Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vodka without the burn...

Your host recently had the chance to visit Spokane's Dry Fly Distilling. Dry Fly Distilling is a relatively new company, and has recently started to ship its gin and vodka to Northern California. Founded in 2007, Dry Fly was Washington State's first licensed micro-distiller. It's located in an unassuming strip mall next to the Norther Lights Brewery on the outskirts of downtown Spokane. Until 2007, it was very difficult to distill in Washington, and the current owners of Dry Fly lobbied the state to create a certain legal category that would allow a small distiller to prosper. One of the stipulations of the law is that 51% of the ingredients must be from Washington State.

Why is this exciting news? It's exciting since this law, designed to help Washington farmers, also causes the distiller to make their alcohol from scratch. Too many new distillers buy industrial grain alcohol (GNS) from Midwest conglomerates such as Archer Daniels and Cargill. They re-distill it, filter it through charcoal, dilute it with "artisan" water, and then slap a fancy label on the bottle and normally a premium price. Unfortunately for the consumer, it's very difficult by look to determine if their vodka or gin is GNS based, or made from scratch. However, if it is GNS based, the marketing material will likely discuss the special filtration process and the use of such items as crystals, lava rock, special charcoal, or diamonds in the filtering. Some bottlings, but not all, will also say 100% grain neutral spirits on the label.

If the alcohol is made from scratch, the distillery either ferments their own grain or uses a local brewery to provide them with wort. The result is usually a more flavorful product with less burn. Well made vodkas made from scratch will have a pleasing, sometimes sweet smell with no trace of rubbing alcohol. It's possible to make a good GNS based vodka, but it will usually have no smell at all and little special taste. It is considerably more expensive and difficult to produce alcohol from grain than it is to buy GNS. Almost every large vodka producer uses GNS, or mixes GNS with a smaller amount of house made spirit to provide flavor.

Dry Fly's vodka, made from Washington wheat, has a creamy, somewhat sweet taste. It is excellent on the rocks with a dash of orange bitters or in a Martini. It's also a vodka that's easy to drink at room temperature, and actually smells nice. Use a cheap vodka for the cranberry or lemon mixer.

Dry Fly's gin is also made with the same vodka base, but is flavored with numerous classic and unique botanicals such as Washington green apple. The flavor is mellow and soft, and while excellent, this gin may not appeal to fans of the more assertive London Dry Style. Use it in a martini or with a squeeze of lime. Save the London Dry for the gin and tonic.

If you're in Washington, both the vodka and gin can be purchased at state liquor stores for around $30. In California, the price tends to be around $35+tax. Both K&L and Beltramos typically carry the vodka and gin. While the vodka is pricey compared to other brands, it's worth the money, and you are not paying for a fancy advertising campaign.

Dry Fly also makes a wheat whiskey, though the initial batch ran out shortly after it was released this fall. Aged two years in bourbon barrels, initial reviews indicated that the next batch is worth seeking out when it's available, which the distillery says might be December 4th.

Dry Fly Distilling
1003 E. Trent #200
Spokane, WA 99202

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