New Spirits: An Inside Look at Eastern Washington's Heritage Distilling Co.

Story by Madison Dickey

Did you know vodka isn’t actually made from potatoes? Vodka wasn’t even originally made from potatoes, contrary to popular belief. Rather, like most other spirits, it comes from a wheat base. The spirit-making process begins long before it is distilled. 

Nestled in the old coal-mining town of Roslyn, 80 miles east of Seattle, the elegant Heritage Distillery sits in the historic NWI Building once used for mining operations. While there are locations spreading from the greater Seattle area to Eugene, Ore. with more in the works, this location is the first in Eastern Wash.  

The concept of having a spirits distillery in Roslyn and Kittitas County is a real game-changer. Traditionally, Central Washington is filled with breweries, wineries and orchards throughout the flourishing valleys. Now, we have the option to purchase spirits of choice outside of the traditional grocery stores and personalize it along the way. 

Not many tourists would believe the only place you can fill a growler with a spirit of choice would be in the small town of Roslyn, Wash. In fact, many people don’t even know Roslyn exists. With Heritage Distilling offering event spaces, it can even be used for more than tastings. College students and residents now have the opportunity to branch outside the beer business and try out unique spirits in the same style.

Justin Stiefel, HDC chief executive officer and co-founder, distilled his first batch in Spokane, Wash., while he was in seventh grade. It wasn’t until 2008 when distilleries became legal—three years later, the idea of HDC was born around a campfire after a couple of whiskeys and a cigar. In 2015 there were over 110 craft distilleries licensed, more than any other state in the U.S., and King County had 27 more than any other county in the U.S. A craft distillery in Washington can produce up to 150,000 gallons per year. The craft distilleries are allowed tasting rooms like the one in Roslyn, allowing 2 ounces per person, per day. Heritage Distilling is the first distillery with production in both Western and Eastern Washington. 

On Nov. 3, 2012, HDC Flagship opened its doors to the public and nearly five years later HDC Roslyn opened its doors in a small mining community. With Roslyn being HDC’s first step into Eastern Washington is unique sharing a county with an abundance of breweries. HDC Roslyn is home to six stills named after prominent families in the small mining community. The 10,000-square foot facility allows itself for endless possibilities. HDC produces small batch whiskey, gin and vodka, with ambition to produce all Roslyn products in-house.

General Manager Beth Marker says, “The opening of Heritage Distilling, Co. in Roslyn this past November has been extremely well received by both the local communities and area visitors. We feel very fortunate to get started on such a positive note.”

The 10,000-square foot facility, located in the historic NWI Building, is filled with a large retail selection, two tasting bars for the spirit of your choice, six stills and three unique event spaces to fit your needs. The dark wood staircase leads you through the three different event spaces including the Elk Rider and Heritage rooms and the Mezzanine space. The historic space is a great place for any event from board meetings to a rehearsal dinner. The location of HDC offers so much more than just the spirits they will soon be distilling in house.

In 2011, Roslyn Downtown Association purchased the historic NWI building which prior to that had been under private ownership. Roslyn is an old coal mining town which was forgotten for a long period of time until the television show “Northern Exposure” was filmed there, though it was set in Alaska. However, Roslyn is the picture-perfect example of Alaska portrayed by Hollywood with the two-block town filled with fronts of mom and pop shops, a saloon, restaurant, general store and now a distillery. HDC takes pride of extending into the 509. The NWI building is also home to many small businesses mostly open on the weekends, as well as the Roslyn Visitor Center. Through renovations the building has been transformed to a modern facility while still keeping the old-world charm. 

One of the tasting bars features a growler-filling wall—like filling a growler at a brewery, except with vodka! The initial purchase is a little bit extra because of the growler; however, afterwards you will only need to pay for your spirit of choice. 

Beth Marker, HDC general manager, said, “We are still trying to establish the market for college students, they have come to try our spirits, but we still haven’t figured out what exactly they want.” 

HDC customer Morgan Gayle discovered Heritage Distilling Co. after her sister went and tasted different products at the HDC Gig Harbor facility. “My favorite product is the blood orange vodka, but I want to branch out and try more of the products offered,” says Gayle. She adds that the Heritage products taste a lot less artificial and sugar-packed than other vodkas you find on the shelf. Gayle plans to head up to check out the new Eastern Wash. facility in the near future. 

The HDC flavored-infused vodka is grown three hours east of Roslyn on Scrupps Family Farm in the small town of Odessa, Wash. Jason Scrupps, owner and grower, is the third-generation in his family to operate a dryland wheat farm. Each year, they harvest about 2400 acres of wheat during the peak season of late July/early August. Scrupps and his wife Danielle Scrupps met the owners while attending the University of Idaho together. Normally, Jason and Danielle Scrupps don’t sell their wheat to distilleries, but instead to the local grain cooperative, HighLine Grain LLC, who markets the wheat for them. 

 “The best part of being a farmer is the lifestyle. The work is fulfilling and it’s a great occupation to have to raise a family,” says Jason Scrupps.

The process starts a year before the wheat begins growing; the farmland is subsoiled in the fall which means the soil is worked from 12 to 20 inches deep. After the winter snow melts, the ground is now fertilized with a plow and worked two to three more times before seeding in late August. The wheat then grows until the next harvest. Eastern Washington is the home to some of the best wheat grown in the world, ranking fifth in the United States top wheat producing states. 

The field-to-flask process consists of many steps, including the grain being delivered in 2000-pound bags, which is then grinded and mashed prior to fermentation for five to 15 days depending on the recipe. From fermentation, the mash is put into distillation and then the cuts are made and it is proofed down until the different spirits are pumped into casks. Whiskey is aged for a minimum of two years in a cast. From the cask the products are bottled and labeled for purchase and placed into the customers’ flask of choice.

Nick, a first-time Heritage Distilling customer was tasting four different whiskeys from their many different lines. According to him, they have a much better quality than other whiskeys you find on store shelves. He personally enjoyed the dual-barrel bourbon, but if he were to make a whiskey milkshake he’d choose to use the brown sugar bourbon. To taste four different spirits, it only costs $5 and is about the size of two shots. If you choose to purchase a bottle of a spirit after tasting it, however, then the tasting fee is waived! The historic building expresses the old-town feel that Roslyn itself shows; however, Heritage Distilling Co. hasn’t lost its own touch inside the facility. With the facility spread throughout three floors, the atmosphere is unique dependent on which part of the building you’re in without ever feeling over-crowded.