Tasting Room Explosion Turns SoDo Into Seattle's Craft Drinks Capital

The corridors of SoDo, Seattle’s new tasting-room row, offer a taste of almost everything.
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Westland Distillery and cask room (Soldi & Weyrick), Elsom Cellars, Lowercase Brewing, Paul Zitarelli (Ciccu), 2Bar.

The pendulum swings wide in SoDo: Former tidal flats now house heavy industry; the company that made a $4 coffee the norm holds court in a headquarters towering over what was a Hooverville shantytown in the 1920s. Nicknamed “SoDo” because of its location south of the site where the Kingdome sports stadium once stood, this area seems an unlikely place for a craft beverage boom. But breweries, distilleries and, yes, even wineries are betting on SoDo to become the center of Seattle’s urban taproom and tasting-room scene.

The corridor best known for Seattle’s sports stadiums has quietly amassed 22 taprooms and tasting rooms just south of Edgar Martinez Drive between State Route 99 and Fourth Avenue. As tech companies continue to transform and gentrify Seattle, this neighborhood has managed to hold on to its industrial roots. Longtime Seattle resident and winemaker Jamie Brown of Walla Walla–based Waters Winery operates a tasting room here and considers SoDo “the last place that still feels like Seattle.”

But there are other reasons for the rush on SoDo space besides its historical industrial vibe. Nearly all of the companies located here point to the neighborhood’s still relatively affordable rents and large industrial spaces, a huge plus for the breweries and distilleries that double as taprooms and tasting rooms.

Most surprising, perhaps, are the wineries that are embracing SoDo’s gritty ambiance, opening urban tasting rooms and winemaking facilities in the area. With more than 100 wineries in close proximity to each other, “Woodinville is too saturated,” says winemaker Trey Busch (Sleight of Hand Cellars) of the Eastside’s hub of 100-plus tasting-rooms. He opened a tasting room in SoDo, saying it jibes with the personality of his winery better than Woodinville’s suburban feel. And, for many winemakers who also may have a tasting room in Walla Walla, it’s a way to be closer to customers who can’t make the four-and-a-half-hour drive to that city very often.

From white wine to brown liquor, limoncello to lager, there’s a little something for everyone along SoDo’s “thirst avenues.”

NORTH AND CENTRAL FIRST AVENUE

LETTERPRESS DISTILLING
Distiller skip tognetti started his professional life as a writer, editor and artist, so his affinity with distinguished craftsmanship stands to reason. He produces exceptional Italian liqueurs behind the diminutive tasting room in a somewhat hidden location just a block from Safeco Field, adjacent to the KING-TV building. But persistent seekers are rewarded with delicately crafted limoncello and Amorino amaro, a digestivo infused with Seville orange peels and eight spices. 85 S Atlantic St., No. 110; 206.227.4522. 


Photograph by John Vicory; Glass distillery's signature bottle hold their unique vodka made from grapes.

GLASS DISTILLERY
As one might expect, colorful glass sculptures line the shelves at this industrial-chic tasting room and distillery, one long block south of Safeco Field. These delicate pieces share the space with a motorcycle set against a backdrop of reclaimed wood, and there’s a working hot tub in front of the production area, in which owner and philanthropist Ian MacNeil is known to chill now and then. Glass vodka just took a trip to the James Beard House in New York City, where its butterscotch and toasted marshmallow essence served as the base for a La Femme Américaine à Paris cocktail. Unlike traditional grain-based vodka, Glass vodka is distilled from Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes. 1712 First Ave. S; 206.743.8070.


Photograph by John Vicory; Owner Ian MacNeil in his stylish tasting room.

EFESTĒ
This woodinville-based winery, known for its bright white wines and spirited events, recently added a SoDo tasting room to the family this summer, with food options and meeting spaces to come. Despite the decorative rustic antique grape presses, the overall design is modern and sleek, with a white marble bar lit by copper pendant lamps. 1730 First Ave. S; 425.398.7200.

