The Art Inventory

Washington Distillers At Fremont Studios For PROOF

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 30 June 2017


PROOF-300x600On Saturday, July 8th, from 5:30p – 9p, Fremont will welcome representatives from one of the small manufacturing industries, coming here seeking more markets and more exposure for their craft.  Representatives from distilleries all over Washington (and a few, just for flavoring, from Oregon,) will gather as the Washington Distillers Guild hosts its annual festival, called PROOF.  At the Fremont Studios, these new businesses (most less than five years old) will display and distribute information on the whiskey, gin, bourbon, vodka, and other hand-crafted spirits they make locally.

In its fifth year, PROOF will showcase more than 40 of the 110 members of the Washington Distillers Guild, allowing attendees – common Fremont folk, and their friends – to taste and talk to the crafts people who stand behind their products.  According to Dick Stephens, President/CEO of Varsity Communications and PROOF’s producer, at this annual gathering he wants people to feel free to walk in without intimidation, and to get all their questions on spirits answered.  “This is not for the hoity-toity,” Stephens said, “Any noses that go over 12° in the air, I’ll escort them out.”

‘The Success Of PROOF’

“We had decided we needed to form an association,” explained Jason Parker about the start of the Washington Distillers Guild, “Laws being passed needed lobbying, and lobbyists need money.”  Distilleries became legal in Washington with the passage of Initiative 1183 in 2011, and some of the entrepreneurs willing to launch themselves into building a modern-day distillery saw also an immediate need for a Guild, to better cushion them from the risks they were taking.

“The reason we’re on the map,” Parker said of the Guild, and its members, “is due to the success of PROOF.”  Parker currently serves as the Guild Treasurer, and a Past President.  According to him, the Varsity Communications team, “saved our bacon,” when they came on to organize PROOF.  It gave this freshman advocacy organization a flagship, fundraising event, and an attraction to new members who want to show off their spirits.

Sip and sample spirits at PROOF on July 8th, a festival celebrating the Washington Distillers Guild.  Photo provided by Shibaguyz Photography

Sip and sample spirits at PROOF on July 8th, a festival celebrating the Washington Distillers Guild. Photo provided by Shibaguyz Photography

Parker describes our Washington craftspeople as ‘heads-down distillers’, who get very caught up in creating and improving their products.  “They don’t get out much,” he joked.  PROOF gives them a chance to share their work, and talk directly to consumers.

Parker knows something about distilling, and Distillers, as he is one.  He’s co-owner of Cooperworks Distilling, begun 3 ½ years ago.  When Initiative #1183 passed, some crafters, like Fremont Mischief, jumped right in.  Parker explained that he and his partner “waited to open until we were sure,” about regulations and laws – and Initiative 1183 being upheld.  “We specifically waited an extra year,” before they signed a lease and launched their spirits.

Marketing With PROOF

While Cooperworks is located in Seattle, members of the Guild come from all over Washington, and the association wants all of its member businesses to thrive.  PROOF has provided Guild members with access to consumers, from retail customers to bartenders and restaurant owners.  Guild leadership has begun to look at hosting similar showcases around the state, to give all distilleries, and consumers, access.

Marketing, through events like PROOF, is a big part of the work of the Guild, current President Steven Stone explained, along with sharing information on resources and legislation.  The manufacture of spirits can be considered low hanging fruit, ripe for taxing, by some lawmakers.  Unfortunately, such high taxes, and confusing tax and fee structures make it harder and harder for fledgling enterprises to turn a profit, or get started at all.  A business that makes whiskey, which may not be consumed for many years, can be shut down by high taxes before its even begun.

Ultimately though, Stone wants to protect his industry in whatever way Guild members need.  Once a year the Guild polls members, “to find out what is important to focus on,” to identify the concerns uppermost in the minds of members.

Steven Stone owns the first distillery to open in Seattle after passage of Initiative 1183, currently being relocated from Elliott Way to the west-side of Seattle Pacific University.  Some may know the name of Sound Spirits Distillery, but Stone acknowledged that the company has focused on branding its specific products such as the Depth liqueurs, Ebb + Flow Gin, Madame Damnable, and Blekkspurt Aquavit.

Exposure & Experience

In addition to spirits, PROOF offers food and education in related items, like Creative Ice.  Photo by Shibaguyz Photography

In addition to spirits, PROOF offers food and education in related items, like Creative Ice. Photo by Shibaguyz Photography

For Stone, PROOF provides distilleries like Sound Spirits with exposure – to consumers, and back again.  “It’s not hard to find us,” Stone said of all the distilleries, “but having an event where so many can come together, a showcase, it is nice exposure.  It’s also something that we as an association can do for our members.”

For Parker, PROOF provides an experience for its attendees – a chance to find beloved products, and discover new ones.  “In one place,” he explained, “you’ll have access to products you’ve never experienced before.”  Parker pointed out that PROOF isn’t just for the casual consumer but for bartenders and restaurant owners looking for new liqueurs, wanting to connect with new distilleries, and seeking face time with favorite providers.

Parker compared PROOF to a Farmer’s Market, where consumers at every level can talk to the producers.  “Imagine a chef going to the world’s best Farmer’s Market to find the best ingredients, ones that they’ve never known before,” he said.

As an experience, PROOF also provides opportunities for learning on the ‘Use The Booze’ stage, with three different educational sessions:

  • 6:15p – Steve Cox, of Creative Ice, will talk on ‘More Than Keeping Your Beverage Cold’
  • 7:15p – Christopher Gronbeck, of The Barrel Thief Wine & Whiskey Bar, on ‘American Whiskey 101’
  • 8:15p – Renee Cebula, of Raising The Bar, on ‘EffYeah, Gin’

At PROOF, different distilleries, along with visiting bartenders, will be sharing and teaching on how to use spirits showcased at PROOF to create some distinctive cocktails at home, including an Apple-Cinnamon Martini, the Brown Sugar Bourbon Vanilla Milkshake, a Hibiscus Watermelon Sparkler, and the pairing of Fremont’s own Barrel Thief and Mischief for Northern Nights.

Sip & Sample Spirits

“You don’t have to know anything about distilling,” to attend PROOF, Stephens insists.  The event provides attendees with an opportunity to meet crafters, and find out about what they do.  “Every one of these distilleries has a story,” Stephens observed, “People are still learning their craft, and that is reflected in their products.”

Purchase tickets in advance on the website, or at the doors, as space allows (last year’s event sold out.)  Sip and sample a variety of spirits, and buy a bottle or two directly from the distillers that made them (with proceeds going to support the Guild.)  In addition, savory bits and sweet treats will be available for noshing, from local restaurants and food manufacturers.

Step up your home bar, and hosting skills, at PROOF – or just find out what you want the next time you are ordering at the local watering hole.  This is an ideal way to support a new, burgeoning industry in our state, and learn about the crafts persons involved.

Tickets to PROOF cost $50, and all attendees must be 21+.  Find a complete list of participating distilleries at




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©2017 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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