From the very beginning of the distillery, Matt had envisioned using local suppliers for labor and goods as much as possible. In sourcing an agricultural product for fermentation, he considered what was being grown close at hand. He also wanted something that had a strong regional identity. Had he opened the distillery in Wenatchee, where he grew up, he almost certainly would have used apples. In our area, potatoes are hugely important to Skagit Valley. He made contact with a Skagit farmer who could supply potatoes of the right type, quality, and quantity. He discovered that there isn’t a lot of technical data out there on using potatoes as a fermentable for distillation. So, he decided to experiment. It took a while to work out the ratios and processes. In a very Bellingham-style, he designed and built a potato grinder out of a bicycle. He’d ride the bike while a helper fed the potatoes into a hopper. Several hundred pounds at a time.
Frankly, potatoes are a pain in the ass. Because we buy fresh from a local farmer, rather than dried and flaked from a distributor, they don’t have a long shelf-life. We usually get one ton at a time and hustle through it as quickly as possible. We load them in the grinder by hand and inspect each one for bad spots. We cut away any suspect areas - by hand. We also can’t grind them ahead of time because they quickly start oxidizing. Finally, they aren’t exactly sugar-rich and only reluctantly go into successful fermentations.
So, again, why potatoes?
When the first potato distillate flowed from the still, Matt was impressed by the complex aromas and flavors. Hints of: earth, melon, cucumber, pea vine, are all frequently noted by people tasting our potato vodka. We’re convinced that it also exhibits the 5th taste sensation, umami, which is a savory character, a nice complement to its rich feel. Here we have what amounts to a compelling reason to work with these spuds – the ability to use them in creating something unique. Additionally, the vodka produced using potatoes is absolutely gluten-free. Another good reason to work with them, as the gluten-free shopper rarely has a rich range of choices for any product.
Our first product released was the potato vodka. Those two traits, uniquely flavored and gluten-free, made us want to use the potatoes to produce a gin. The potato gin base spirit is distilled and filtered more aggressively than the vodka, which allows the botanicals to define the flavor profile. The potato spirit contributes to the gin a rich texture and full mouthfeel. We’re aware of a handful, at most, of potato gins available in the US. Another option for Celiac and gluten-intolerant shoppers.
Potatoes are a good example of our slow-crafting mindset. We don’t take shortcuts. We don’t necessarily do what’s easiest. We like to finely control our process and therefore our quality. Finally, we enjoy making something unique and compelling. Even if it’s a pain in the ass.
Long live slow-crafting, innovation, and doing things the hard way.