It all started with an old family photo. Josh Mayr came across a picture of his grandfather standing in the Wishkah River during the early days of Grays Harbor posed with a bottle of homemade moonshine. With the idea tucked in his back pocket, Josh never could have imagined how something so small could change his entire way of life.
Born and raised in Aberdeen, Josh represents the fifth generation of his family in the area. After moving to Wenatchee in the early 90s, Josh didn’t have much intention of returning to the area. Years later, after graduating from high school and college, he would meet his wife, secure a job at a local radio station, and eventually make his way back to his roots on the Washington Coast.
One day while working at the radio station, a folder came into his possession describing the idea of a local craft distillery. Intrigued, Josh followed his findings to the location of the small start-up business in Aberdeen. After meeting with the then current owner, Sue Watts, in 2011, Josh began volunteering at Wishkah River Distillery. Not long after his initial discovery of the distillery, Sue and her husband called Josh informing him that they were moving out of the country. With the thought of his grandfather in his mind, Josh quit his job and quickly began learning the complex trade of distilling before taking over the business with co-owners Chris Olsen, Patrick O’Donnell and Paul Stutzenburg.
The road to learning the ins and outs of running a business all while distilling high quality spirits hasn’t come without its challenges. Past owner Sue was a trained chemical engineer, attesting to the fact that distilling is no easy task. “Learning how to successfully craft the spirits here at Wishkah River Distillery is something that I’ve worked hard to perfect over the years,” explains Josh. “This is truly a ‘grain to glass’ facility. Each product is crafted from scratch with the utmost attention to detail.”
All of the products are created from the finest flavors and grains in a process that fortifies the spirits with sustainable agriculture. Wishkah River Distillery proudly uses 96 percent locally grown, environmentally healthy raw materials from local farmers, promoting social responsibility and local economic growth for the area. With so many local products being used in the spirits, Josh aims to create the ideal “Northwest Whiskey.”
“Just as Scotland is world famous for its scotch and Canada is known for its rye whiskey, we aim to create a product that creates the base for a spirit this area can be identified by,” says Josh. Not only are the ingredients important in the distilling process, the surrounding environment can also play into the finished product. “Barrels of whiskey take in their surroundings,” he explains. “The sea air that continually blows through the southwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula helps to create the distinct taste, creating something that’s unique and memorable.”
A few of the products that are created at the distillery include their popular Thirteen Corners Whiskey, Bulfinch 83 Gin and Honey Vodka, which is created with actual honey in place of added flavors and sugars.
Some may wonder why Wishkah River Distillery hasn’t expanded to other locations across western Washington. The answer is simple, they can’t. “Distilleries make up a really small percentage in the scheme of things and have a lot more regulations in comparison to breweries and wineries,” expresses Josh. “For example, we are only allowed to have one tasting room at our zoned industrial location. We’ve had to get creative marketing our business to get the word out of our mission and what we offer to locals and tourists.”
You may see the distilleries’ products all across the Pacific Northwest, expanding north into Canada as distribution efforts have really helped increase product awareness. Roadshows and events also have helped gain a following and introduce the unique products to a wide audience. Although there’s just one tasting room currently open, the location makes for a perfect stop for visitors on their way to our beautiful beaches, the iconic Olympic National Park and many other Olympic Peninsula activities.
At the storefront location at 2210 Port Industrial Rd., Ste. A in Aberdeen, visitors can visit the tasting room Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and sample the spirits before making a purchase. While at the distillery, visitors are also offered the unique opportunity to take a tour of the production floor and hear from Josh himself about how each of the spirits are created.
“From the start, we’ve aimed high to create the highest quality of products in a setting with a true hometown feel,” says Josh. “This is an environment that anyone can come in to and learn a little about the craft.”
Wishkah River Distillery products can also be found at local stores including Q-Mart, Martin Bruni Liquor, Safeway as well as available in cocktails at Billy’s Restaurant and Bar and Breakwater Seafood and Chowder House. To learn more, visit the Wishkah River Distillery website.