The coast of Washington is famed for its logging past that once dubbed Aberdeen the Lumber Capital of the World. During this heyday in Grays Harbor County, moonshine was often brewed and enjoyed by many, including Aberdeen native Josh Mayr’s grandfather, who would eventually inspire him to take over a local distillery in the area and carry on the tradition of distilling.
As part of the fifth generation of Aberdeen residents, Josh was born and raised in the area. After a move to Wenatchee in the early ‘90s, Josh didn’t see himself returning to his hometown. Upon graduation from college, he met his wife, secured a job at a radio station in Grays Harbor and ventured back to his roots on the Washington Coast.
One day while working at the radio station, Josh discovered a folder detailing a unique idea for a small craft distillery in Aberdeen. Fascinated, he visited the location of the small start-up business. The then-current owner, Sue Watts, began teaching Josh about the trade and encouraged him to volunteer at the 2011 opening of Wishkah River Distillery. Early 2012 proved to be a turning point as Sue and her husband called Josh informing him that they were moving out of the country. With the thought of his grandfather and his moonshine-making days fresh in his mind, Josh jumped at the opportunity and quickly began learning the multifaceted trade of distilling spirits while taking control of the business with co-owners Patrick O’Donnell, Chris Olsen and Paul Stutzenburg.
Over the past few years, the journey of learning how to own and operate a business while distilling high quality spirits hasn’t come without its trials. The former owner was a trained chemical engineer, confirming the fact that distilling is no easy job. “Perfecting the craft of distilling spirits here at Wishkah River Distillery is something that I’ve worked hard to master,” explains Josh. “This is what we call a true grain-to-glass facility where each and every product is crafted from start to finish in our facility.”
Each product is created from premium 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. All of the products used during production drive Josh to create the ideal “Northwest Whiskey” that this area can take pride in.
“Scotland is world renowned for their scotch while Canada is celebrated for their rye whiskey. My business partners and I are determined to create a product that defines this area of Washington State,” states Josh. While the internal components are imperative in the distilling process, the surrounding atmosphere can also play into the quality of the finished product. “I set the finished barrels of whiskey by the doors in the distillery for up to a year to let them take in their surroundings,” he explains. “The constant ocean air that’s carried in the wind through the southwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula helps to create a unique and memorable whiskey.”
Products that are created at the distillery include their popular Thirteen Corners Whiskey, Bulfinch 83 Gin and Honey Vodka, which is produced using real honey for flavor in place of added sugars.
Wishkah River Distillery currently has one location. Expansion into other locations across Western Washington is harder than it sounds as regulations restrict the addition of tasting rooms other than at the actual distillery location. “Distilleries make up a very small percentage in the grand scheme of things,” expresses Josh. “We have a lot more regulations placed on us in comparison to breweries and wineries. For example, we’re 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 about what our mission is and what we offer to locals and tourists.” You may see the distillery’s products all across the Pacific Northwest, extending into Canada as distribution efforts have really helped increase product awareness. Events and roadshows have also 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 fun stop for visitors on their way to the Olympic National Park, our beautiful beaches and many other activities on the Olympic Peninsula.
The storefront is located at 2210 Port Industrial Road, Suite 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 facility, guests also have the unique opportunity of taking a tour of the production floor and hear about how each of the spirits are created.
“From the beginning, we’ve aimed to create the highest quality of products that can appeal to a wide audience,” says Josh. “This is a true hometown 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.