The booming craft spirits industry is fueling American interest in high-end cocktails and celebrity mixologists. It’s also promoting the image of the distiller — once an outlaw bootlegger — as an artisan. And while Kentucky is the home of bourbon and Tennessee brags about its whiskey, no state has birthed more craft distilleries than Washington.
There are 110 distilleries in Washington state, accounting for more than 10 percent of the distilleries nationwide. The industry’s growth has exploded in recent years: At the end of 2013, there were 57 distilleries in Washington. Forty-five more are applying for operating licenses, according to Jason Parker, president of the Washington Distillers Guild.
Industry analysts credit three factors for distilleries’ success in Washington: First, a state law passed in 2008 simplified the license application process. Second, a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2011 allows craft distilleries to sell their products directly to restaurants and stores, and to consumers through their own storefronts. And third is the strength of Seattle’s artisanal food market, which extends to the cocktail culture.
“Craft distilling does seem to go hand in hand with food movements,” said Andrew Faulkner, editor of Distiller magazine, published by the American Distilling Institute. “Wherever craft distilling and craft spirits and craft cocktails have gotten a hold, there’s a real locavore movement.”
Parker pointed out that booze isn’t the only libation Washington residents seem to enjoy making. The state has over 850 wineries, more than any other state but California, and more than 250 breweries, also second to the Golden State. New York and California, which have the second- and third-highest number of distilleries, also have significant winery and brewery cultures.
Nationwide, the distilling industry is booming. Faulkner said sales have more than doubled in just the past few years, from an estimated 800,000 cases in 2012 to 1.9 million cases in 2014.
Parker credited one more factor in Washington’s favor: “It rains here all the time, so there’s nothing to do but go indoors and eat and drink.”