GHOSTFISH BREWING COMPANY
Opened in early 2015, Ghostfish Brewing vowed to reinvent beer from the ground up. Specifically, it’s the first and only brewery in the state dedicated to gluten-free products from the beer to the kitchen, though nothing overtly screams GF. The strong architectural feeling of the taproom and gastropub, located next door to the Aston Manor nightclub, pays tribute to the building’s original days as a steel foundry. 2942 First Ave. S; 206.397.3898.

WESTLAND DISTILLERY
French spirits maker Rémy Cointreau purchased Westland Distillery, the continent’s largest malt whiskey maker, in January 2017. Located two blocks south of the Starbucks headquarters and across the street from Ghostfish, Westland makes good use of this large industrial-chic space. The main tasting room, the light, bright Cantilever Room, features bold splashes of primary colors, small plates and American single malt whiskey flights. It also offers cocktail flights made with Westland spirits to give customers an idea of how the whiskey performs with other ingredients. Hand-fill a bottle with cask-matured whiskey from the brass-tapped cask just inside the production room, where more than 300,000 bottles are produced a year (with space for as many as 1 million in the future). Don’t forget to personalize it with a custom label. 2931 First Ave. S, Suite B; 206.767.7250.

SEAPINE BREWING COMPANY
With a master’s degree in brewing from University of California–Davis, brewer Drew Colpitts made beer for other people for 18 years before deciding to strike out on his own. Seapine opened its easygoing, down-home-style taproom and brewery, just west of Westland Distillery and a block south of Home Depot, in 2012; the wood bar and tables were created by Colpitts’ own hands. The beer menu features a spectrum of styles, but the core brews are created using classic German techniques, with at least one German beer on the menu each season. 2959 Utah Ave. S; 206.682.7985.

FOURTH AVENUE AREA

3 HOWLS DISTILLERY & BROWNRIGG HARD CIDER
Named for the cù-sìth, an eerie Scottish mythological hound that howls three times before taking souls to the underworld, the spirits of 3 Howls are known for their distinct bite, such as that created by the spicy cinnamon notes and higher alcohol of its Navy Strength gin (57 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV). Rum, vodka, whiskey and gin of various strengths and flavors make for endless cocktail possibilities. Will Maschmeier, owner of 3 Howls, shares his space with Brownrigg Hard Cider, a micro cidery run by former Boeing web designer Chris Brownrigg. In addition to his dry cider, Brownrigg offers flavors such as cherry cardamom and fig leaf, with many ingredients sourced from his tiny farm in West Seattle. 426 S Massachusetts St.; 206.747.8400

ELSOM CELLARS
One of the first winemakers to recognize SoDo’s urban tasting room potential, Jody Elsom set up shop in 2013 with Evergreen Escapes and Kaf Adventures, and the Adventure Hub and Winery was born. Elsom and her travel partners offer Saturday-morning yoga and fun classes like cigar rolling, along with off-premise hikes and even global adventures. Known exclusively for red wines of elegant finesse, this working winery features a warm and inviting tasting room, with dark walls, barrel accents and bright red stools. An outdoor patio lets tasters unwind with some fresh air. 2960 Fourth Ave. S; 425.298.3082.

2BAR SPIRITS
At the tiny 2bar tasting room, customers get a furry, four-legged greeting from Galt, the sweet resident golden retriever. The other ladies of 2bar are enlarged head shots of country music legends, which adorn the tall steel fermentation tanks in the distillery, while a framed black-and-white photo of two Kaiser family men showcases the distillery’s namesake ranch in Texas. Named after the symbol branded on the family’s cattle, 2bar Spirits, located in the same complex as Elsom Cellars, keeps it simple: moonshine (clear corn whiskey), corn whiskey (aged moonshine) and bourbon—the first made within Seattle city limits. 2960 Fourth Ave. S; 206.402.4340.


Photographs by John Vicory; Kerloo Cellars modern/rustic tasting room is a popular hangout.

