Friday, July 22, 2011

Spirited Away Part III: Sound of Seattle

After two posts dedicated to only vodka, I wanted to up my game and check out something new. I trekked to the Emerald City to visit West Toast Managing Editor Josh Gana, and while there we Fortunately for us the distillery we visited not only made great vodka, but some other amazing spirits as well!

Located on 15th Ave W near the Magnolia Bridge, Sound Spirits opened last September to become Seattle's first (legal) distillery since prohibition. Josh told me that he had been riding his bicycle past the distillery since is arrival in Seattle, but had yet to step inside the tasting room doors. We started our day with a taste of what is old in Seattle, with Josh giving me my own private tour of the University of Washington campus (founded 1861), so it was time for us to check out something new.

The tasting room was funky and fresh with local art gracing the white walls, and display cases lined with bottles of the two main spirits offered. We were greeted by Craft Distiller Steve Stone's mother-in-law at the tasting room table. She offered us our first taste - Ebb + Flow Vodka. Josh commented initially that he enjoyed the smoothness, and thought it would be a lovely sipping vodka. I concurred - silky and smooth to start, I found the flavor warm and toasty with hints of vanilla, and a finish that added a nippy bite. While we were tasting we were greeted by Stone himself, who talked to us about the vodka. A barley vodka, Stone intentionally leaves in some of the flavors during the distillation process. Because of this, Ebb + Flow Vodka is best sipped at room temperature so as to not miss any of the profile.

We sampled the gin next. Stone explained that when making gin one starts with vodka, infuses it with flavor, and then distills it again. He stated that in order to be gin there must be at least 50% juniper. I absolutely love gin, and was very excited to give it a try. I found the nose wonderfully complex with citrus and spice mixed into the juniper. Upon tasting I noted a very light hint of lime, and when I mentioned this Stone suggested it might be the combination of one of the other ingredients mixed with the orange peel he uses. He told us that for his gin he uses a blend of juniper, cardamom, coriander, angelica, orris root, elderflower, and orange peel. I particularly enjoyed the cardamom. It gave the gin a broad spiciness and kept the juniper from being overpowering.

We were also invited to try two other spirits - an aquavit that tasted strongly of anise, and a cardamom-mint liqueur that Stone has dubbed "Vow of Silence." I particularly enjoyed this liqueur. Cloudy in color and texture, it offered the flavor of brilliant fresh mint at the front of the taste, giving way to the gentle burn of cardamom that left me licking my lips and wanting more. I decided to return at the holidays when Stone told us they would be bottling this beautiful gem.

After tasting we got a tour of the distillery. Stone showed us the tanks in which he ferments the barley for his vodka. It makes sense that he would choose this route as a distiller - he's been homebrewing for 20 years! He creates his own mash, sending the spent grains to a local farmer to be eaten by cows ('must be happy cows,' one of our fellow tourists commented). After the fermentation process what is left is beer sans hops. This is what Stone distills into his vodka. He uses two different stills, and the end product trickles down copper piping into jars right on the distillery floor. While in the back we were treated to the sight and smell of the spices Stone uses to flavor his gin. As he spoke one could see how committed Stone is to his art - and at this point I am completed convinced that craft distilling, as scientific as it might seem, is indeed an art.

Special thanks to Steve and the rest at Sound Spirits - we really enjoyed your space, hospitality, and, of course, your spirits!


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