The traditions surrounding whiskey in the United States have been strong for centuries, and there’s one Pacific Northwest distillery still embracing those time-honored techniques.Woodinville Whiskey Co., founded by Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile, opened in 2010 with the goal of producing the next iconic American whiskey.
Sorensen and Carlile attended high school together in Woodinville, Washington, and then made their way to Central Washington University in Ellensburg. Sorensen studied flight aeronautics while Carlile focused on business, and each went their respective ways into their career fields.
“For years we would continue to have this ‘dare to be great’ conversation over a glass of whiskey,” Sorensen says. “We’d always say ‘wouldn’t it be neat to do something great that we loved.’”
DARING TO BE GREAT
According to Sorensen, many of their original ideas were quirky, some a little crazy, but ultimately, the two best friends would always come back to talking about doing something they loved.
“Growing up in Woodinville, we watched as the wine industry took off and we watched the craft beer industry,” Sorensen says. “Especially after the 2008 decision for distilleries to be allowed to have tasting rooms, we were each thinking about it more and more. It was one of those things that it maybe didn’t make sense on paper, but we couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Since day one, Woodinville Whiskey has been centered on quality, utilizing Washington grains. All of the distillery’s non-GMO rye, corn and wheat comes from third generation Omlin Family Farm in Quincy, Washington. From the farm, the grains make their way to Woodinville where they’re milled, mashed, fermented and distilled all by hand.
MAKING AMERICAN WHISKEY
For Sorensen and Carlile — both having knowledge of fermentation but weren’t quite as experienced in the distillation or maturation elements of making whiskey — mentorship was a requirement in getting started.
“Through a serendipitous series of events we met Dave Pickerell, master distiller of Maker’s Mark,” Sorensen explains. “He agreed to help us and he spent months in the early days to assist us in developing our products and procedures. We really wouldn’t be here without his guidance. He was truly instrumental in getting us going.”
Today, Woodinville Whiskey produces 100-percent rye whiskey and straight bourbon whiskey, along with a whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup. To make the syrup, the team uses a barrel that previously had whiskey to hold the Grade A syrup from a small family farm in Wisconsin, allowing it to pick up the notes and elements from the barrel and the whiskey. But no matter the product, each goes back to the same goals they’ve had from the very beginning, and that was to focus on making great American whiskey.
“We knew all along we wanted to do one thing and do it really well,” Sorensen says. “We wanted to honor the time-tested traditions, and we wanted to bring that production process into a craft environment.”