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Woodinville Whiskey: A Craft Player Maps Its Expansion Across The U.S. Market

June 2, 2020

Washington craft distiller Woodinville Whiskey Co. was acquired by Moët Hennessy three years ago, and has since been undertaking a carefully woven plan to develop a broader national footprint.

Located in the town of Woodinville, about 20 miles outside of Seattle, Woodinville Whiskey Co. was founded in 2010 by longtime friends Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile. Early on, the partners made the decision to never source any whiskey—instead opting to wait for Woodinville’s own-make spirit to age five years. Their first label, Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey, was released in 2015 and quickly gained a cult following in Washington, its lone market.

Moët Hennessy came calling in 2016, and reached its acquisition deal in the summer of 2017. Since then, Woodinville has been expanding distribution out from its Washington base, moving into California and Oregon in 2018, and entering a flurry of new states in 2019 and this year—including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. Four additional states—Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, and South Carolina—will be added in June and July, increasing Woodinville’s footprint to 20 states and Washington, D.C.

From the start, Woodinville has focused on two core products—its Bourbon and its Woodinville 100% Rye Whiskey, both aged five years. The Bourbon accounts for the lion’s share of sales, while the rye is smaller and often on allocation. This year, a Port-finished Bourbon was added to the core range. First released in November 2017 as a distillery-only offering, Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey Port-Finished proved so popular that it has joined the core lineup. Other Woodinville labels are mainly smaller, limited-release items, including Bottled-In-Bond, Cask Strength, Toasted Applewood Finish, and Double Barrel. Woodinville also offers its annual Harvest Release—the next one to be unveiled in September.

The Woodinville distillery has been operating with a 1,500-gallon pot still and four 3,000-gallon fermenters, running a double shift every day and producing about 150,000 proof gallons annually. Shortly after the Moët Hennessy deal, plans were mapped for a major expansion. The project, which is slated for completion this fall, will add two new stills and boost annual capacity to around 1 million proof gallons—about six times the previous level. The distillery will now have three stills, two mash cookers, and four 10,000-gallon fermenters, all with the ability to operate on a 24-7 basis.

On the maturation side, Woodinville has always aged its whiskies at the Omlin family farm in Quincy, eastern Washington, where it also sources its grains. Now Woodinville is expanding its Quincy operation as well, recently completing a 12,000-barrel warehouse and scheduling work on a second 12,000-barrel warehouse to start in a few months. In addition, all barreling and bottling is now moving from Woodinville to Quincy, freeing up space in Woodinville for the distillery expansion.

Woodinville co-founder Sorensen credits the Moët Hennessy whisky team, led by Dr. Bill Lumsden and Brendan McKarron of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg fame, for lending key insights to the expansion project. “They came out to vet us prior to the acquisition, and we spent a lot of time together,” Sorensen says. “Since then, they’ve been extremely helpful, counseling us on how to maintain product quality as we expand and grow. Their advice has helped us undertake this project with the confidence that product integrity can remain.”

Sorensen notes that Lumsden was emphatic that all expansion be carried out on the existing distillery footprint. “Dr. Bill raised great points about terroir, noting that there are over 100 different wineries in Woodinville—and everything from the natural yeasts in the air to the water source pointed to the need for all distilling to remain here.”

The Woodinville expansion project is slated for completion by this fall. With barreling and bottling now moving to Quincy, the new-make whiskey will be trucked in bulk from Woodinville to Quincy to be barreled, aged, and then bottled there. “This will be a much more efficient system,” Sorensen says.

None of these initiatives would have been possible without the involvement of Moët Hennessy, notes Sorensen. “The financial requirements of quality whiskey production are so cash intensive,” says Sorensen. “It’s the strength of a company like Moët Hennessy that’s allowed us to do these things.”—David Fleming

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