Sound Spirits: There’s something about being first
We met Steven Stone when Sound Spirits was still just a twinkle in his eye. He was still just working at Boeing and tinkering around with distillation, but he still only had a name and a passion for booze to work with.
Fast forward to last week, where we got a chance to meet up with Steven again, this time for a tasting of his first spirit, Ebb and Flow Vodka, in the Sound Spirits tasting room on 15th Avenue.
Sound Spirits is the first licensed distiller in the city of Seattle since Prohibition. If you happen to be looking for the building it isn’t hard to find: it’s on 15th, before the bridge on the way to Ballard. The logo, a huge tentacle wrapped around a bottle, adorns the side of the building. If you happen to miss that, it’s the one that says Sound Spirits in bold letters, and it’s nestled right next to Consign Design, across from Staples.
The tasting room was busy, with a couple chatting Steven up, empty glasses littering the bar top. Feedback about the vodka has been good, and Steven seems full of energy even though he has put in a full day at Boeing already. The buzz is building, and he’s been interviewed by news outlets everywhere in anticipation of Ebb and Flow hitting the market.
He gave us a quick tour of the distilling area and revealed a few green surprises: Steven recycles as much as he can, re-purposing water for washing and cooling. He also sends the spent grain to local farmers for their livestock. Anything that can be used again or passed on to be used somewhere else, is. As Sound Spirits grows, he hopes to continue to run his operation this way, keeping his footprint as small as possible.
When the tour is over, we get down to business at the bar. As he pops open the bottle of Ebb and Flow, he goes into a little about Washington distilling and what sets Sound Spirits apart. “We’re a little different in what we use here to make our product,” he says, “ we fit under the craft distilling laws since we use over 51% Washington materials to make it, but ours is a single malt vodka, made with Washington Barley.”
Honestly, we’ve never heard of such a thing. Ask for a list of Single Malts and you are going to get a list of Scotch, not vodka or just about anything else. True, you can make vodka out of almost anything, but this is a new one on us.
He went on to explain that he also doesn’t filter his vodka. Another eyebrow raised, didn’t filter? In an industry where how many times you filter is allegedly directly related to the quality of your vodka, this seems, well, weird. A little skeptical but intrigued, there was nothing left to do but try it.
It follows that a vodka made like any other is not going to taste like any other either. Unsurprising then, that Ebb and Flow is full of flavor and is truly unlike any other vodka we have ever tried. Fragrant and floral, the nose isn’t harsh and alcohol heavy, or devoid of characteristics like most rank and file vodkas. It’s very smooth, easy on the palate, with layers of flavors. Yet it still tastes like a vodka.
With such a unique and tasty product, what was the inspiration? “I saw what was happening in Oregon, and I knew it was going to happen here.” He said. The changing of the distilling laws encouraged small distillers to get into the game, and Steven already enjoyed tinkering with spirits. Being an engineer and an imbiber laid the perfect foundation for small-batch distilling.
He admits while vodka isn’t the most exciting and is the most over-saturated spirit out there, it is the easiest one to make. It’s also the way most distillers pay for operations after start-up, allowing them to then branch out into whiskey and the like.
By making a vodka that is truly unique, however, Ebb and Flow is less likely to get lost in the crowd. With the re-appearance of old tom gin and other aromatic liquors being the new trend as bases for cocktails, it will fit right in to a bartenders’ arsenal.
What else is on the horizon for Sound Spirits? Gin perhaps, and Steven has toyed with the idea of absinthe as well. But the most exciting prospect for him at the moment? Aquavit. With aromatic and strong, complex flavors, it would seem an aquavit would be right up his alley. Not to mention Aquavit’s Nordic roots fit right in with Sound’s Ballard setting, and he has a handful of local bars that are drooling over the prospect. Whatever it will be, we can’t wait to try it.
Of the distillers he is sure will follow him, the more the merrier, he says. It’s a community that helps each other out, and there is always room in Seattle for more homegrown products. He does, however, mention with a smile, “We are first… we will always be the first.”
Sound Spirits is having a Grand Opening Party on September 18th. From 10 am to 7pm, stop by to try Ebb and Flow, and pick up a bottle if you are so inclined. (we did).
For more information: www.drinksoundspirits.com