by Heather Larson | Photo © Berry Lane Photography
Waiting for the class to start, I noticed name plates behind each of the polished bronze stills. What did O’Neil, Harold, George, Jake, Olson and Lester have to do with making spirits, I wondered? I’d have to ask later because introductions had begun.
Inside a small, plain building adjacent to The Inn at Gig Harbor, groups gather to make their own spirits. You can’t do this anywhere else in America. Only in this small fishing village across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma, Washington.
Heritage Distilling Co. (HDC) owner Justin Stiefel concocted his first batch of spirits while in seventh grade. He followed that with chemical engineering classes at the University of Idaho. Currently, HDC produces more than 10,000 cases a year including 26 flavored vodkas. In between his University of Idaho days and now, he studied law and worked as a press secretary for an Alaskan senator, gaining red-tape wrangling skills that helped him secure patents and licenses quickly.
Put Your Signature on the Libation
That ability enabled him to offer “My Batch” classes where anyone over 21 years of age can prepare their own private-label gin, vodka or whiskey legally and safely. These 3-hour educational sessions include a primer on the distilling process and hands-on bottling of the spirits generated that day. You’re also privy to a tour of the facility and a tasting of some of the products sold here. For an additional cost, you can purchase those bottles to take home.
After Stiefel let us know the afternoon’s schedule, he turned the “stage” over to Dain Grimmer, Heritage’s Head Distiller. That day we created single malts and bourbon. First to come out of the Hillbilly Stills were the heads. Not the coin-toss type either. Heads aren’t drinkable because they contain acetone and methanol. They do remove nail polish and work well for polishing the distilling equipment.
Later Grimmer notified us that the hearts had started to drip out of the stills. We dipped our fingers into the stream and pulled the digit down the center of our tongues. If it tingles, you have heads. If not, the hearts are running and those are the crucial desirable element in spirits. During this time, someone asked why the stills have names. Turns out every one of them bore names of a relative of either Justin Stiefel or his wife, Jennifer.
While the hearts continued to trickle into a bucket, we adjourned upstairs to taste some of the handcrafted alcohol available for purchase. The staff served us some delicious small plates to accompany our liquid refreshment. All the liquor we tasted was available for purchase. Those who live nearby have an additional option for making the product their own.
Join the Cask Club
As an exclusive member, you customize what’s been created by aging it to your desired flavor profile in a 10-liter oak cask. When you say “it’s ready” the vodka, gin or whiskey will be bottled. The Cask Club operates somewhat like a wine club in that you receive advanced notice of new releases and special events. But you also get to taste your spirits whenever you like.
Heritage Distilling has a tasting room located in downtown Gig Harbor and will soon open branches in Roslyn, Washington, and Eugene, Oregon. To sign up for a My Batch class or learn more about the distillery and their products, visit heritagedistilling.com.