Washington distillers fear loss of freedom of choice




Posted on July 5, 2014 at 7:23 AM

Updated Saturday, Jul 5 at 11:24 AM

In an unassuming Seattle garage, the craft distilling revolution is fermenting.

"It was Martha Washington's recipe," says Mary Palmer of Old Ballard Liquor Co.

"Cherry Bounce" is a booze unlike anything else in the world. It's a liqueur once sipped by noneother than founding father George Washington. "Martha made it for him and George took it into battle in a flask," says Palmer.

It's that sort of innovative, unique craftwork that is now at risk.

Washington is leading the charge in micro-distilleries. There are more here than anywhere else in America. But just like in 1776, businesses are battling their own government. Initiative-1183, which privatized liquor sales, is threatening hundreds of small distillers.

"Obviously, the biggest concern is that we'll go out of business and have to get real jobs," laughs Palmer, but she's only half joking.

The State of Washington used to guarantee distribution of locally made spirits in its state run stores.

Not so under the new "free market." 

Chain supermarkets typically stock their shelves with national brands, leaving only small liquor stores to sell local liquor. But since 1183 passed, well over 60% of those stores have gone under, thanks mostly to higher prices.

It creates a sort of "Ripple effect."

Fewer stores means fewer outlets to sell small batch booze, even though demand is there.

"It's not like they don't sell. It's just they don't have the volume to talk to the big stores," says Bob Enloe of Bob's Lake City Liquors, which has a special section for Washington spirits.

The fear is a loss of down home flavor and culture in a state that prides itself on living locally. Unless lawmakers offer tax relief or incentivize supermarkets to carry Washington products, the local booze biz could get hammered.

To the folks at Old Ballard, that isn't the "spirit" George Washington was fighting for.

"He would think this is terrible," smiles Palmer. "He'd want that flask of Cherry Bounce when he went to get his barbecued ribs on the 4th of July!"