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Glass Distillery, part 2

Small fish can make big waves

Last month we shared the history of Glass Vodka and products they make. This month, learn about the process of getting their production facility/Seattle tasting room operational, changes dealt with, and recent news.

Getting Glass into their current building wasn't easy. It had been vacant five years. "Lake Union was going through a big redevelopment, and I thought the SoDo area would be next. Unfortunately, it's too tied to light industrial and is just dead quiet. There was no plumbing or electrical; I took the building 'as is' and had to get National Bird Control in to remove 360 pigeons (moved to Bellingham). We gutted the building and when we cut the concrete floor to run plumbing and electrical for our distilling equipment, things started to sink. It was built in the '20s on backfill from the bay. We had to fix that. We sandblasted everything, and re-used wood from the original walls. Everything else is new, but we made it all look old. We put glass pieces in the floor, blue from truck windshields, and clear from Milgard in Tacoma." They use both kettle and column stills, and all equipment is run from a touch screen in the middle of the room. "Doing it this way ensures the product is never touched. It's clean and organized."

Glass art in front of production area

It all sounds complicated enough without adding in changes in Ian's and Laura's personal lives. She was working in the Wells Fargo commercial bank in Tacoma and got an offer to run the Dallas office. This was just after Ian had signed the lease on the SoDo building. She took the job, they bought a home in Dallas and stayed five years. Ian was going back and forth and had an apartment in Pioneer Square ("I could tell you so many stories about living there!"). Laura eventually ran the Texas and Oklahoma offices for Wells Fargo, then moved to San Francisco working in compliance. In 2020 she became the Regional President at PNC Financial Services in Washington, later adding West Coast Territory Manager to her title. They sold the Dalla house, closed it and two apartments, and moved to an apartment in Belltown. Last February, they moved to the Eastside. "I have never not lived in Seattle," says Ian. "I have always biked and walked to work. I didn't think I'd like it, but it's very pleasant living on the Eastside."

So work and home lives are complicated. Then the pandemic hit. "I am proud to say that none of the three of us at the distillery missed a day of work the whole time. We were one of the first to make hand sanitizer. People would line up outside to pick it up; we got new customers from this; they came back to buy vodka. KING 5 did a story on us, and all kinds of people came to help us bottle, like chemistry teachers from Kent. We gave it out for free. Eventually we sold retail to Whole Foods, supplied the Dallas County Sheriff, TSA security at three airports in L.A., government support agencies, King County Emergency Services, and Virginia Mason. We were lucky we didn't go through what a lot of people did during the pandemic, this kept us working. Moving an employee from part time to full time, training on the bottling line, and teaching new skills, that's probably my greatest success story."

Ian with sanitizer bottles, courtesy of Glass Vodka

Another surprise was the registered letter from their national distributor, Southern Glaziers Wine & Spirits, informing them they would not continue to distribute Glass Vodka in six different states. "We now work with Odom Distributing in Washington and also self-distribute our products, doing better than ever even without those states." Many rules for distilleries are still archaic, but one thing that's changed is that they can now sell martinis, cocktails, and Washington sparkling wine in the tasting room. That's a bigger draw to customers than the samples they were allowed to offer before.

Something that sets them apart is the purity of their vodka. As mentioned, they "make" their own water, stripping it of impurities, and adding nothing besides grapes. "You can legally add other things like citric acid and sugar, but you have to figure out how much in parts per million. I don't know that chemistry and don't want to add anything. Bigger producers add citric acid that makes vodka taste lemon-y and they add sugar because it makes it more addictive. Nothing wrong with that, it tastes good. But I don't want to do it."

Ian loves the Northwest and being able to support the wine industry by purchasing excess grapes. He named his company Glass Vodka as a nod to the glassblowing artists in the area. "It's wonderful that people can make a living blowing glass; glass and alcohol are liquid art forms. That's an expression I can take to the market." Glass Vodka bottles are elegant, designed by Ian, and 100% crystal. He and Laura continually give back to the community, are on boards, and involved in numerous ways. Next year, they will co-chair the Auction of Washington Wines.

Photo courtesy of Glass Vodka

Glass has won 65-70 awards and medals in competitions on three continents (Europe, Asia, North America), like the Best Vodka at the International Spirits Show in Hong Kong. "At first it was great to win awards. It still is, and it's important to be part of the competitions, but I don't need an award to know what we make is good."

Glass has just opened a Woodinville tasting room and they have a new warehouse in Renton. Eventually, they will move their Seattle tasting room into the space in front of the distilling area next door. "We're a small fish in a small pond, but I hope that we'll be around a long time and remembered as being a pioneer that, along with other distillers, created many jobs and tax revenue for the area."

Quite the story and you're probably on your third ounce of Glass Vodka. And we haven't even told you the story of Ian and Laura being invited to Jacques Pépin's 90th birthday.

Connie Adams/May 2022

Click here to read part 1 of this story

Glass Vodka

Seattle Tasting Room and Distillery
1712 1st Ave S
Seattle, WA 98134

Woodinville Tasting Room
15007 Redmond-Woodinville Rd NE
Woodinville, WA 98072

Ian and Laura, courtesy of Glass Vodka

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