By Andrew Friedman – Photos by Stephen Miller
– Capitol Hill Times Contributor -
The history of Man has seen a relatively fast evolution where drinking is concerned. Archeologists have surmised that the first still was used in what is today, Pakistan – using two hollowed out pieces of stone over a sugarcane liquid mix. That was maybe…five thousand years ago? Since then, the Chinese got into the action, the East Indians, then the Arabs, and finally it was the Greeks who really sussed it out, leading all the way to what we have in Washington today: 34 licensed distilleries, more than in any other state.
That’s the good news. The bad news? It may be over before it began.
The Short Story? Initiative 1183.
The Long Story: Seattle is nationally, no – Seattle is internationally known for its outstanding bar culture. When much of the rest of the world was confused if one should shake or stir a Martini or Manhattan, when vodka was celebrated and no one had ever heard of Pappy Wan Winkle, we had bars and bartenders setting the standard for excellence in service and product. This is progress, and this progress has resulted in dozens of new bars in the last few years, filled with many world-class bartenders.
On one hand, we have this outstanding bar culture that leads the nation. On the other, we have this amazing evolution of distilling all around us, making great products of vodka, gin, whiskey of many kinds, liqueurs, pastis and more. Combined, this is something that no other bar culture has…or…had. Initiative 1183 may have really sidetracked such progress.
When we first heard of initiatives to take the state out of the liquor business, we imagined that if other open markets had inexpensive spirits of a wider range, then of course Washington would follow suit, right? Didn’t all the press about 1183 say so, after all? Didn’t Costco make golden promises that we would have less expensive spirits?
Unfortunately, we are now seeing the results of these overly optimistic reports, and those results are not very promising. Many who believed these tales of less expensive spirits are going to be shocked at the reality of the price tags after June 1, when the state stores close and the retail stores open their gaping maws and start reaching into your wallets.
What to expect? Prices will be going up no less than 20 percent without the good news of the promised, expanded list of options. While a few grocery stores will have up to 350 different bottles, your neighborhood store today has over a thousand. While Costco has some of the biggest boxes of toilet paper for the best price imaginable, they’ll have maybe 50 brands available for you. The many promised big-chain liquor stores? Lordy only knows where and when they’ll show up.
So, where does this leave us? We know that it leaves us with higher prices, of that much we’re pretty certain. We’re pretty sure that it leaves us with fewer options. And tragically, we will probably also be left with a much more difficult future for our nascent distilling industry.
Until now these new distilleries enjoyed a special advantage where the state would sell many of their products in each and all of the state stores, the future holds no such promise. This ability to have a new product so widely distributed acted as an incubator for our distilleries, giving them time to develop their brand. Sadly, this is a reality no more.
Wait and watch. Our distilling industry will move forward because we have some great products and quality often wins in the long run. But it’s the short term that we are going to have to watch.
Andrew Friedman is the founder and owner of Liberty Bar on 15th Avenue East, the president of the Washington State Bartender’s Guild and vice president of the Washington Distiller’s Guild.