PROOF, Washington’s premier spirits and distillery event put on by the Washington Distillers Guild, returns to Fremont Studios in Seattle on Saturday, July 7. Though the 40 Washington distillers pouring unique, grain-to-glass spirits is enough to attend, PROOF’s purpose is bigger than just the buzz: the money raised at the annual tasting party funds the Guild’s legislative efforts to help the industry succeed, ultimately benefiting the industry for both maker and consumer. Here Mhairi Voelsgen, Guild president and owner of broVo Spirits, shares how and why your enthusiasm about local spirits matters.
Sip Northwest: How is PROOF a unique beverage event?
Mhairi Voelsgen: Two things make it unique: We bring together distillers from around the state to showcase their products and we offer educational opportunities to the public. You can learn about the history of spirits and how to use them at the event as well as sampling exciting spirits from your backyard.
SNW: What are you most excited about for this year’s event?
MV: I’m thrilled to see so many distilleries from outside of the Puget Sound area participating. Solar Spirits from Richland, Black Heron Spirits from West Richland, Wishkah River from Aberdeen and Bad Dog from Arlington are just four of the out-of-town distilleries who will be showcasing their spirits at the event. They make a diversity of products: vodka, gin, whiskey and limoncello among others.
SNW: How does PROOF benefit the Washington spirits industry?
MH: The money we raise at Proof funds our legislative efforts to help the industry keep up. [Washington was] first to establish the craft distillery license and led the way in establishing the craft spirits movement, however, we have fallen behind other states in what we are allowed to do, from a regulatory perspective. Other states allow their distilleries, wineries and breweries in state to serve and cross sell each others’ products. We are the only license type in Washington with serving restrictions: 100 licenses out of 18,000 in the state that are limited in what we can serve.
PROOF also offers us a retail environment to showcase and sell our products. One of the outcomes of the effort to privatize liquor sales in the state [in] Initiative 1183 is the demise of the private liquor store. Most of the state-run stores that were sold are out of business. Small, independent retailers tend to be more supportive of craft spirits and local producers and find places for our products on their shelves. Because we don’t have many independent retailers left, we don’t have many local craft spirits available for sale on the retail shelf. At the end of the day, half of the distilleries in the state have no retail placement of their products outside of their own tasting rooms.
SNW: What do you hope to see change for the better in the next few years for Washington spirits?
MH: The consumer market for craft and local spirits is growing every year. Currently about 3 percent of the spirits sold in Washington are craft spirits. We expect this to grow and continue. Consumers are interested in where their food and beverages come from and how they are made. They value authenticity and as a result of that, they are turning to local and craft spirits.
However, on the regulatory and legislative front, we’re playing catch up now. We’d like to see our distilleries have parity in terms of benefits with the beer and wine industries. We’d like the restriction on the number of servings allowed lifted, giving us parity with every other license type. We’d like to be able to sell and serve the products that are made in state in our distilleries, wineries and breweries.