The Atmosphere : Oola is in the longtime vacant>"/>
The Watering Hole: Oola Distillery, 1314 E. Union, 709-7909, CAPITOL HILL.
Photo by Julien Perry
The Atmosphere: Oola is in the longtime vacant La Panzanella bakery space. And guess what? The yeast aroma is not gone. But this time, instead of bread, alcohol levels are rising here. The place smells like a winery with a little less sweetness in the air. Wooden casks are stacked against the wall, and everyone floating around the production area acts, not surprisingly, like they've been huffing booze fumes all day (read: as the nicest people you've ever met). The day I was there, Mike Easton from Il Corvo was part of a small group helping with the bottling process and generally learning the ropes of distilling because (UPDATE!) he's making an Amaro, not opening a bar as previously reported. How much did I have to drink that night?
The Barkeep: I doubt Brandon Gillespie would like to be called a barkeep, seeing as how he's the managing director of Oola, but boy can he pour a shot of liquor! Gillespie is a great story in himself. He's been the owner of the now-defunct Beat-o, the General Manager of Mighty-O, and now an integral part of O-ola. With all those Os following him around, he's like Seattle's own Lord of the Rings.
But forget about Middle Earth. Oola is about drinking craft spirits in the middle of the day.
The tasting room is open Tuesday-Thursday, 2-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 2-10 p.m.; and Sundays 2-6 p.m.
The Drink: Gin and vodka. Shots of it. Well, sips from a shot glass. Those two spirits are what Oola focuses on. How does one make gin and vodka? So glad you asked. From the mouth of Gillespie:
Photo by Julien Perry
"We take wheat (about 88-pounds of it) and put it into water, cook it, add enzymes, bring it down to temperature, add yeast, and let it ferment. It takes about two to three days. At that point, it's beer. We take that and put it into the stripping still which produces low wines. Then we build those 8-10 gallon batches up, put it into the fractionating still which produces 95 percent alcohol. If we're going to make vodka, we run it through a charcoal filter and then proof it down to 42 percent. We've got a huge water purification system. We then bottle it and we're good to go! If we're going to make gin, we take that vodka and steep the botanicals in it--juniper berries, rose petal, orange and lemon peel, et cetera--for 24 hours, strain it, distill it again, then run it through a paper filter then bottle it. Then it rests for about two weeks."
Interesting fact about that wheat:
"The Craft Distillery Bill makes it so that 51 percent of the wheat we put into each batch has to come within Washington state. The problem with that is that our last purchase was 10 tons of wheat, which is nothing to a farmer. All the farmers in eastern Washington just package their wheat and ship it overseas. To find someone that will sell you 10 tons of wheat took me over a month," says Gillespie who finally found a farm in Snohomish to procure his wheat.
The Verdict: I would like to announce my verdict in song. No! But I would like to submit the tasting notes I took while sampling the wares with Gillespie in his tasting room. What I took away was not only the deep, intense flavor of the spirits, but this nifty bit of information: "The difference between craft distilleries and the big guys is sourcing," said Gillespie. "All the flavor in our vodka comes from wheat. So where you get your wheat--or grain or potatoes or whatever you're using--is very important. If you're say, Grey Goose or Tito's, you're buying so much grain from so many different places--and probably different types of grain--that there's no way you can make a consistent product if you left flavor in, so you distill the flavor right out. With a craft distillery, since you have a consistent source of grain and you're producing on a small scale, you have the ability to take that flavor that comes from the wheat and craft it."
Photo by Julien Perry
So there you have it. Craft distilleries are rad.
And while Gillespie knows for sure that Canon, Artusi and Skillet Diner are all using Oola products, the Liquor Control Board is not authorized to give up the names of who's actually ordering the stuff.
Now on to the tasting notes:
Vodka - Gillespie detected some citrus notes on the front palate and a bit of a tea-earthy effect on the back. Me? Not so much citrus, but definitely some vanilla and caramel. The scent was floral, which actually comes out more in the gin because it's made with rose petals. It's a pretty complex thing. And very smooth.
Gin - The gin was citrus-forward with a flowery nature. It smelled of lavender. It's a little different than most gins I've tried. A lot of flavor going on here, for sure.
A quick note about the gin. Oola opened last Thursday, October 6, and had sold out of the gin by the following Tuesday. They made more vodka than gin because they thought it would be the superior selling product, but they actually sold twice as much gin. They have since made more gin.
Gillespie admits that Oola's spirits are not going to work in every mixed drink. "I think these would both do well in certain mixed drinks, like a gimlet and obviously martinis. But would that vodka be good in a Bloody Mary? Not really. It's too complex. It's a bartender's spirit, for sure."
At home, Gillespie likes to drink the gin and vodka with ice and a twist of either orange or lemon peel--or nothing at all. Oola-la! Yeah, I had to say it.