A Tacoma couple this weekend is opening the nation's first DIY distillery, modeled after the many on-site brewing facilities that have sprung up since the advent of microbrewing.
"Most distilleries, they're overwhelmed just by getting a product going," owner Justin Stiefel says. "We stood back and said 'Can we make this about experience and not just about putting something in a bottle and selling it at Costco?'"
For $299 (with discounts available for small groups), a spirits enthusiast can run a 26-gallon microstill under Heritage Distilling Company's supervision. Although Stiefel predicts "the vast majority" of customers will be satisfied with distilling, proofing and bottling, interested drinkers are invited to concoct their own mash bills. Customers are sent home with a $10 bottle of unaged gin or vodka, or a two-liter cask of whiskey, labeled to reflect their participation in the process. Heritage also offers a program through which customers can monitor whiskey casked and stored at the distillery.
"There's no special license required, but we're the first people to wake up and put this business model into place," says Stiefel, who founded the company with his wife, Jennifer.
Unlike beer and wine, spirits cannot be legally made at home because of the dangers associated with distilling. Although states eager to take advantage of tax revenue and tourism dollars have lately relaxed longstanding laws prohibiting commercial spirits production, Stiefel doubts his business model will be upended by legislation permitting at-home distilling.
"There's quite a few people who've run into problems with explosions," he says. And while beer and wine are safe (if not delicious) to drink at any stage of fabrication, spirits can be toxic if drunk too soon, Stiefel adds.
Stiefel suspects the growing interest in microdistilling will translate into rapid expansion of the "My Batch" concept: He says he's been approached by multiple cities interested in welcoming Heritage Distilling Company outlets.
"We say 'every spirit has a story'," Stiefel says. "We fought long and hard about that tagline, but (customers) are going to tell the story about their experience. We expect them to be blown away."