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Heritage Distilling Co

Serious fun craft

Heritage Distilling Co is a serious business distilling craft spirits. It's also a group of people having some fun, crafting stories to accompany their product, and looking ahead to more fun in the future.

2018 is proving to be a big year for Heritage. Their Ballard tasting room is open; and Capitol Hill will follow in a few months. They are breaking ground this summer in Tumwater in partnership with South Puget Sound Community College on a full-scale production facility where students can earn distilling degrees. It will include an amphitheater with a view of the river. These are in addition to existing locations: flagship and waterfront in Gig Harbor, Roslyn, and Eugene, Oregon.

Tasting rooms/retail spaces sell barware, apparel and spirits. Per Washington law, a distillery tasting room may only pour two ounces per person per day. Thus there is no food on site: people won't dawdle over a meal if they can't pair. "Tasting room employees do a lot of education," explains Hannah Hanley, Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer. "By law, you can't distill spirits at home, so tasting spirits can be a new experience. Teaching people about spirits and our company helps create advocates for the brand. We do fun things like tours and tastings, as well as a My Batch three-hour class at the flagship location. It's a hands-on distillation experience and an overnight. We're more than a distillery, we're a lifestyle brand. We get involved with non-profits and develop a presence in each community."  

Distilling class

An example of how this works is their Special Forces Bourbon. A Cask Club member in the Special Forces based at JBLM told friends about buying a barrel of bourbon at Heritage, aging it to a level he liked and bottling it. They wanted some, so he bought a second barrel, then a third. Eventually he asked if Heritage would do a special label for them. Special Forces Bourbon was born. It's $75 per bottle; $25 goes to Special Forces charities. "We've done 4,000 bottles with another run this year. We've donated $40,000, with another $20,000 to come in 2018."

The Cask Club is a unique offering and focal point of each tasting room. You buy a barrel of something and it is housed in the tasting room. It ages until you're satisfied, then bottled to take home. The price is good for the year with as many refills as you want, i.e., if you want to let it age three months, then bottle it, you can have it refilled for another three months, or six, etc. Your name goes on the barrel. "People like to get creative with their aging spirits."

Cask Club rum

All of this is part of a strategic plan. "We release products for a reason: what people will want to drink. Some of it is straight forward and some have a twist, like our Dual Barrel Bourbon and Rye. Aged in barrels, it is then put into a second barrel that vanilla extract was part of. You have a bourbon or rye with a subtle taste of vanilla. We're doing something similar with orange extract. It's Old Fashioned-ready!" With 22 naturally-flavored vodkas and a few gins, they offer something for everyone.

When the Seahawks were at their hottest, Heritage produced Batch No 12 Bourbon, Vodka, and Gin. "It took us 12 attempts to get the recipe right," Hannah laughs. "We're an idea factory and want to come up with things that sell. Batch No 12 was our top seller for years."

Flavored whiskey is the fastest-growing beverage now, so Heritage Master Distiller Dain Grimmer created Brown Sugar Bourbon (BSB). It's now topped Batch No 12 as their biggest seller. "On March 26, the World Whiskey Awards out of the UK announced BSB as the world's best flavored whiskey!" In the spirit of fun, they partner with the Mariners and have created a BSB baseball label. "Justin Stiefel, our CEO and founder, came up with our ad - 'What do you do when you get to the bottom of the 5th? Open another bottle!' In addition, they have BSB 103, a higher-proof version. "This idea came from a Cask Club member who liked BSB but wanted more whiskey, less sugar. It's the only over-proofed whiskey on the market."

President Jennifer Stiefel's family was the first white family to settle in Quinault, now the Olympic National Park. The Elk Rider spirits are named for her uncles who domesticated elk and the aunts who rode them like horses. "All our stories circle back to heritage."

Justin and Jennifer met in high school in Alaska, then attended the University of Idaho. Justin's degree was in chemical engineering and Jennifer's in early childhood. They moved to D.C., where they both worked on the hill and Justin received his law degree. Jennifer was a teacher and got her Master's. They chose to move back to Washington and family around 2010. Sitting around a campfire with friends drinking bad whiskey, they said 'we can do this better.' The flagship location opened in 2012 with gin and vodka. 'Nonna' the still came over from Italy after much research. It's custom built to make wine/grappa (grapes) and spirits (grains).

BSB baseball label

Their waterfront location opened in 2014 with a 2018 expansion into the space next door. Eugene opened in October of 2016, in the 'fermentation district' alongside several breweries. Roslyn opened in November of 2017. The Roslyn location has two private rooms and two catering kitchens." They secured their Capitol Hill location awhile ago, but logistics held things up. "Ballard landed in our lap; the space had been a distillery but vacant for awhile."

Heritage gets 90% of their raw ingredients from Washington, and ingredients in Eugene come from Oregon. They're now using custom bottles with metal caps, making them fully recyclable.

"We'll continue to open new tasting rooms. Washington has been super supportive and it's a locavore culture here. That will become more important in other areas, too. We're so appreciative of people who have supported us." Along with more openings, expect to see more awards. Besides best flavored whiskey, they were named the most-awarded distillery in North America by the American Distilling Institute 5 years in a row 2014-2018. Clearly not a passing trend.

Heritage Distilling Co

3207 57th St Ct NW
Gig Harbor, WA 98335

3118 Harborview Dr
Gig Harbor, WA 98335

110 Madison St
Eugene, OR 97402

101 E Pennsylvania Ave
Roslyn, WA 98941

1836 NW Market St
Seattle, WA 98107

Capitol Hill
1201 10th Ave
Seattle, WA 98107

May 2018

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