by Kirby Lindsay, posted 16 April 2012
Mike Sherlock recently admitted, “We had a lot of opportunity to go anywhere.” In choosing a site for the Mischief Distillery, Sherlock and his wife, Patti Bishop, thought about other locations, he explained, “but we live in Fremont.”
“We are really proud of living in Fremont, and being in Fremont,” Sherlock declared, “it is a town to reckon with.” A town that can now boast of having a craft distillery making high-quality whiskey, vodka, gin and (soon!) rum right in the heart of our industrial area, along the Burke-Gilman Trail and the Lake Union Ship Canal.
When Being Local Is Important
“We like the neighborhood,” Sherlock said, “everyone around here has been very good.” Already Mischief has collaborations with Theo Chocolate, Fremont Brewing Company and Bold Hat Productions, as well as offering tastings at 9 Million In Unmarked Bills and Fremont Studios. “It fits so well,” he said, “being in the Center of the Universe.”
The Mischief distillery gift shop also fits well, as a place full of artisanal knick-knacks and craft items sold alongside artisanal liquor, distilled on-site. “All our stuff in our store is made within 100 miles,” Sherlock observed. The shop sells t-shirts printed by Perch Graphics in Fremont, and hats made at Custom Embroidery in Ballard. “The sources that we have are really fun, and cool,” Sherlock said with distinct pride in the artisans, and artists, that supply their gift items.
“We found dairy farmers that wanted the spent grain for their cows,” Sherlock said. He’s found a local source for sugar cane, so the distillery will start making rum. The company emphasis on local sourcing may have started with the State of Washington. State liquor laws recently allowed the establishment of small craft distilleries, provided the products came from at least 51% of local ingredients. This only encouraged Mischief, which has built relationships with Methow Valley farms that supply grain for all the products except wheat used to make the vodka, which comes from a sixth generation Whidbey Island farm.
When Laws Support Inclination
The local emphasis results in a special, if slightly more expensive, product. That didn’t bother the Mischief owners at first, but serious changes are taking place. Washington voters approved Initiative 1183 in November 2011, and allowed distilleries to sell direct – with huge tax increases placed directly on the product. “Nobody knows yet,” Sherlock said, what the changes will do to the industry. One thing both Bishop and Sherlock do know, “the prices are going to go up.” Larger distributors – of big national brands – will also be allowed to drop prices, and offer discounts, but the small, independent companies won’t be able to and survive.
Even with the rise in price, customers will likely still find value in the Mischief product, its elegant presentation, and the values of the company behind it. Mischief already has shown a strong spirit of philanthropy. Last Veteran’s Day, they created a special package for 750ml bottles of Mischief vodka and whiskey with a dog tag attached. “We use dog tags with actual names of fallen soldiers,” Sherlock explained, with 25% of the sales going to the Freedom Is Not Free Foundation. They’ve also established donations from sales of vodka and gin to benefit anti-domestic violence organizations.
When ‘Something Exciting Is Going To Happen’
“I like the enthusiasm – it keeps you going,” Sherlock said of launching yet another business, “It doesn’t make you any younger, but it’s great to get up in the morning and know something exciting is going to happen.”
Sherlock comes to Mischief after experience as a houseboat designer, and 29 years working in the commercial fishing industry. Years ago, he and his buddies – fellow owners of independent fishing boats – formed a partnership and went to Asia to negotiate the sale of fish. The partners brought along whiskey as a gift, and the negotiations proceeded well – although the buyers kept bringing conversation back to how they could get more quality whiskey.
The partnership eventually contracted a small distillery in Canada to create a special label whiskey from a recipe handed down from Bishop’s grandfather, John Jacob. The Dutch immigrant had settled a farm in Oregon in the 1800s, and used the distilling skills he’d brought from the old country, and the whiskey he made, as barter for grains, fruit, or labor with neighbor farmers.
With a background in science, Sherlock found himself intrigued by the distilling process, and the recipes (and the stories they carried) passed down through family. In 1998 he bought out his partners in the distribution business, and when craft distillery laws changed in Washington, “I thought it was time to move it here.”
When Mischief Happens
Sherlock distills Mischief on-site, but some whiskies get stored elsewhere. The aged whiskey must be stored 8 years in bourbon barrels for its ideal flavor, Sherlock has found. The rye whiskey ages for one year, in 20-gallon white oak barrels, and then another year in 15-gallon kegs. “The smaller the keg, the quicker it ages,” Sherlock explained, “and the more flavor develops.” Meanwhile, the vodka takes only 72 – 76 hours to ferment, all on-site, before being distilled and sold.
“We tried to create a visual destination,” as Sherlock described the distillery, and its gift shop. Even those uninterested in the liquor might take a moment to visit Mischief. “We had the luxury of the ship yard, and the man power, to make it look like something out of Jules Verne,” he explained of the extensively – and artistically – remodeled masonry workshop. Stop by and see a distillery, located in Fremont, and ready to be reckoned with.
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©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.