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Captive Spirits Distillery

Gin as it should be

In a world where companies diversify to ensure longevity, what happens when someone starts a company with the intent of making one product? In the case of Captive Spirits, it's called success.

Ben Capdevielle's grandfather liked to distill spirits and passed that on to his son. When Ben was in his mid-20s, his dad taught him the basics of distilling. "I took that home to my basement and started distilling in a pressure cooker. It's a simple way to get going," says Ben. "My friend Todd Leabman and I moved into cornelius kegs, then full-size kegs. We were obsessed, making whiskeys, and neutral spirits to use to make gin. We found a lot of pleasure in making gin. It's something you can put your signature on, using bitter orange or lemon, warming spices. Our friends really liked what we made."

Ben Capdevielle and Holly Robinson

Ben spent 12 years in the restaurant industry, mostly bartending. He helped open Collins Pub, La Isla, King's Hardware. "At the age of 30, I had a desire to do something more. As we visited distilleries to see what was happening, what we might need to start, and how much space, we saw a gap in the industry. It was 2007, not a time people were looking to invest in things. A friend, Ben Meager, inventor of the waterproof zipper, invested for a stake in the company. The gap we saw was that traditional gin is juniper forward. New American/New Western gin makers were playing down the juniper. But ginners love it, and we embraced it. It's an unapologetic juniper punch in the face!"

Captive Spirits was founded in February 2011. They visited hundreds of liquor stores and bars, selling it one tasting at a time. Holly Robinson, Ben's wife, came into the company full time in 2013. She'd been helping previously but took the leap and left her job. She grew up in Walla Walla and started waiting tables at the age of 15, attended Western and graduated with a double major in Communications and Journalism. She waited tables to help pay for school. At 19, she worked at a Bellingham restaurant and when they expanded the bar, she managed it at the age of 21. After graduation, she worked for a non-profit briefly. The day she quit, she walked home, leaving resumes in her wake. She got a call from Lola in Seattle-they knew her Bellingham reference and wanted her right away. She stayed four years. She moved to Portland, then returned to Seattle to work at Bastille. When she got pregnant with their daughter Stella, she was 27, and looking to do something that didn't have her on her feet. She moved into private events, handling social media, branded the rooftop garden experience and more.

Within the first year after Holly came aboard, Real Simple magazine did a piece about Big Gin, and Food & Wine pictured their bottle. As things picked up, Ben was distilling and bottling, Holly was marketing, both were traveling to other states. "It was a cool trajectory," recalls Ben. "We'd get an order and be paid, we'd get more supplies just in time for another order. Orders came right when we needed them." They swept the American Distilling Institute and American Craft Spirits Association competitions. A friend told them they had to get into the International Wine and Spirit Competition. They entered their Bourbon Barreled Big Gin in 2014 and won in a unanimous decision. No American gin had won before. They were also nominated in the Best Gin Contemporary and Boutique Distillery of the year categories. "That's when the phone started ringing," laughs Ben. "A distributor in Italy called and wanted as much as we could give them. It takes six months to age in the barrels, so we bought more barrels, and sent it over six months later."

With the growing popularity of their three gins, London Dry Big Gin, Bourbon Barreled Big Gin, and Peat Barreled Big Gin, they had to figure out the best way to grow. "We were nervous about private equity and owing money. Larger companies were interested in us and it worked for them to pull in someone like us with just one product into their line up," says Ben. "I called Ron Dodge of Hood River Distillers. Our conversations were good, they were more like us, from the Northwest. They bought us on April 27, 2016. Ben, Todd and his partner Erica Goodking, got paid for their ownership stakes. Erica stayed through the transition and made it so smooth. We've been able to hire three employees. Holly is a Brand Manager with Hood River but is focused on Big Gin. Hood River has been great, they haven't changed much." Adds Holly, "We told them we were planning on building a tasting room at a new location. They were for it. Our new tasting room opened on July 6, 2018, and it's been well received. It has windows that look over working Ballard and also into our distilling room."

London Dry Big Gin is distilled and bottled in Hood River. Ben distills and bottles Bourbon Barreled and Peat Barreled gins in Seattle. They've aged and taste tested the gin and knew when it hit six months, it was right. They also have a barrel reserve that has aged three years. They're proud that people don't have to look for imports to find the best liquids. "We're not stuck in tradition; we can innovate, using Old World technique in a different place and on a smaller scale," says Ben. "People like to know where their eggs, beer and wine come from," says Holly. "It's the same with spirits. Seattle has supported us hard and we're thrilled to have a tasting room they can visit, have cocktails on tap and taste our gin."

Captive Spirits Distilling
1138 W Ewing, Ste C
Seattle, WA

Connie Adams/October 2018

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