Photo courtesy of Four Freedoms Liquor Co.
What everyone wants and needs in life: Gallons of Four Freedoms' Cherry Bounce, a full-proof tart cherry liqueur based on a historic recipe from Martha Washington.

Four Freedoms Liquor Company moving into Ballard

Update, April 11

So, where the heck is Four Freedoms Liquor, the wonderful sounding, small, patriotic distiller that was supposed to come to Ballard?

We reported on it back in November (scroll down to see original post) and still the distiller seems little closer to opening, despite their best intentions.

Well, welcome to the world of distillery permitting. Lexi of Four Freedoms posted a very insightful, lengthy and rather aggravating explanation on their Facebook page.

Read the whole post below:

There have been a lot of questions about what's going on and why we're still not open, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thoroughly explain how the federal permit process works and what's going on with our application.

The common protest of just about every craft distiller these days is the length and confusion of the TTB licensing process. Our application was started in November of 2012, completed in December, and is still under review with no clear status or end date in sight. The delays are starting to jeopardize not only finances, but also the timeline for the 2013 Bounce production run in June/July.

For those who don't already know, the federal branch that used to regulate the alcohol industry (the ATF: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) was disbanded a few years back and replaced with a new department, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB. The TTB is responsible for all federally approved liquor licensing, and every distillery, winery and brewery in the US must have a Basic Permit approved by the TTB before they can open.

The permitting process is infamous within the distilling community for its length and complexity. For our tiny distillery, the application packet was nearly an inch thick and took six weeks to complete. Government budget cuts and an unprecedented uptick in distillery applications over the past year have stretched the handful of staff of the small permitting department to the point that the average processing time for a DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) application was 137 days at one point this spring.

Many distilleries gauge the seriousness and viability of a wannabe distiller by how far in to the permitting process they are and it's not uncommon for distilleries to throw parties for other peers upon issuance of their first Basic Permit. Some distillers won't even meet with applicants until they've completed the government's hazing program, as having a Permit in hand is a proving measure unto itself.

The complaint most commonly posed is financial. Before a distillery can even apply for a permit, a signed lease, floorplan, and bonding insurance must be complete and in place. Rarely, a distiller is able to find a space that can be guaranteed to them at a later date, and submit their application with entirely predicted information. Most commonly however, the distillery must start their monthly outlay of capital before the application can even be submitted, and then continue to pay rent, utilities and insurance throughout the months of application review process without legally being able to make any liquor or liquor sales. Add to that costs of construction buildout, and all normal business pre-work like marketing materials, office and administrative costs, computers, etc... and the financial burden becomes staggering.

The weight of this process is felt most heavily by small distilleries. Distillers with budgets of $1M+ typically have the connections and finances to weather as many months of delays as the government can fabricate. They have professional legal teams, marketing departments and impressive $50K stills for the public to admire before opening day. But the small guys - the passionate individuals who are investing their life's savings to do something they love - don't have that kind of capital, or those kind of connections. For these small, independent distilleries, delays can exhaust the budget within a matter of weeks.

The TTB has recently started to shift its archaic paper-based application system to an online one, and the process is rife with the bugs, contradictions, and missing information that is expected whenever a shift like this happens. Our application shows in no less than 3 different statuses depending on where you look, and on the same day, we've been given processing time averages ranging from 67 days to 132 depending which TTB representative gave the answer. Instructions for using the system are incomplete and it takes weeks to get a response from the IT department on legitimate bugs on the website.

The internal data flow and business processes within the office seem to be top secret, and no one at the office has been able to explain to us what our application statuses shown online mean, who's responsible to update them, or how they relate to the specific progress of the application.

When this new online system, which is still in its infancy, is combined with overworked government staff who spend all day looking at the same dozen or so forms and fielding frustrated, angry calls from applicants, it's absolutely got to create a culture of jaded, resentful employees. Checking up on errors or delays in the process can easily set the application reviewers (called Specialists) on edge, and it's common knowledge that an annoyed Specialist will simply shuffle an application to the bottom of the pile if they get pissed off. Communications to follow up on delays, errors and even just questions must be approached with tact and care.

It's important to understand that despite laws and regulations, distillery application reviews are a shockingly arbitrary process and there is little or no consistency between Specialists. As applications are received, they're randomly assigned and each Specialist has the liberty to process it as they see fit. One Specialist may deny the same application another Specialist approves. There is no customer service policy per se, and the only recourse an applicant has in this situation is to resubmit the application and hope that it gets assigned to a different Specialist.

The frustration that we're currently experiencing with our application isn't simply the delays. It's also the inability to find out an accurate status of the application. We've been unable to determine exactly what status the application is in, or what the holdup is. Communications with our Specialist have been met with vague, dismissive answers and calls to the office are referred back to the Specialist. The best we've gotten so far is that it's still under review.

At this point, the contingency budget for delays won't last much longer. We're putting together a kickstarter-style campaign which should be launched soon and will be used to cover additional delays. We've put together some fantastic rewards for the campaign: gift baskets of every product produced in a year, options to add your name or quote to labels, founders club memberships, private dinners and tastings, and even a distilling weekend for 6 for each participant to create and label their own private reserve.

Other than the licensing delays, things are moving along. Stay tuned for more updates about the kickstarter campaign, shop photos and an exciting announcement that's still Top Secret.

Thanks for Following!

- Lexi

Original, Nov. 28

"This IS your grandma's booze cabinet."

That's the official-ish motto of a new boutique distillery, "Four Freedoms Liquor," which is headed Ballard's way. A liquor license application, which was applied for on Nov. 15, shows that they will be moving in at 4421 Shilshole Ave NW.

The new distillery will have a focus on artisanal heritage liquors and has a rather patriotic flagship product: Cherry Bounce, a full-proof tart cherry liqueur based on a historic recipe from Martha Washington.

According to the owners, their products are made with local Washington State produce and feature traditional old-timey flavors.

However, it looks like the distillery owners are having a little trouble getting the store lined up with fire code, according to their Facebook. Other than a picture that reads "Opening Eventually," with "soon" crossed out," they also posted the following message on Nov. 20:

"So we're back to courting the Fire Marshall's approval. Local code allows massive amounts of bulk liquor to be stored in wooden casks at distilleries, or in individual glass containers at retail locations, but not in individual glass containers at distilleries.

We want our boys to be safe if they respond to a distillery fire, but the inconsistencies in the code are really frustrating."

Hopefully, for the patriotic liquor-drinkers out there, that all gets resolved soon.

Four Freedoms' website (http://www.fourfreedomsliquor.com/) is currently under construction, but you can follow them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Four-Freedoms-Liquor-Company/233109680151836

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