Paul Beveridge doesn’t just want to make brandy. He wants to distill the best brandy in the state, if not the Northwest.
Since Washington state’s craft distillery law was introduced in 2007-08, the owner of Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery in Naches Heights has only been able to experiment with distilling some of his excess grapes, apples and pears.
State law requires that liquor and wine operations be kept separate, so aside from crafting one barrel of brandy in 2010, Beveridge hasn’t been able to advance his latest hobby.
But that all changed last year when the Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board updated its liquor-distilling regulations.
Prior to the changes, Beveridge was allowed to retain the batch of brandy because he was using it to make port wine. But the law stated that he had to keep the brandy hidden away.
Now, Beveridge can sell his specialty product on site at 250 Ehler Road, provided that he offers a tasting room that is separate from the wine-tasting venue.
“The old licensing system made it hard for us to make brandy with our excess fruit, but enough people were asking about changing the system that they finally decided to ease up,” said Beveridge, a former environmental lawyer in Seattle who purchased his 80-acre property overlooking the Yakima Valley in 2007.
“The brandy we are selling now has been in the barrel for eight years because we haven’t been able to legally bottle it until now,” he added. “We were waiting for a license, and now that we have that, we can share our brandy with our customers.”
Wilridge is a small family vineyard, orchard, winery and distillery that was founded in 1988 in Seattle. In 2007, Beveridge planted a certified organic and biodynamic estate vineyard off Naches Heights Road, abutting Cowiche Canyon.
About five years ago, he purchased an abandoned fruit warehouse just down the road from the tasting room, in hopes of converting it to a distillery.
After years of waiting, Beveridge was finally able to launch his artisan brandy distillery last fall, using grapes, apples and pears from the Wilridge estate. Now he and his team are working on a new tasting facility that will allow customers to sample his spirits.
“We’d like to start selling our brandy directly to consumers, but for now, people can try it in our tasting room,” Beveridge said. “We also sell it at the farmers markets and Pike Place Market, but we can’t offer tastings there yet.”
Beveridge believes his initial batch of brandy is particularly good because of how long it aged in the barrel. Even though his future creations may not see eight years inside of a barrel, he says the quality will be evident in every bottle.
He has learned the craft from some of the best distillers in the Northwest, such as Rusty Figgins, Sebastian Degens and Will Maschmeier.
“Our goal is to offer the best brandy in the state, and if it’s not, we won’t release it,” Beveridge said. “We’re going to experiment with some other fruits in the next couple of years — plums and cherries mainly — because we see this as a real area for growth. When you have something to taste other than wine, it helps bring in the guys. They may not love wine tasting, but this gives them an option.”
Even better for the guys: Selling their brandy in the tasting room will allow Wilridge to offer a 17 percent discount.
Just this spring, Beveridge invested in a top-of-the-line Portuguese alembic copper still that will enable him to experiment with other varieties of fruit. For now, he’s just focusing on grapes, apples and pears.
Since he’s not mass producing brandy at this time, he decided he could manage in the short term with a smaller-size still that requires more manual operation.
“We are planning to grow the distillery side of the business, but over time,” Beveridge said.
Another product Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery has experimented with since the WSLCB eased its regulations is grappa, a brandy distilled from the fermented residue of grapes after they have been pressed.
Beveridge said a lot of quality fruit was going to waste, and he wanted to make better use of his excess crops.
“It’s getting harder every year for smaller orchards to sell our fruit, so either we rip out all of our trees or we start making brandy with them,” he said. “Fortunately, the liquor board saw the value in this as well.”