while back I wrote about the “age your own bourbon” kit from Woodinville Whiskey Co. in Washington. I was curious about what they were doing up in the great Northwest. Right now they are offering White Dog and a Vodka spirit. They are promising that there will be a bourbon in their portfolio some time in 2011. I’ll be checking with them this week to see what their product is telling them about when it will be ready.
Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile are the owners of Woodinville Whiskey and seem to be somewhat unlikely distillers. Let’s see, they’re not from Kentucky and on their Website, they say they don’t know how to get there. Sorensen has a simple answer to their qualifications to be bourbon producers.
We’re “bourbon lovers primarily,” he says.
And anything else…?
“My partner and I have been best friends for years. I was an airline pilot and entrepreneur, he was in sales for a global building materials corporation. This is now our full time job and we have 4 employees on staff,” he said.
Beyond sipping and tasting “research,” the two got some hands on training.
“We studied distillation in depth for well over a year including an apprenticeship at a micro distillery, but most of our knowledge was gained from our friend and mentor David Pickerell, formerly master distiller for Maker’s Mark,” Sorensen said.
Say what? Yes, they bought some expertise from a Kentucky professional.
After retiring from red-wax-topped bourbon distillery in Kentucky, Pickerell began helping out the guys in Woodinville. So Kentucky now is exporting bourbon expertise.
Sorensen says Pickerell helped set up the distillery, create the products and “has pretty much taken us under his wing.”
“We’ve been fortunate to reduce the whiskey learning curve by about 30 years. He’s out here in Woodinville working with us for a week or two each quarter and we are in constant communication with him” he says.
Right now they have produced at least 1,000 cases of white dog – the raw material for bourbon. All it takes from that point is adequate aging in charred, new, white-oak barrels.
They say they are taking a a slightly different approach to the aging process by barrels that are smaller than are traditionally used. The idea, Sorensen says, is that they can reduce the aging using smaller barrels.
But when will the caramel nectar be ready guys? There is no hint on the Web site.
“We’re producing a couple different bourbons. We hope to have our first release sometime this year, but the ultimately it’s up the whiskey to tell us when it’s ready,” he says.
Washington’s climate is quite different from Kentucky, or to some extent Texas, where bourbon production is taking hold. There are not the drastic climate changes in the Northwest.
Sorensen says: We don’t have the temperature swings, but we also don’t have nearly the low temperatures which can cause the whiskey to go dormant. We have constant pressure changes as storm system (after storm system…after storm system) moves through our region. This has a similar effect to temperature swings, although not as dramatic. And if you look at the science of barrel aging, many of the studies have shown that a cooler aging environment actually produced a more desirable product (International Barrel Symposium, 1997). Again, I don’t feel it’s as much about better/worse than Kentucky, it’s about being
different and innovative.
Bourbon produced in areas outside the home of bourbon, is not about stealing away drinkers of Kentucky products, he says.
“I think you’re going to see innovation from craft distillers. Mash bills, grain types, barrel size, wood types, toast/char levels, aging environments, finishing techniques,…. We have the ability to be very versatile. It’s not necessarily about luring them away from Kentucky tradition (we love Kentucky bourbon — probably too much!), it’s about offering something different., he says.
The Seattle area has had an impact on a variety of products: coffee, beer, wine and grunge music. But Sorensen tries to distance the area from that segment of “innovation.”
“The Pacific Northwest has been on the forefront of great products – beer, wine, coffee, so we’ve almost come to expect artisan, hand-crafted in everything around here. We also have some of the purist water in the country. As for the grunge, well, I think we will be stuck with that stigma for awhile,” he says.
When their bourbon finally says “I’m ready” I’ll find a way to get my hands on a sample and let you know.