To sell Scotch with his distillery’s name on the bottle in the Pacific Northwest, Ernie Troth needed permission from high-ranking people.
We’re talking Buckingham Palace — figuratively, at least.
To get the OK to import Scotch from the British government, Troth and his James Bay Distillery needed approval from the Queen of England herself. Once Her Majesty gave the go-ahead — by way of the United Kingdom tax department — Troth became the only UK-authorized Scotch importer, blender and bottler on the West Coast.
“Scotch whiskies are one of the most jealously guarded liquors in the world,” Troth said.
Troth and his wife, Leigh, recently opened James Bay Distillery, a craft distillery near Paine Field in Everett. It’s the culmination of a long road that saw the Troths look for a home in Victoria, B.C., before eventually finding Everett to be a better location for its stills, casks and taproom.
James Bay Distillery isn’t quite selling its own spirits — Troth said they’re waiting for labels before they can sell bottles. But it has been open since early July and is offering free tours of its production floor, barrel storage and taproom.
Along with getting the blessing to import Scotch and blend it on site, James Bay Distillery will also import Canadian whisky and eventually make its own gin and vodka. Troth said that they will not only be taking the totes and casks of Scotch from Scotland and blending them in barrels, but they’ll be using the whisky distilled and aged in Scotland and Canada for “some bold experiments.”
Eventually the plan is to make their own whiskey. But that takes time and in the meantime, the Troths will have some fun with their imported whiskey.
(By the way, the booze is spelled “whisky” if it’s made in Canada or the United Kingdom, and “whiskey” if it’s made in the U.S. or Ireland.)
The idea to open a distillery started when the Troths started watching the show “Moonshiners,” a reality show that followed some distillers in Appalachia still making their goods illegally.
“It dawned on us that they were filming a felony,” said Troth, laughing.
Living on the East Coast, the Troths discovered a distillery in Virginia they fell in love with. They both agreed to take steps to open their own distillery. They built a business model, moved to the West Coast and started applying for licenses.
It’s not your typical distillery model. Unlike most craft distilleries in Washington, James Bay Distillery isn’t planning to start small and wait. Instead, it will focus on marketing, building its brand and international export to the American and Asian markets.
But for Troth, the success of his distillery comes down to one thing: “The key is producing a consistent, quality product,” he said.
The initial plan was to open a distillery in Victoria and later expand to the U.S. Instead, real estate and ease of process attracted the Troths to Everett. Last December, they looked at real estate in the Puget Sound region and found their current property near Paine Field. The open floor plan, high ceilings, sprinkler system and lack of zoning restrictions made it an easy choice.
Though they have moved back to the United States, the Troths still hope to open a production facility in British Columbia. They kept the very Canadian name: James Bay is a large body of water connected to Hudson Bay north of Ontario and Quebec.
To distill gin, vodka and whiskey on the same system, the Troths invested in a modern hybrid still system, which allows distillers to make all three types of spirits. The beautiful copper and stainless hybrid stills use a modified column with removable or modifiable pieces to make it usable for gin with botanicals. The side column can also then be used to distill a higher proof product.
James Bay Distillery plans to create a West Coast-style gin. That means a Northwest herbal gin with crushed botanicals.
“One of my favorite gins is Stump Gin (by Victoria’s Fermentorium Distilling),” Ernie said. “It’s the kind of balanced, herbal gin we’re shooting for.”
As for its own whiskey, Ernie plans to make a couple types of bourbon, including high rye and high barley varieties.
James Bay Distillery
3101 111th St. SW, Suite B, Everett
778-775-7298 (British Columbia)
Hours: 2 to 6 p.m. Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday