoor tasting room where you can see the stills. They also have a patio area under a tent cover where you can stand at tasting tables to enjoy your flight. This is a bourbon and whiskey-only distillery and offers rye, double-barrel blended, and port cask finished whiskeys.
The tasting room staff was very knowledgeable and brought out each taste separately, giving its history, grain content, and expected flavors. Most of the grains they use are regional, giving their product a unique and tasty flavor. This was an informative and welcoming tasting in a beautiful natural setting.
Should you be interested in having some lunch or dinner, head directly next door to Hollywood Tavern where you can sit inside or outside by the firepit. The Woodinville Whiskey Company and distillery was purchased by Moet in 2017 but continues to make its well-regarded whiskeys as they always have.
When you have finished your tasting, there are five wineries just down the road to visit, should wine be on your mind.
Another interesting distillery is Blackfish Spirits Distillery in Auburn, about 30 minutes south of Seattle. They are not a member of the Seattle Whiskey Trail but a fun destination nonetheless. This is truly a family business run by Michael, his wife, and their two sons.
They hand-craft every batch of liquor and are part of the surrounding Auburn valley community offering tastings, catered events in their distilling space, and lots of convivial conversation about the distilling business. They have a unique Apple Pie whiskey infused with Apple cider, giving a nod to Washington’s well-known cash crop!