Sitting around his family’s dinner table in Rome from the age of 5, Skip Tognetti would regularly receive samples of whatever drink the adults were passing around. Sometimes it was wine, sometimes vodka, and sometimes it was a local favorite known as limoncello. While not aware of the effect these drinks caused, Tognetti witnessed from a young age the sense of community that surrounded them. They brought people together to share in an experience. At the time, Tognetti did not know that his career would surround these drinks, but he did know that there was something special going on.
“I think growing up around that culture instills a different type of relationship with alcohol,” Tognetti says. “I admired, from a young age, the skill that went into making these drinks.”
After graduating from college, Tognetti worked in a few wineries in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley (back when there were only a few). He had fiddled around with an idea to open his own distillery, but was still hesitant to make the leap.
However, in 2008 the craft distilling license bill was passed that made owning and maintaining a distillery in Washington State a much easier process. This bill, which was backed by many of the already existing distilleries in the state, allowed for things such tasting rooms and reduced fees, among other things. This would usher in a boom of craft distilling in the state, and also prompted Tognetti to act on his initial distilling plans to launch Letterpress Distilling.
As for the name, around the same time that this idea was knocking around, Tognetti was looking through old boxes of forgotten memories. In it, he found an old art project he had done using a letterpress that he was especially proud of. He remembered the skill and craftsmanship that took place when using such an unwieldy device, and thought that would be a great name for the distillery he had been thinking of starting. And so, Letterpress was born.
As the business began and the recipes developed, Tognetti was sure to hold onto the same values that he had witnessed growing up. A handcrafted product was an important mission for the new business owner, and one that saw him being involved in every process along the way. “I didn’t open a distillery to not distill,” Tognetti says.
The products that he had seen on the store shelves underwhelmed Tognetti. He says most of what he saw included ingredients that harmed the taste. So, he set out to first create a vodka that he would want to drink. Using 100 percent Washington-grown wheat and barley, the Letterpress Vodka is a drink that tastes as pure as the ingredients it is made of.
For his next spirit, he set to try to replicate a drink that he remembered from Rome, but one that he had never had a pleasant experience with from our local selection. Tognetti says that the amount of artificial flavorings and additives destroyed a drink that most would like, had they had a well-produced version of. The Letterpress Limoncello incorporates the distillery’s own vodka, real lemons and Washington blackberry honey to produce, in his words, “a perfect balance of sweet and heat.”
Finally, the distillery is currently working on an amaro recipe that Tognetti hopes to release some time in the near future, although he was hesitant to give an exact date for its release. “If its not right, I’m not going to do it,” Tognetti says.
If you are hoping to get a taste of the handcrafted luxury that is Letterpress Distillery, they will be attending PROOF, the festival put on by the Washington Distillers Guild on July 11. Tognetti, being on the board of the Distillers Guild, is excited for the festival and hopes it becomes the marquee event for all things distilling.