How a former attorney turned an unemployment notice into an independent distillery serving fun and craft spirits in Hoodsport, Washington
The old hardware store in Downtown Hoodsport, Washington serves a new function.
It’s now part distillery, part watercolor paint workshop.
That’s all thanks to Jan Morris, the Owner of The Hardware Distillery Company.
She laughs when she says she has another position at the independent distillery. She’s the self-proclaimed “Kitchen Wench.”
Jan is a former special education teacher and attorney. She used to teach watercolor painting for Seattle Parks and Recreation.
It took a layoff during the Great Recession to push Jan into the world of independent distilling.
One month before her 60th birthday, Jan was laid off from her job as an attorney. Shortly after, the Washington State Unemployment Department contacted her about a “self-employment assistance program.”
“I thought it was because the department saw potential in me,” Jan tells us with a smile.
Continuing with her origin story, she laughs, “When I received the actual reason, the letter said that I was not considered ‘employable.’”
But the letter proved it was time to make something all her own.
“Our older son was a successful brewer, and I thought that a distillery would be a good idea.”
She quips, “Whiskey is the grown up version of beer.”
So, in 2012, renovations began on the old hardware store.
As with most small businesses, The Hardware Distillery Co. hit some hiccups.
But in the summer of 2013, they opened their doors to Hoodsport, Washington.
One part Hoodsport distillery, one part watercolor studio
Jan has no shortage of topics to talk about how Hoodsport influences their craft spirits.
She begins by speaking about the climate. “The climate here is considered a ‘Modified Mediterranean Climate,’” Jan explains, “The summers are sunny and warm, but not hot. We differ from the Mediterranean in the winter, when we are more like Scotland, lots of mist, rain and very damp.”
The Hood Canal plays a huge role in shaping The Hardware Distillery Company’s craft spirits.
“Perfect for aging whiskey in our basement,” Jan says excitedly.
Their basement opens up on a slope leading to the Hood Canal, allowing The Hardware Distillery Company Whiskey to interact with the briny air as it ages.
Jan notes that the Whiskey is the distiller’s favorite. The distiller, by the way, is her husband, Chuck.
Jan backtracks to the Hood Canal, saying it “is not a canal, but a fjord.”
If you’re like us, you need to be told what a fjord is. It’s a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs.
“Shellfish abound on our beaches,” Jan boasts, “The Hood Canal is famous worldwide for its oysters.”
The Hardware Distillery Company capitalizes on that fame to make their craft gin.
“We smoke our barley in the oyster smoker at the Hama Hama Oyster Co., and distill it to make a genever style gin, R Gin.”
Jan explains “The name comes from the old wives’ tale that oysters are best in the months with the letter ‘R.’”
Whiskey and R Gin are only two of the Hoodsport distillery’s craft spirit options.
Being located in Hoodsport, Washington also changes how The Hardware Distillery Co. runs their business.
“Our distillery is located in a tourist area,” Jan explains, which means they don’t get much business during the winter months.
But Jan’s a woman of many talents.
“So, I teach watercolor painting in the distillery’s tasting room during our slow season,” she says proudly.
Want to know what she’s really proud of?
“My watercolors appear on most of the distillery’s bottles.”
A fjord in the backyard, and a well across the street from this Hoodsport distillery
Every spirit starts with water, and for The Hardware Distillery Company, they don’t need to look too far for some crisp H2O.
“It comes from a well across the street that is sustained by water from the Olympic mountains,” Jan explains.
That water, perfected by nature, gets channeled into their Whiskey, R Gin, and twelve more craft spirits.
Their Bee’s Knees collection of honey spirits spans flavors and is something wholly unique.
First, The Hardware Distillery Co. makes a mead from 80% wildflower honey and 20% fruit, both of which are locally sourced. Then, they distill it until it’s no longer a mead, and becomes Bee’s Knees.
Bee’s Knees then takes a quick hibernation in medium-charred, new White American Oak barrels for three months.
They make it five ways, and each gives them a way to highlight delicious local fruit, Peachy Keen, Merry Cherry, Raspberry, Fig and Plum.
But Bee’s Knees isn’t the only thing that starts with fruit at The Hardware Distillery Co.