CENTRAL/SOUTH FIRST AVENUE

SODO URBANWORKS
Located a block south of spokane street, SODO Urbanworks (SUW) is an industrial-strength business park built in 1946 (originally called City Commerce Business Park). Multiple beverage-producing businesses line the northern “horseshoe” surrounding a central area that offers free parking for customers. Schooner Exact Brewing Company was the first beverage company to call SUW home after relocating from West Seattle in 2009. Brewery partner Matt McClung, a former mountain bike racer and high school chemistry teacher, has watched the location attract first Paul Zitarelli of Full Pull Wines, a subscription-based online wine shop, and Ryan Crane of Kerloo Cellars, followed by many more wineries as the site proved its viability. 

At the back of the “horseshoe,” Schooner Exact Brewing provides a welcome sudsy break from wine tasting at SUW. The place is often packed for lunch, thanks to a full contingent of Northwest-style beers and the culinary skills of former sushi chef Martin Conquest. All fare is made from scratch and nothing is deep-fried. Ample seating extends to outdoor picnic tables in warmer months. “We wanted to create a place people could come and gather,” says McClung, who thinks Schooner Exact’s sour beers can be great crossover beverage for wine drinkers.


Photographs by John Vicory; Ryan Crane from Kerloo Cellars which was one of the first wineries to open in the area.

Anchoring the southwest corner of the complex, Full Pull Wines was started by Zitarelli, who is also the wine writer for Seattle magazine, in 2009, after his popular blog was inundated with comments asking him where his suggestions (such as Quilceda Creek, Leonetti, Walter Scott and Chapoutier) could be purchased. In 2014, he partnered with winemaker Morgan Lee (Covington Cellars and Two Vintners) to produce Block Wines, a private label showcasing single-varietal wines from grapes grown in a single block in a vineyard and treated with very little new oak in order to let the terroir shine.

Next door, Latta Wines joined the crowd in summer 2017, transforming the dark space of the former tenant, Scarborough Winery, into an open tasting room with views into the barrel room, where Andrew Latta practices minimal-intervention winemaking techniques. A two-piece rotating oak bar allows for a variety of tasting configurations depending on the event. At the back of the “horseshoe,” Kerloo Cellars showcases artistically arranged barrel staves along the dividing wall of the modern-rustic interior. Crane is well known for Rhône varietal wines and his affinity for concrete-egg fermenters. Many point to his charismatic personality as the linchpin for attracting wineries to SUW. 

Structure Cellars winemaker Brian Grasso moved his production facility and tasting room from his Ballard basement to SUW in 2014. He crafts clean, fruit-forward wines with very little oak. Be a member of the congregation for Structure’s “Wine Worship” on Sunday afternoons, when, with the purchase of two bottles, the third is half off. On the north side of the SUW “horseshoe,” Grasso just opened a second tasting room, shared with DenHoed Wine Estates, a collaboration between the Den Hoed family and Allen Shoup of Long Shadows Vintners.

The “shadow” stretches next door to the newest tenant, Nine Hats Wines and its adjacent pizzeria, the only dining option here besides the eatery at Schooner Exact. Nine Hats is banking on an urban tasting room to establish its identity as a fun, approachable brand. Case in point: The decor includes a grand piano and rainbow-colored bowler hat chandelier. The Nine Hats pizzeria, adjacent to the tasting room, serves pizza by the slice with seating available for guests.


Photograph by John Vicory; Jamie Brown from Waters Winery; his SoDo tasting room is the only place to taste his 21 Grams wine.

Walla Walla–based wineries have claimed the northeast corner of SUW, which began with Waters Winery next to Nine Hats’ pizzeria. The tasting room has an industrial core overlaid with an elegant finish and stunning paintings by artist Squire Broel. Winemaker Jamie Brown has never shied away from doing what he wants, and when it comes to wines, that means single-vineyard Syrahs showcasing the state’s most savory sites.

For those who aren’t club members, the tasting room here (and in Walla Walla) is the only local place to taste and purchase Brown’s 21 Grams label, which features acclaimed artist Makoto Fujimura’s nihonga work, created using traditional Japanese artistic conventions, techniques and materials. Next door, Brown’s former assistant winemaker, Sean Boyd of Rotie Cellars, makes Rhône-style wines exclusively. Sparkling orbs hover over the tasting counter, and a beautiful wooden map of the world’s growing regions helps visitors place the wines in a global perspective.

