It’s the water. The familiar slogan of Olympia Beer applies just as well to the new Olympia Artesian Vodka, according to distillers Lesa Givens and Ray Watson.
The duo, partners in life as well as in the Olympia Distilling Co., are using artesian well water to make the vodka — the same water once used to make the famed beer — and they’re doing it in Tumwater, where the beer was born.
“When you think about a bottle of vodka, approximately 60 percent of the bottle is water,” Givens said. “Good-quality water really makes a difference.”
A press release announcing the vodka calls the artesian water, which is filtered by bedrock, “some of the purest water on earth.” “We feel you can taste that Olympia magic and local tradition in every bottle,” Givens said in the release.
“If you’re using treated water, you have chlorine and different things in the water,” Watson said. “A lot of people brewing will filter out what they can filter out, but we don’t have to do that.”
The vodka, which debuted in May and was officially launched in August, is the product of a partnership between the Winlock couple’s Olympia Distilling Co. and Pabst Brewing Co., which has owned the Olympia Beer brand since 1999 — and it looks the part, with a label that calls to mind the familiar one seen around town on bar signs and T-shirts. “It’s such a legacy brand,” Givens said. “The brewery was such an integral part of the Olympia and Tumwater community. We realize the responsibility of taking this brand into the next generation with this vodka.
“The trends in alcohol consumption have changed over the years,” she added. “In the ’70s, beer was really the big alcoholic beverage. Today, it’s less about quantity and more about quality, and spirits are on the rise. Vodka is the number-one-selling alcohol in the United States, and premium vodka is growing by leaps and bounds.”
Olympia Distilling Co.’s operation in Tumwater got rolling in February, and when the pandemic hit, the company put vodka production on hold to focus on making hand sanitizer. The company made 12,000 bottles of sanitizer for Western Washington, including 3,000 that it donated.
“There was a period of time that we would get there early in the morning and work late at night and work on the weekends,” Givens said. “As fast as we could make it, it was gone. It was a little bit overwhelming there for a minute, but we never ran out. We met all the demand.” The company is still producing some sanitizer, Watson said.
Though it is just being introduced, Olympia Artesian Vodka has already made a splash in the beverage industry, winning a silver medal in the New York International Spirits Competition in August. The competition, judged by industry buyers, also named Olympia Distilling the best vodka distillery in the state.
The water isn’t the only secret to the vodka’s flavor, the distillers said. They didn’t want to talk about specific ingredients but said that taking their time is one key. “We don’t rush it,” Watson said.
While Olympia Distilling Co. is new, area fans of craft beverages have been imbibing Givens and Watson’s work for a while now. The duo were among the owners of Blind Pig Spirits, which opened in Centralia in 2011 and relocated to downtown Olympia’s 222 Market in 2015. Blind Pig produced several flavors of white whiskey, aka moonshine — and, of course, vodka.
The downtown distillery and tasting room closed a year ago while the couple focused on setting up a new facility on Mottman Road in Tumwater, just two miles west of the brewery where Olympia Beer was made.
Olympia Distilling Co.’s facility doesn’t include a tasting room, but the vodka is available in local stores and restaurants.
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