Gin, vodka, aquavit and Bee’s Knees honey spirits, the choices from Hardware Distillery are endless!
“We make our vodka from pears,” Jan explains. They distill a homemade pear cider until it becomes a vodka.
“Then we put it through a charcoal filter that we made ourselves.” She adds, “We have to climb a small ladder for the process to work.”
One step on a small ladder, one deliciously clean bottle of The Hardware Distillery Co.’s Vodka.
The Hardware Distillery Co. also has a trio of aquavits, which they re-distill from their Vodka with spices and botanicals that Jan prepares.
She speaks highly and proudly of their aquavits. And she has reason to.
Jan lists them, “Because we are on a fjord, many Scandinavians settled in this area, I am partly Swedish,” but most importantly, she continues, “I love aquavit.”
“Our first Aquavit is based on my memories of Grandma’s Christmas baking.”
Pop open The Hardware Distillery Co.’s Aquavit and let clove, coriander and caraway take you back to Jan’s Grandmother’s kitchen.
“Also, I love cardamom.”
So naturally, The Hardware Distilling Co. makes Cardamom Aquavit.
“It took me awhile to figure out how to distill cardamom without the bitter taste,” Jan admits. But one sip, and you’ll agree with Jan that the flavor “cannot be mistaken for anything else.”
It goes without saying that it’s her personal favorite spirit from The Hardware Distillery Co.
They also offer Dill Aquavit for another unique spin on the classic Scandinavian spirit.
Like their R Gin, The Hardware Distillery Co.’s Crabby Ginny is a nod to Hoodsport’s seafood culture. Distilled from grain, pears and cranberries, they designed the craft gin to pair with crab.
Hoodsport, Washington. Population 376.
Downtown Hoodsport spans five storefronts. One of them belongs to The Hardware Distillery Co.
Jan urges those looking to become the latest independent distillery, “Get involved with your community!”
Jan said that the local community was surprised to hear they were getting an independent distillery. But when that surprise wore off, “They greeted us with open arms.”
The Hardware Distillery Co. is just one of five storefronts in downtown Hoodsport, Washington.
*“I like to contribute to and be part of my community.”
She points to their Cat’s Pajamas. A flavored specialty spirit made with bing cherry and Bee’s Knees Merry Cherry. “Cat’s Pajamas was originally launched as a Kitten Rescue fundraiser.”
The Hardware Distillery Co.’s distillery cat, Loki, featured in watercolor by Jan on the label of Cat’s Pajamas, came from Kitten Rescue.
“We do a joint project with the local coffee shop,” adds Jan. HWY 101, a coffee flavored specialty spirit. It combines a proprietary blend of coffee from Hoodsport Coffee Company and Bee’s Knees Merry Cherry.
HWY 101 and Cat’s Pajamas both start at Bee’s Knees honey spirits.
Because of Hoodsport’s climate, Jan explains, “Most of the residents of our community are here only for the summer and head South for the dark, rainy winter days.”
They offer more than just watercolor classes at their Hoodsport distillery in the winter.
“We have trivia nights at the distillery.” She smiles thinking about it, “The stills are running, and our local librarian, who is normally very quiet, surprises us with her questions and out-going demeanor.”
“All of these activities bring in business both short term and long term.”
She recalls the days that they first opened, when people would just stop in during the summer months to buy a single bottle.
“Now, they buy several bottles before they leave for the winter, and tell us that they like to share our spirits with their friends at their winter homes down south!”
Fun loving innovations in Downtown Hoodsport, Washington
The importance of independent distilleries and craft spirits can be summed up into a single word for Jan.
“Innovation,” she says succinctly.
Inventive spins on traditional spirits are showcased all throughout The Hardware Distillery Co.’s diverse line.
Jan has one hope for The Hardware Distillery Co.
“I would like our distillery to be remembered as a business that was a big part of the community.”
Soon, one more of Downtown’s five storefronts will be occupied by a brewery which is owned and operated by Jan’s son.
She thinks about her hopes a little longer, then adds, “And to be remembered with thoughts of how much fun it was to visit us.”
Jan loves to host all sorts of events at her downtown Hoodsport, Washington distillery.
As one-fifth of Downtown Hoodsport, The Hardware Distillery Co.