New law gives craft distillers more options

Whidbey Island Distillery owners Bev and Steve Heising toast their success with drinks they couldn’t have offered customers before Senate Bill 5353. Steve drinks the distillery’s rye whiskey

By DAN RICHMAN

drichman@whidbeynewsgroup.com

A state law that went into effect last month will ease the way for Whidbey Island’s distilleries, their owners said.

Senate Bill 5353, a nine-page statute, “changes the way we do things — all for the good,” said Bev Heising, co-owner of Whidbey Island Distillery in Langley. “The best thing is that we’re finally allowed to sell aside from in our production location — over the Internet, by phone, at farmers’ markets.”

SB 5353 allows serving spirits with nonalcoholic mixers, water and/or ice, which can make them far more palatable.

Until now, distilleries have been allowed to serve spirits only unadulterated and at room temperature.

The new law lets distilleries sell their products at farmers’ markets, though they can’t offer samples there.

It allows them to hold up to 12 tastings a year, either on their own premises or elsewhere, and to sell spirits there. And it permits the sale of gift cards and gift certificates redeemable for liquor.

Perhaps most importantly, SB 5353 allows selling liquor over the phone, by Internet or by mail, using credit cards if desired. But other state law prohibits Washington distillers from selling out of state, Heising said.

“We’re growing really fast as long as things keep getting easier for us,” said Heising, who runs the craft distillery with her husband, Steven, and their sons.

The craft distillery — defined as one that under law must use at least 50 percent Washington-grown products — offers whiskey as well as blackberry, loganberry and raspberry liqueurs.

Being able to sell at farmers’ markets “gives us another avenue to get our product out there,” Heising said. “It used to have to be a non-profit event to have a tasting.”

The new law will “bring those of us who want to be craft distillers into being legal instead of hiding in the shadows,” said Kathy Parks, who with business partner Harry Sloan, is in the process of opening Cultus Bay Distillery in Sandy Hook.

The law “is a step forward,” said Parks, who has submitted much of the requisite paperwork to state and federal authorities and hopes to be operational by December.

Cultus Bay Distillery will offer an unflavored 80-proof vodka playfully called Te Absolvo, as well as ginseng, orange and sweet-lemon bitters.

Parks has also applied to distill Viognier eau de vie, a liquor stronger than wine but less potent than brandy.

A third state-licensed craft distillery, Kayak Spirits, of Freeland, did not return calls seeking comment.