skip rock.jpg
The line-up of products from Skip Rock and Mac Donald Distilleries in Snohomish.
Skip Rock Distillery in Snohomish is distilling vodka from potatoes--a first for

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Skip Rock Distillery Is Making Washington State's First Potato Vodka

skip rock.jpg
The line-up of products from Skip Rock and Mac Donald Distilleries in Snohomish.
Skip Rock Distillery in Snohomish is distilling vodka from potatoes--a first for a craft distillery in Washington, and a rarity for vodka distillers around the world. There are only a handful of potato vodkas on liquor-store shelves: Chopin from Poland, and Vikingfjord and Christiania from Norway. Most vodka is distilled from grains, usually wheat and occasionally rye.

Ryan and Julie Hembree refer to their foray into distillation as "a homebrewing hobby gone wild." Ryan, a former agriculture coordinator for Snohomish County, formally studied winemaking through WSU, after years of brewing beer and making wine home. He and Julie spent a week in Louisville a couple of years go to study distillation with the Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve. Thanks to Ryan's connections to area farmers and keen interest in experimentation, they've sourced the majority of their potatoes from Washington State--most from Skagit Valley farmers--and have made a vodka that has more character and depth than most other products on the shelves.

Producing vodka from potatoes is not terribly different than producing a grain spirit, other than dealing with a more perishable and messy product. Hembree starts with 2,000 pounds of potatoes (about 75% Yukon Gold and 25% red potatoes) that he puts through a grinder. The heavy-duty steel grinder can pulverize all the potatoes in about 45 minutes. He cooks the potatoes in a mash tun along with about 140 liters of water and enzymes. The mash is then fermented for four days before being distilled two times in a column still. Hembree only lightly filters the vodka, so what remains is earthy and rich, with a crisp clean finish. It takes roughly 13 pounds of potatoes to produce every 750 ml bottle of Skip Rock vodka.

Skip Rock was started by the Hembrees along with two minor partners in the business--Dave Hopkins, a commercial airline pilot, and Dave Remlinger, an area farmer and business man whose parents own Remlinger Farms in the Snoqualmie Valley. Skip Rock has been licensed since July 2010 and is in the process of moving their production to downtown Snohomish, to share space and equipment with Mac Donald Distillery - makers of Isis Vodka and Ty Wolfe Whiskey. Glen Mac Donald worked in liquor distribution in the area for over 25 years. In addition to the vodka and whiskey, Mac Donald has produced Isis Gin, which is waiting for final formula approval before bottling.

Ryan Hembree is doing much of the distilling for Mac Donald Distillery now, in addition to the distilling for Skip Rock. He has plans to help a local winery make it's own port and is experimenting with some fruit wines as well. He also wants to make Nocino--a bitter Italian spirit made with green walnuts--inspired by an over-productive walnut tree in his backyard.

The Mac Donald/Skip Rock tasting room is a stone's throw from the Snohomish River, in the heart of historic downtown Snohomish. Mac Donald serves tastes of his vodka and whiskey, and Skip Rock is just weeks away from getting final approval at this location so they can serve samples as well. You can find Skip Rock at a few select restaurants and bars around Seattle. It's at Endolyne Joe's in West Seattle and the folks at Local 360, Matador, and Lot No. 3 plan to buy some as soon as it makes it's way to area liquor stores.

Mac Donald/Skip RockDistillery, 104 Ave. C, Snohomish, Wash., 98209. 360-862-0272

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