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2 Loons Distillery: Keeping up with demand

By Chris Lozier Correspondent

Although they only sell bottles out of their tasting room, Greg and Trisha Schwartz can’t keep up with demand.

So, less than two years after opening, 2 Loons Distillery in Loon Lake is expanding – again.

“In the summertime, we’re chasing products,” said Trisha Schwartz, noting the flavored Loon Lightnings go first.

There are three: mint, blackberry and coffee. The blackberry and mint Loon Lightnings are unsweetened and flavored with natural extracts, and the coffee version is made with the Café de Americas blend from Spokane coffee roaster Roast House. All use an all-corn whiskey base the husband-and-wife team make themselves.

In November 2014, the couple started 2 Loons with a 30-gallon pot still. Overwhelmed with interest, they quickly upgraded to a 100-gallon model, but even then demand outstripped supply.

Now, with a new 260-gallon stainless steel pot still, they hope to catch up.

“It takes a full day to do a stripping run,” Greg Schwartz said. “But at least we’re getting two and a half times as much in that day.”

That stripping run follows mashing, mixing and fermentation, all of which you can see on the free tour of the distillery, located just off Highway 395.

During the strip, they make “cuts” by taste and smell, choosing which spirits move on and which ones go to cleaning. The chosen few, called hearts, go back into the still for a final run in which they are distilled to near purity for vodka or gin, or proofed a little lower for flavor retention for Loon Lightning, cinnamon, single malt, corn and bourbon whiskeys.

All spirits are clear when they come out of the still, only gaining color from added ingredients or barrel aging, and 2 Loons has both clear and brown varieties available for tastings and purchase.

With the new still, the Schwartzes plan to beef up the barrel aging program, and right now they have about 80 gallons of whiskey maturing.

Local connections

Like their coffee, 2 Loons looks locally for ingredients.

Their gin botanicals come from a Deer Park natural market and the Spokane-based Spiceologist spice company. Their malted barley is from Great Western Malting in Vancouver, Washington. And they buy their corn from a family farm that also grinds it for them in Mesa, Washington.

All of their spent grain goes to local farmers.

“We are constantly looking for ways to get closer to home,” Trisha Schwartz said.

That commitment that goes beyond ingredients. They shop locally for equipment, and much of their new equipment was built or modified by fabricators from the area.

In fact, the Schwartzes hired Paul Ziegman of Spokane’s Tinbender Craft Distillery to build a corn mash separation screen, and their new still column and orb were built by Henry Anderson of Dominion Distillery and Gatling Still Works in Colville.

While partnering with competitors might seem odd, Anderson said that in the micro-distillery world the competition isn’t other small distillers, but international conglomerates.

“We’re all trying to make the most flavorful products we can, and we’re all trying to make things that are very unique,” Anderson said.

Anderson said his Gatling and orb column design will create caramel flavors in 2 Loons’ corn-based whiskeys. By sharing his talents with them, and vice versa, he said they both create more positive interest in locally made spirits.

Adding to the community effort, Krisan LeHew of ChewVino features all of 2 Loons’ products at her Chewelah business, pouring local beers, wines and spirits. Among her offerings are selections from other local distillers such as Anderson at Dominion, Spokane Valley’s 21 Window Distillery and Spokane’s Dry Fly Distilling. The gin gimlet featuring 2 Loons’ gin is one of her best-selling cocktails.

“They have really good product,” she said.

LeHew said local partnerships in Loon Lake, Chewelah, Colville and other small towns are extremely important. Alongside local breweries, Dominion, 2 Loons and ChewVino form a supportive regional network to promote one another.

“It doesn’t feel like there’s any competition here,” LeHew said. “If I’m doing good, you’re going to do better.”

Challenges and rewards

The Schwartzes were looking for a new business path when they attended a bottling party at Dry Fly in 2011. They said they loved the experience so much that they enrolled in a Spirits Institute Puget Sound distilling class.

After the first day they knew it was what they wanted to do.

But distilling is a lot of work, and it is tough to succeed. Cleaning, advertising, waiting for the still to finish and planning for (and running shy of) demand are just the beginning. And, because spirits are taxed exponentially more than beer and wine, especially in post-liquor-privatization Washington, profit margins are lean.

Trisha Schwartz said even with those challenges, the couple are happy with their chosen craft.

“I love the creative side of it. To be making something gives us great pleasure,” she said. “And I absolutely love working the tasting room and having people come in and taste and enjoy our products.”

Even if the “open” sign is not turned on, visitors can still get a tour if the Schwartzes are there making the next batch by calling and asking. Everyone 21 and older is welcome, especially, as their sign says, “Loonatics.”

This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Schwartz.

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