For decades, craft beer has flowed from many taps around Vancouver. Recently, wine bars and tasting rooms have filled the waterfront and downtown areas. Locally made spirits may be the next big thing.
There wasn’t a place for people to try Vancouver-made spirits until Quartz Mountain Distillers opened near St. Johns Road and 78th Street three years ago. Owners Randy and Deb Kyle planned on starting a distillery with someone from Las Vegas. They toured a bunch of places all over the state. When their would-be business partner had a change of heart, the Kyles looked to their son Darin and his wife, Kris, to join the business.
Father and son went to Distilling University in Seattle in the fall of 2018 to learn more about the craft and business of making spirits. The rigorous three-day course gives hands-on instruction in the art of distilling. It’s an unflinchingly real experience meant to show potential distillery owners the rigors of the trade.
“If you don’t like getting dirty, wet and dusty, this isn’t for you,” Randy Kyle said.
In the spring of 2019, the Kyles found a building suitable for production and a tasting room. Distilling spirits comes with an extensive set of requirements because the product is flammable. Due to this hazard, distillers need a large building with a 16- to 18-foot ceiling and a fire-suppression system.
After signing the lease, the Kyles purchased equipment from Bridgetown Brew Systems in Gresham, Ore. It took seven to eight months for everything to be built.
The back part of the production facility looks and operates like a brewery. A grain-based liquid is heated and then fermented in metal tanks. It’s the second step, placing it in a distilling device, that distinguishes making spirits from brewing beer. This device heats the liquid to create steam that condenses, then cools back into a liquid, yielding three cuts: the heads, the hearts and the tails.
The first compounds released, the heads, smell like solvents. The tails have diminishing amounts of alcohol. Distillers are after the hearts, what becomes the finished product.
In April 2020, Quartz Mountain Distillers released its first products — two vodkas, one traditional and one unfiltered. Since then, the distillery has expanded to 27 products, including several types of gin, barrel-aged bourbon and a wide variety of flavored vodkas, including raspberry habanero, peanut butter and pumpkin pie.
The team requires about three months to develop a new product. The process usually starts in Randy Kyle’s imagination.
“I wake up in the middle of the night and I think, ‘I wonder how that would work,’ ” he said.
An idea for a blackberry vodka never came to fruition because he wasn’t able to get the flavor he wanted without adding sugar.
“I won’t go down the artificial route,” Randy Kyle said. “There’s not a grain of sugar in this warehouse.”
The warehouse does, however, contain a ton of grain from Eppich Grain in Eastern Washington. Procuring Washington ingredients was important to the Kyles. It’s also crucial to obtaining a state designation as a craft distiller, the only way they can distribute their own products without going through a third party. Darin Kyle has taken on the role of getting restaurants, bars and stores to carry Quartz Mountain. He also delivers the products.
Quartz Mountain Distillers’ Facebook page has a running list of businesses carrying these spirits. It includes Clark County spots known for quality cocktails, such as The Smokin’ Oak, Nuestra Mesa, Birch Street Uptown Lounge, Magnolia Tavern, and The Grocery Cocktail & Social.
Total Wine & More in Vancouver has a wide selection of Quartz Mountain Distillers’ products ($28.99 to $73.99), but buyers who want access to everything should visit the tasting room.
A limited-release, maple-barrel-finished whiskey is in the works. Only 450 bottles of this specialty item will be available in the coming months.
In addition, the three-day distilling class the Kyles took from Distilling University has moved from Seattle to Quartz Mountain’s space in the St. Johns area north of Vancouver. The course is for those interested in getting into the spirits business. Unlike brewing beer or making wine, it’s illegal in the state of Washington to distill spirits at home.
Rachel Pinsky: email@example.com