The boutique booze boom in Washington
With more than 100 small distilleries opening in the last six years, Washington is leading the “farm-to-tumbler” movement.
It’s a safe bet that few would stare at the rain and mist off the harbor of Hoquiam and think, “This feels a lot like Western Scotland. Let’s make single-malt whiskey here.”
But Emerson Lamb did. He’s already building a second warehouse, about a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, with the sole purpose of aging 10,000 barrels of amber liquor off this foggy bank.
“The climate there is stable with high humidity,” explained Lamb, “which is the key part of the flavor and balance we are looking for in whiskey.”
Lamb, whose great-great-grandfather George Emerson was a titan in the lumber industry and an early settler of Hoquiam, is the proprietor of Sodo’s Westland Distillery and one of the major players in the recent distillery boom.
“It has been our stated goal to put Washington state on the map as the world class place to make single malt whiskey alongside Scotland,” said the 25-year-old Lamb.
Lamb’s declaration, which would have drawn fall-off-your-barstool-laughter a decade ago, is not only gaining traction among distillers but has also set off a race to deliver the first great single malt in Washington state — and to grow the barley to make that happen.
Indeed, researchers from Oregon State University to Washington State University have confirmed what Lamb and farmers have long suspected: that the maritime climate here mirrors that of Scotland, where some of the world’s best single malts are made.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Stephen Jones, director of the WSU Research and Extension Center at Mount Vernon. “It’s opening up a whole new world. We don’t need to look at Tennessee and Kentucky for high-quality whiskeys. We can do it right here.”
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