At Sleight of Hand Cellars, winemaker and co-owner Trey Busch’s legendary love of music means rock ’n’ roll shares the spotlight with wine; a Sub Pop table offers T-shirts and records for sale, and tasting room manager Dave Place is always willing to make recommendations of both the wine and music. Seating in vintage shades of carmine, chartreuse and teal bring to mind 1970s stained glass, while massive photo murals offer a window onto the vineyards where the magic starts. Busch’s cache of music-industry friends makes bumping into an “I used to have his poster on my wall!” musician well within a typical visit here. SoDo Urbanworks, 3861–3933 First Ave. S.

SOUTH SODO

THE WOODS

SEATTLE CIDER COMPANY AND TWO BEERS BREWING

This dual-purpose taproom, located at the south end of SoDo on Utah Avenue just southwest of Costco, is billed as a place to get away from the city. It feels like a friendly neighborhood bar, with free pool tables, shuffleboard, a foosball table and an old-school arcade machine. A permanent food counter run by Bread and Circuses serves snacks like nachos and tacos. Two Beers, named because “life is just a little more honest after two beers,” has a large rotation of options, from its Day Hike summer ale to the Mango Passionfruit IPA.

When head brewer Joel VandenBrink was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and had to forgo beer (which contains gluten), he started Seattle Cider Company—the city’s first cidery to make the hard variety since Prohibition. They produce dry and semi-sweet ciders as well as seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice, basil mint and berry. The Woods is dog-friendly (but leave the kids at home, please). 4700 Ohio Ave. S; 206.762.0490.

TASTING TRIO IN GEORGETOWN
Just a hop, skip and a stumble to the south of SoDo is the historic neighborhood of Georgetown. Breweries dot this eclectic neighborhood, with wine and spirits hot on their heels. One little pod has it all. Lowercase Brewing, Mercer Wine and Oola Distillery have formed a beverage triumvirate at the south end of the main drag at 6235 Airport Way S.

Lowercase has a large, hip tasting room with lots of seating and specializes in classically styled beers that are low in bitterness and alcohol levels. Mercer Wine, based in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, offers three tiers of wines dominated by Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay. Oola Distillery, a Seattle-area staple, offers a variety of vodkas (including three infused versions), two gins and a bourbon whiskey.

The SoDo Shopping List 
Don’t leave SoDo without souvenirs. Take home a few bottles from this must-try list. 

WINE
Efestē 2016 Feral Sauvignon Blanc, $20
Elsom Cellars 2010 Malbec, $36
Kerloo Cellars 2014 Upland Grenache, $40
Full Pull Block Wines 2014 Discovery Vineyard Block 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, $50 
Latta Wines 2013 Upland Vineyard Mourvèdre, $40
Structure Cellars 2015 Foundation Cabernet Franc, $38
Nine Hats 2015 Red Wine, $20
Waters 2012 Stone Tree Tempranillo, $40
Rotie Cellars 2015 Southern Blend, $48
Sleight of Hand Cellars 2014 Levitation Syrah, $45

CIDER
Seattle Cider Dry Hard Cider, $11 growler fill
Brownrigg Dry Cider, $12 growler fill

BEER
Ghostfish Grapefruit IPA, $17 growler fill
Seapine Citra Hiccup IPA, $12 growler fill
Schooner Exact Mountain Boomer Winter Ale, $16 growler fill

SPIRITS
Letterpress Amaro Amorino, 750 milliliters, $47
Glass Nectar Vodka, 750 milliliters, $50
Westland American Oak Single Malt Whiskey, 750 milliliters, $70
2bar Bourbon Whiskey, 750 milliliters, $48
3 Howls Navy Strength Gin, 750 milliliters, $35

Note: Tasting room hours vary; be sure to check websites for hours.

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