ROSLYN — Four years ago, Cheri Marusa picked up the phone and called a man she’d never met.
“I don’t know you and you don’t me,” she said by way of introduction. “But we need to meet.”
Marusa, president of the Roslyn Downtown Association (RDA), was searching for an anchor tenant for the historic NWI (Northwestern Improvement Co.) building in Roslyn which the RDA put a down payment on in 2011 and finished paying off in 2012.
Built in the 1880s, the building was the company store when mining ruled Roslyn and surrounding communities.
The man she called was Justin Stiefel, CEO and co-founder of Heritage Distilling Co., then a recently-launched craft distillery based in Gig Harbor. Heritage Distilling has a growing reputation in the craft distilling industry and an established focus on honoring cultural heritage.
Marusa was convinced that if Heritage came to Roslyn the fit would suit both of them. She was right.
Stiefel and his wife, Jennifer, the company president, came to Roslyn and were quickly enamored. “I refer to it as Washington’s most authentic small town,” he said though he smilingly admits he was “surprised main street wasn’t longer.”
On Saturday, Marusa’s vision for the building was realized when Heritage Distilling opened its fourth location in 10,000-square feet of the NWI Building.
The space includes a large gift shop featuring a tasting bar and products ranging from clothing to spirits, as well as other tasting bars, private rental spaces and a production area with six operating stills.
Marked by a celebratory mood and a ribbon-cutting by 90-year-old Pioneer Queen Tootsie Georgeson and 75-year-old King Coal Jeff Osiadacz, the grand opening included bagpipe music by the Spokane County Firefighters Pipes and Drum Band, a blessing of the stills by local priest Father Brooks Beaulaurier and recognition of members of six families whose roots are planted deep in the area’s mining history.
The distillery’s six stills are each named for one of those families: the Hardman Family, the Vlahovich Family, the Segota/Osiadacz Family, the Greco/Scarpelli Family, the Violetta/Talerico Family and the Franciscovich Family. Photos and detailed histories of the families are displayed at Heritage Distillery in Roslyn.
Jeff Osiadacz, thrilled by the recognition for his family, was also thankful for the way a community he loves was honored.
He said that as a young boy he once asked his grandfather why he liked the place.
His grandfather responded in Croatian, which Osiadacz repeated Saturday.
The translation: Because it looks like the old country, his grandfather said. The love his grandfather had for the Roslyn-Cle Elum-Ronald area endures, he said.
“I was born and raised here. My sons grew up here. They didn’t want to raise their kids anywhere else.”
AN IDEA BORN AROUND A CAMPFIRE
Justin Stiefel’s interest in distilling began early. He was 6 years old and living in Spokane when he became fascinated with the still on episodes of “MASH” TV show. He was in seventh grade in 1987 when he distilled his first batch as a science project.
“I got an A,” he remembers.
He was a teenager when he moved to Alaska where he met Jennifer. He was 17; she, 16. They’ve been a couple ever since, and went on to the University of Idaho where he earned a degree in chemical engineering and she earned a degree in education. Married after finishing college, they moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for a senator from Alaska while attending law school full time at night and she worked for the Senate appropriations committee while earning her masters.
He became an attorney and established his own consulting firm. In 2010, tired of D.C., they sold their home and moved to Washington state.
By then, the state Legislature had changed the law to allow licensing for small craft breweries. In 2012, sitting around a campfire with friends, the idea for a distillery was born.
“The next day we started working on a business plan,” Justin says.
In November 2012, Heritage Distilling opened its flagship operation in Gig Harbor.
Today, company locations include the flagship site as well as a smaller location on the Gig Harbor waterfront, a location in Eugene, Oregon, and the Roslyn site, and there are plans for several more locations.
Stiefel said the distillery is the “most-awarded craft distillery” in North America by the American Distillery Institute, a trade organization, four years in a row.
Heritage’s products have been mentioned in various publications including Cosmopolitan and the Washington Post.
Besides gin, bourbon, rye and blended whiskey Heritage produces both traditional as well as naturally flavored vodkas offered in varieties ranging from bacon vodka to spicy “sweet ghost vodka” coffee, lavender, mango, huckleberry vodkas and other flavors.
Because it’s a production facility and not a licensed bar, Heritage Distilling is prohibited from serving more than two ounces of spirits to any one person in a day. The company serves tasting flights of four half-ounce shots.
On Saturday Elaine Reilly and Tony McLaughlin of Redmond both gave “thumbs up” to what they’d seen, calling the store “well thought out.” Both praised the atmosphere. He said he was pleased by the wide variety of vodka.
Kittitas County commissioner Laura Osiadacz, a Roslyn resident, praised the company for its respect for the town’s heritage. She said she hoped the opening of Heritage Distilling in Roslyn was a bright spot for the town’s future.
MAKE YOUR OWN
Among the company’s offerings are a My Batch program which allows members of the public to participate in the distilling process, then take home a couple of bottles. Heritage also features a trademarked Cask Club program in which members customize their own spirits in a ten-liter oak cask, taking home the finished product only when they decide its ready. The company also has a trademarked spirit growler program in which participants can purchase a fifth-size bottle and have it re-filled as desired. Also available: A trademarked 24-day spirit Advent calendar featuring airplane-size bottles of 12 of the company’s whiskey offerings.
Stiefel was clearly pleased Saturday as he watched employees interact warmly with members of the public moving through the Roslyn location.
“If you have an operation and you’re open to the public you’re really in the hospitality business,” he said. “When people come in they feel visually intoxicated because there’s so much to see and experience.” It’s an opportunity to educate and inform.
The goal, he said, is to make those who come through the doors “branding evangelists” for Heritage Distilling.