Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vodka & Whiskey Tasting -- Woodinville, WA

Not Only Wine Country Anymore
    We've all heard the stories of prohibition; of people making moonshine in their cellar. We've heard about the secret societies that began just so people could get together to make more of their favorite whiskey. Businesses that built secret doors and passageways taking you to lavish rooms centered around liquor making and drinking. Woodinville, in its own way, has now jumped onto this bandwagon because it's no longer just a wine town--it's a moonshine town (well at least a legal moonshine town...if that's possible.) Since about 2008, five distilleries have popped up in Woodinville, each with their own unique product and flavors of vodka, whiskey, grappe (a distilled grape-based liquor,) and gin--what a happy surprise! The distilleries offer tours of their facilities and their tastings are free (whereas wine tasting is $5 to $15 these days.) 
The shop at Project V Distillery and Sausage Co.--dimly lit and inspiring...

Project V Distillery and Sausage Co.
    On a Sunday afternoon, we started off by going to Project V Distillery and Sausage Company to learn all about their vodka production http://www.projectvdistillery.com/. When you walk up to the distillery from the parking lot, you'll see a business park, when you step inside though, you'll be greeted with an intimate shop, not to mention the nice people offering you a taste of their Single Silo Vodka. For the record, a taste was about 1/8 of a shot glass, so you won't get tipsy on this experience; this is about how much vodka connoisseurs serve after supper at a dinner party anyway. We felt a little like we were walking into a moonshine operation from prohibition because of the dim lighting and all the barrels and equipment you can see through the old doors at the back of the shop. It definitely put us in the right mood.
Highly complex still set up at Project V Distillery--it's another rendition of a chemistry lab

Project V's Background
    We met with Al, one of the owners. He said that their business did originally grow from the moonshine they made in their garage.  The small operation had gotten out of hand causing them to need a bigger place to work, so in the fall of 2010, Project V opened for business.
    All the artwork you'll see when you're walking around the place was done by close friends and family, including Al's kids--it's fun, catches your eye, and really adds a lot. One of our favorite things about their decor is that they chose to use an old VW van as a storage locker for some of their supplies--ingenious
A glimpse of Project V Distillery--the VW van behind us is their clever storage unit for their vodka supplies

How It Works
    It turns out that everything Project V does is crafted by hand--literally everything--even their stills were built by the owners. They use wheat grain from Al's wife's uncle's fourth generation farm in Withrow, WA. The kernels have a low protein, high starch content. The wheat is broken apart and made into a mash. Part of that mash is perfect food for pigs, hence the Sausage portion of the company name. Just so you know, the pigs are still plumping up so don't plan on sausage for another month or two. The remaining solution from the mash is allowed to ferment and becomes vodka after a few carefully planned runs through the still. It's fun to see the chemistry in action and to watch everything bubble.
    Al told us more about what we were looking at...the liquid condenses from the vapor that comes from the fermented grain product. Once it condenses the liquid falls down the copper tubes since it's heavy, and the vapor at the bottom of the tube rises back to the top, starting the process all over again. This whole cycle works to get rid of those fusel oils that make that awful nail polish remover taste that cheap liquors can have. In the end you're only left with ethanol, since vodka is mostly ethanol. 
A picture of Al showing us how they use a bathtub and a perforated bag to separate out the grain mill from the solution for your vodka

The Products
     Al told us that their business crafts 350 bottles of vodka per week. Now, I'm not much of a hard liquor drinker, but our friends said that it was some of the best vodka they'd ever had. Again, these are free tastings here. We really enjoyed the Single Silo that we'd had on the way in--it's good and smooth. The Double Silo is for those who feel a bit more adventurous, just due to its strength. Our very favorite was the Single Silo with the Chai Infusion. The infusion mix is also hand-made and is packed full of honey candies, cinnamon, and vanilla giving the vodka an even more complex flavor. It's a little like having a mixed drink, yet, you're still drinking straight vodka--definitely a winner. If a taste of any of these isn't enough, you can take a bottle home for between $29 and $80.
    A Tip: To avoid the rush, get there before 2pm in the afternoon on the weekends for a more personalized tour--you'll get to taste no matter when you show up during business hours though, so no worries there.
The German-made still at Woodinville Whiskey Co., used for whiskey and vodka

Woodinville Whiskey Co.
    After, that phenomenal experience, we headed to Woodinville Whiskey Co.  http://www.woodinvillewhiskeyco.com/, which operates on a slightly larger scale, and boy, was it packed on a Sunday afternoon. They have one official tour each day Wed. through Sun. at 4pm, but tasting is open anytime from 12-5pm. We really enjoyed their Willy Wonka Factory style stills. We got to try their Peabody Vodka and their un-aged Headlong White Dog Whiskey. On their tour we learned about the same process as we just seen at Project V, since Woodinville Whiskey Co. makes vodka in addition to whiskey. It was fun to see their char oak barrels where they age their whiskey--it'll really be a treat when their two-year aged whiskey is ready soon. We didn't get a chance to chat too much with the folks at Woodinville Whiskey Co. because of the volume of visitors, but they do invite people to ask questions on their tours, so you'll have plenty of time for that when you're there.
"Prove It"   
    One of our favorite things about visiting Woodinville Whiskey was learning the history of the word "proof" in regards to alcohol content. Apparently, back in the 18th century, customers would ask the bartender to "prove" that an alcohol had not been watered down. So the bartender would take a teaspoon of gun powder and pour alcohol over it, then light it on fire. If the substance exploded into a ball of fire then the alcohol  became a "proof spirit", if not it was deemed "under proof". There. Your history lesson for the day!
Aging whiskey in char oak barrels at Woodinville Whiskey Co.

Our Last Stop
    Our last stop was at Soft Tail Spirits http://softtailspirits.com/. We hadn't expected to go to three distilleries in one day, but we were on a roll! Soft Tail Spirits is located in a quaint log-style home that's been converted into an inviting tasting room. Their vodka has a different taste than the previous distilleries we visited, allowing us to see how varied the flavors can be. This was really neat...after one of their spirits they'll have you follow it up with a chocolate cover espresso bean to help bring out the complexity of the flavor. This was the perfect way to end our spirit experience for the day.
Soft Tail Spirits has four different vodkas and grappas for you to try...
    At all three distilleries, we were impressed by the true passion the distillers have for their work. It's science, art and craft, all wrapped into one. This is definitely something to explore on a cloudy or rainy Seattle day. 

Things To Know:
  • Project V Distillery will be celebrating their one year anniversary on Nov. 13th--a celebration is definitely in order
  • These distilleries have created a 'just stop by' kind of environment
  • Be aware that these tours do involve a good deal of standing, but there are chairs in the shop portions of the businesses to sit down in.
  • Don't miss out on the wine opportunities in the area as well
The Distilleries
There are a total of five distilleries in Woodinville and four are open for tours and tasting:
The Kentucky copper still at Soft Tail Spirits--each still is so different

Have fun--spirit tasting is truly unique! 
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