May 7, 2010 by Yvette Davis in The Wenatchee Business Journal
Liquor is recession proof and it’s profitable, said artisan distiller Colin Levi. Those are two of the reasons he chose to open the new craft distillery, It’s Five, in Cashmere.
He also hopes to get in on the ground floor, ride the craft distillery growth wave, and beat the competition to the top. So far, he’s achieved some success, but when dealing with such a highly regulated industry, it takes time and perseverance to get things done, he said.
Washington state passed a bill in 2008 creating the artisan distillery license, which allows a craft distillery to produce up to 20,000 gallons of its own spirits per year. The distillery may sell its product directly to customers at the licensed premises (for off-premises consumption), and provide samples. In addition, the craft distillery must ensure that at least 50 percent of all raw materials are produced in Washington state. So far, only fourteen distilleries have sprung up statewide. Levi said he looked hard at the numbers before choosing liquor over the comparably easier product of wine.
“There’s about 600 wineries here, and only 14 craft distilleries. It’s probably easier to make wine, but there’s too much competition,” Levi said. “I really felt like I had to choose the right thing in this economy or it would be disastrous.”
He said more distillery competition will probably follow, but he doesn’t foresee the same amount of competitors as there are in the wine industry.
“I’m sure a lot of people will jump on the band wagon, but I don’t see 600 craft distilleries springing up. There are only 300 distillers in America. It’s a totally different process from wine and many don’t want to deal with the tighter regulations,” Levi said.