Washington state’s spirited landscape is changing rapidly, as both new and well-established distilleries introduce a wide array of intriguing imbibables. This increased selection goes beyond staples such as vodka, gin and whiskey into a tasty range of fruit and herbal liqueurs as well as interesting international favorites, such as aquavit and shochu. Find these picks—including some delightful brand-new discoveries—at stores and at distillery tasting rooms.
$31.90 for 750-ml bottle
Shochu is the most popular spirit in Japan, though few are very familiar with it stateside. It’s a spirit that’s lighter both in calories and personality than clear Western picks such as vodka and gin, and Sodo Spirits’ EvenStar shochu—the first to be distilled in Seattle and one of the few in the United States—follows this agile and bright demeanor. Distilled in honkaku style by K.C. and Amy Sheehan, EvenStar, released late last year, is created using a local barley base and a single distilling before a short stay in recycled oak wine barrels. With hints of rosemary and grain, and slender herbal insinuations, EvenStar has an ideal malleability and can be served straight over ice; slightly heated, sake style; or mixed into cocktails with fresh fruit juices or other graceful liqueurs, such as Chartreuse.
Tasting room: Sodo Spirits Distillery, SoDo, 2960 Fourth Ave. S; 206.587.5687; sodospirits.com. Open before and after Mariners home games; visit website for details
Oola Distillery Oola Gin*
$32.95 for 750-ml bottle
Based on Oola’s vodka, which is created with a neutral base spirit made from wheat grown in Snohomish, Oola gin has layered flavor that emanates more from the botanicals and fruit used than its construction by distiller Kirby Kallas-Lewis. While it doesn’t completely shy away from traditional gin’s juniper forwardness, Oola’s gin has lavender, citrus and floral notes that share an equal footing. This particular character doesn’t mean instant transportation to a springtime scene with birds singing and petals drifting down on a soft breeze—but you may feel that dreamy after a sip. Because of this flavor, which has been available since the gin was released in the fall of 2011, use a steady hand when mixing it with ice and a twist of lemon, or into cocktails like the Aviation (gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon juice), which appreciate a more wistful bouquet.
Tasting room: Oola Distillery, Capitol Hill, 1314 E Union St.; 206.709.7909; ooladistillery.com. Open Tue.–Thu., 2–8 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 2–10 p.m.; Sun., 2–6 p.m.
Sound Spirits Herbal Liqueur
$37 for 750-ml bottle
The first in what is hoped to be a host of local mysterious liqueurs still to come (it’s about time we caught up with the European distillers/magicians), Sound Spirits herbal liqueur owes its birth to a centuries-old European recipe tracked down by distiller Steven Stone, a Boeing engineer who started distilling in 2008. The recipe is a secret, as are the recipes of every worthy liqueur derived from spices, herbs and other mystical ingredients. But here’s a hint: When sipping it, cardamom mingles with mint and other forest tones, as well as a few brief flowery tinges. This liqueur is full bodied without being weighed down by too much sweetness. It could substitute for Chartreuse in a Bijou cocktail, but I would suggest first sipping it accompanied by nothing more than a cube of ice, so it can work its enchantment without interference.
Tasting room: Sound Spirits Distillery, Interbay, 1630 15th Ave. W; 206.651.5166; drinksoundspirits.com. Open Mon.–Thu., noon–8 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., noon–6 p.m.; Sun., noon–5 p.m.
Sidetrack Blueberry Liqueur
$24.95 for 375-ml bottle
The lush berry taste of Sidetrack blueberry liqueur owes its vivid style to the use of homegrown fresh fruit from Kent’s Lazy River Farm, on which the distillery resides. This makes the trip from blueberry patch to bottle quite short, and Larry and Linda Person’s dedication to freshness is evident when sipping the liqueur, as the berry taste pops brightly on the tongue, underlined by a mellow spiritedness. Even though this bottle has been out since July 2011—a tad longer than others on this list—blueberry liqueurs are almost as rare as farm-dwelling distilleries in this country, so take advantage of this one by enjoying it on its own, after dinner, or by socializing an ounce and half of it with about 4 ounces of chilled sparkling wine before the meal has begun.
Tasting room: Sidetrack Distillery, Kent, 27010 78th Ave. S; 206.963.5079; sidetrackdistillery.com. Open Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–4 p.m.; weekdays by appointment.
Sound Spirits Aquavit*
$33 for 750-ml bottle
It’s made on 15th Avenue’s stretch into Ballard, so it’s fitting that Sound Spirits aquavit traces its lineage back to Scandinavia, where a mass of different aquavits are consumed like water. Sound Spirits aquavit is the first one produced in the state, and distiller Steven Stone doesn’t waver far from the spirit’s time-honored profile of caraway and dill, but adds his own spin with tinges of coriander, fennel and green anise (built on a spirit base that’s 50 percent malted barley and 50 percent neutral grain) that come out bold on the nose and soft on the tongue. While it could be mixed carefully into cocktails, such as the Rosalind Russell (aquavit, dry vermouth, a lemon twist), it might be finest when sipped straight as the sun begins to set.
Tasting room: Sound Spirits Distillery, Interbay. See listing above.