QUINCY, Wash. — Every September, a peculiar event happens in Woodinville: people camp out overnight to buy special bottles of whiskey.
Since 2011, Woodinville Whiskey has drawn fans to the east side distillery for the “Harvest Release,” where limited-edition numbered bottles of a specially-finished bourbon or rye are sold.
"To me, it still blows my mind that people would wait outside or camp overnight, even for days, to get a bottle of our whiskey,” said founder Brett Carlile. “I'm very humbled by that, it's pretty cool."
The 2023 Harvest Release is Woodinville Straight Bourbon finished in Ginja barrels - a sour cherry liqueur popular in Portugal. It has notes of blackberry jam and Carlile likens it to a Manhattan with no vermouth.
In honor of the release, he gave “Evening” an exclusive tour of the distillery’s facility 165 miles outside of Woodinville, in the Central Washington town of Quincy.
"This is where it starts - this is where the dirt is, this is where the grain is grown,” Carlile said.
A fourth-generation family farm grows corn and rye crops used for distilling. Just adjacent to the fields, Woodinville Whiskey built several warehouses to age and bottle its spirits.
It’s a big change from the distillery’s humble beginnings. Carlile founded the company in 2010 with his college buddy Orlin Sorensen, despite neither of them knowing how to make whiskey. Plenty of people told them it was risky to try, but they were determined.
They enlisted the help of Dave Pickerell, a former Master Distiller for Maker’s Mark, to mentor them. Before long, Woodinville Whiskey was winning awards for its bourbon and rye.
“It's crazy, it really is,” Carlile said. "It literally was two best friends having a dream and going for it. That's really what we did."
The grains are still milled and distilled in Woodinville, but the whiskey is driven back to Quincy for aging and bottling.
It’s transferred into to barrels via a “filling station,” using actual gas nozzles.
“It has an auto shutoff just like at the pump,” Carlile said.
From there, the barrels are moved into aging houses and strategically rolled into place - where they sit for five years. There are roughly 33,000 barrels currently aging on the property.
"In 2010, I could never fathom that we could actually produce this much whiskey so it's actually really cool,” Carlile said.
When the time is right, the aged barrels are bottled, labeled and shipped out across the country.
In 2017, the company was acquired by Moët Hennessy - the wine and spirits division of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), the world’s leading luxury goods company. But while the brand now has global name recognition, Carlile said it's still firmly rooted in Central Washington's soil and the East Side town where two friends had one crazy idea.
"That's why I got into the business, to make a good whiskey to share, and for people to enjoy,” Carlile said.
The 2023 Harvest Release is on Saturday, September 9 at 7 a.m. inside the Woodinville Whiskey tasting room at 14509 Redmond - Woodinville Rd NE. It’s $69.65 a bottle and 95 proof. And for the first time there will also be a limited release of Cask Strength Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey (107.92 proof) for $79.95 a bottle.