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Two local distilleries just opened in the South Sound

JARRETT TOMAL: The Parliament Distillery owner suggests for relaxing times, make it a Ghost Owl. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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I've had a steamy affair with bourbon for sometime now. It's an undeniable chemistry we have, bourbon and I. So when given the opportunity to sample a selection of bourbons with bites to accompany and do them justice I couldn't resist.

It was then I met Todd Buckley. Buckley played host and educator of all things bourbon from the history to the process as we sipped our way through culinary pairings prepared by Chef Slater of Maxwell's Speakeasy for its Bourbon Trail Dinner.

Being a long time hopeful of one day opening a distillery here in Tacoma and with those dreams on hold due to location and financial hiccups, Buckley possesses a clear passion for bourbon. With the introduction of Heritage Distilling Company in our neighboring city Gig Harbor and a recent bourbon release from Parliament Distillery in Sumner, I met with Buckley again to talk some more about a common admiration we have: bourbon and our local culture.

"Tacoma is in the midst of a second renaissance with the embrace of craft distilleries," says Buckley, head distiller at Bellewood Distillery in Lynden and founder of Destiny Distilled Spirits Plant. These words resonated with me, a second renaissance - the first renaissance being Tacoma's growing artistic community. "Before prohibition Tacoma made more spirits than anyone, more than San Francisco, more than Seattle. It makes sense to claim those historical roots," Buckley says of the movement.

And yet, a distillery doesn't call Tacoma home. Buckley's geographic reference refers to Pierce County, which has welcome Heritage Distilling Company and Parliament Distillery to its economic base.

With our favorite food holiday Thanksgiving right around the corner I thought it appropriate to visit the two South Sound distilleries, examines the distilleries' roots, products and what liquor pairs with turkey. After all what's a feast without an accompanying libation.

Heritage Distilling Company

This month, Justin and Jennifer Stiefel opened Heritage Distilling Company (3207 57th St. Ct. NW, Gig Harbor, HeritageDistilling.com) - adding a twist to traditional distilling. The Stiefels allow the public to still its own with two "Your Whiskey Your Way" programs. Yes, DIY distilling.

Option one is "My Batch," a hand-held opportunity to craft vodka, gin or whiskey onsite with help of HDC's licensed staff. Option two, the "Cask Club," involves the distillery staff aging a whiskey specific to a participants specifications and palate.

"All of the spirits have a really cool story behind their name, recipes and inventions," says Becky Laybourn with Heritage. "Part of the experience in the tasting will be learning about the different spirit flavors, as well as the story behind what makes each spirit different."

The spirits HDC offers include "Wherskey" - light whiskey, gin and vodka softer spirits aimed at females - George Washington's Rye Whiskey, which is the same recipe distilled by Gen. Washington and his master distiller James Anderson, and the bold, classic Elk Rider line of whiskey, gin and vodka, which will be released next month.

What I tasted: George Washington's Rye Whiskey, an homage to our first president who created one of the nation's first distilleries, is an unconventional blend of lightness and a hint of vanilla which comes out from the complexity of the rye used. It's a rich taste and full-bodied, with dry fruit and spicy essence.

Thanksgiving Day Libation: Deep fried or smoked turkey cooking methods pair well with Washington's Rye Whiskey, as the smoked turkey draw the flavors of rye out of this unaged spirit. HDC suggests starting your celebratory boozing early with the appetizer round, serving a smoked salmon cream cheese spread with crackers served and, of course, Washington's Rye Whiskey. Serve over ice with 1/3 parts water

Parliament Distillery

While in line at Albertsons, Jarrett Tomal, a young owner of a concrete company with a vast knowledge of spirits distilling, thumbed through Maxim magazine when an ad for Tuthill Town Distillery sparked an epiphany.

White whiskey! I wanted to drink some of that. I'm gonna make white whiskey. I'd never seen it before," he said in his head while in line.

Grocery bags in hand, the inception of Parliament Distillery was born. Though it took a bit of hoop jumping, an angel investment and an engineering firm to give the city of Sumner some state of mind, Parliament Distillery (13708 24th St. E. Suite 103, parliament-distillery.com) opened with Ghost Owl Small Batch medium bodied moonshine - a sweet mash of Washington grown barley.

If the word "moonshine" feels intimidating, wrap your lips around Parliament's "big" whiskey - its Ghost Owl Pacific Northwest Whiskey ($45), which was released Nov. 10. Speaking of big, Saturday afternoon Trader Joe's put an order in for 90 cases of the whiskey.

Parliament also offers an age-your-own option. For less than $40, you will receive a bottle of Ghost Owl Moonshine and two oak staves. With a little bit of time and patience the white liquor transforms into a beautiful brown bursting with vanilla, coconut, cinnamon, caramel and sweet baked bread flavors. I dare you to wait the full six weeks to get the full experience. Double distill dog dare you.

What I Tasted: Ghost Owl Pacific Northwest Whiskey is aged in quarter casks to speed up the aging process. It exits the small casks a fiery amber color with flavors of toffee, sweet vanilla and roasted coffee. A delicious spice stays on the palette until the next sip. I can see why Trader Joe's wants it.

Thanksgiving Day Libation: Tomal suggests the classic Manhattan as the savory flavors from the Thanksgiving dinner staples and sweet undertones from the bourbon pare perfectly. Then again, Tomal says a highball glass full of ice, about 1.5 shots of Ghost Owl Small Batch and club soda won't disappoint. You cut the bite from the liquor while maintaining the intended flavor profile with some bubbles.

More Booze

A South Sound Spirits festival could potentially happen. Heritage Distilling Company and Parliament Distillery have company. In Wilkeson, just shy of Mount Rainier, Carbon Glacier Distillery produce small batches with a tasting room. Port Steilacoom Distillery out of the town of Steilacoom will open in the near future.

It's been roughly five years since government regulations have allowed craft distilleries to provide tastings and sell product. It's only a matter of time before T-town has a distillery it can call its own. I know I'll be waiting with bated breath.

What will Buckley be drinking Thanksgiving night?

"A Manhattan," he says with a smile. "I'm a fan of both Bookers and the hard to find Pappy Van Winkle."

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