|Sound Spirits, Seattle, WA|
I’m always fascinated by how small distillers have wildly different still setups. Some use a single hand-built still for everything, like the infamous Lost Spirits still. Others, like Lyon Distilling, use a number of identical, manufactured stills. But Seattle’s Sounds Spirits stills are among the craziest setups I’ve seen yet. Among their hand-built stills is a “Vodka cannon”, unlike any other still I’ve ever seen. At first glance it looks like flag pole in a large plastic planter, bent in half after blowing over in a wind storm. A closer look at the top section reveals that’s it’s a finned radiator for heat dissipation – No water cooling for this still! A rotating column inside one of the sections acts like a cement mixer to keep the condensed alcohol circulating, enabling more efficient reflux and optimal ethanol purity.
|Vodka cannon at Sound Spirits|
|Radiator fin cooling for the Vodka cannon at Sound Spirits|
Hailing from Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood, Sound Spirits is one of Washington State’s first craft distilleries, starting up in 2010, soon after a 2008 law was passed making it easier for smaller distillers to get started and to sell their products. Fun fact: Washington State is now home to 10% of the nation’s distilleries. Sound Spirits makes a number of well-reviewed products which fall into these product lines:
- Ebb & Flow: Vodka and Gin
- Sound Spirits: Old Tom Gin and Aquavit
- Depth: Ginger, Menthe, Cacao, Vow of Silence
The original purpose of my visit was to meet and chat with Bradley Feather, creator of Bradley’s Kina Tonic, a small batch Cinchona syrup for making high-class Gin & Tonics (stay tuned for a future report on Kina Tonic). Bradley works at Sound Spirits, so it was a natural meeting place. Like many small distilleries, the Sounds Spirits’ facility is housed in roughly 3000 square feet of an industrial building along with other businesses.
|Bradley Feather working at Sound Spirits|
Upon arriving I met Steven Stone, Founder and Master Distiller of Sound Spirits. Steven has a day job as an aerospace engineer and was the original president of the Washington Distillers Guild. Bradley, Steven, and I had a fantastic time chatting about all sorts of spirits topics (spirit safes, anyone?) while I tasted my way through the entire Sound Spirits line. Stephen graciously agreed to show me the back room with the grain, mash tanks, stills, and all that other distillery fun stuff!
|Steven Stone and Mr. CHO|
Entering the main distillery area with its well-used concrete floors, I was greeted by Mr. CHO, the coal-black distillery cat. CHO is short for C2H6O, aka ethyl alcohol (clever, they are at Sound Spirits). A row of oak barrels runs along one wall. In a corner is a pallet stacked with bags of malted barley from Palouse, a farming region in eastern Washington State. Ebb & Flow vodka is 100 percent made from this barley, as is 50 percent of the Ebb & Flow gin. Mr. CHO seems to enjoy spending time around the grain bags, no surprise there.
Directly in front as you enter is a small, shiny copper still, probably two gallons max. Steven uses it for small scale dilation experiments before committing to full-on production. The eyes are then drawn to a rather odd looking vessel with curved sides and two flat, hinged lids. Formerly a dairy tank, Steven now uses it as the mash tun. Nearby are two square, lidded vessels–the fermenters.
|Stripping stills at Sound Spirits|
|2nd pass stills at Sound Spirits|
For non-vodka distillation, the distillery uses four hand built pot stills using kettles from Blichmann Engineering and condensing columns from The Amphora Society. Each sits on a gas-fired stock pot burner. The two leftmost stills are used for the first (“stripping”) distillation run. The two stills to the right are used for the second distillation pass, and slightly differ from each other: One has two condensing columns and is used for gin, while the other is used for all the other non-vodka spirits and has a single condensing column. It’s worth noting here that the Ebb & Flow gin is “pot style” gin, meaning the botanicals are introduced after the stripping run, and go into the kettle itself, rather than into a “gin basket” that the distillate vapors pass through. The end result of pot style gins is more intense flavor.
|Bottling area at Sound Spirits|
Tucked around in the back of the space is a general purpose area where all the bottling occurs. Given the amount the product that Sound Spirits sells, it surprised me that all the filling is done by a single, hand-fed bottling machine. Filling happens four bottles at a time, and takes about 25 seconds to complete. The middle of the room is dominated by shipping boxes holding the final product. In a corner sits a pallet of empty 750 ML bottles used for the Ebb & Flow products. The reverse printed Ebb & Flow labels are designed to be viewed through the bottle and its contents. The label and the distinctive bottle shape combine to make a product that begs to be held.
|Bottling machine at Sound Spirits|
Bradley, Steven, and I talked about how some distilleries open with a dream of producing whiskey, but first sell gin, vodka, and other simple spirits that can be produced quickly in order to generate a revenue stream. Sounds Spirits doesn’t seem to be in that camp. They could obviously cut corners, focus on just a few products, and favor profit at the expense of innovative spirit making. However, given the array of somewhat niche products like their Old Tom Gin, Aquavit, and the line of Depth liqueurs, I get the vibe that Steven and Sound Spirits care more about making interesting, high quality offerings rather than just another “me too” lineup.
|The ever vigilant Mr. CHO|
The Sound Spirits tasting room is open seven days a week. There are no set tour times, there are no tours or tastings till after 4:30 PM on some days. However, it’s a laid back affair: Show up, taste some samples, and odds are you’ll be able to take a spin though the distillation area. Currently the Sound Spirits lineup can be purchased in retail stores all over Washington State. They also have distributors in Illinois and Minnesota, and at least one online store carries some of their products.