Photo by Zachariah Bryan
Old Ballard Liquor Co.'s flagship product, the bounce liqueur, is sweet, clean on the palate and infused with fresh fruit.

From farm to bottle in 12 hours, new distillery brings unique fruit-infused liqueurs

Old Ballard Liquor Co. set to open on Thursday, June 20

Ballard has more breweries than you can shake a stick at (no matter how good you are at stick-shaking), but what it doesn't have is a distillery with a focus on special bounce liqueurs which is open for public tastings.

On Thursday, June 20, 4 p.m., that's about to change when Old Ballard Liquor Co. (4421 Shilshole Ave NW, on the East side of Ballard Bridge) opens up shop. Well, sort of.

The company has been pushing through a seemingly insurmountable amount of legal papers this past year, and though it's nearing the end, it still has to get formulas for the different liquors approved. So Thursday, which will just be a soft opening, will mostly be a chance for the curious person to drop in and chat with the talkative owner, Lexi aka (she jokes) "The Lexicon," for how many words she spews out of her mouth. Also, you can buy a cool t-shirt for $12.

Lexi said that she will probably not start selling for at least three weeks and at most six weeks out while she makes the final hurdles.

"The doors are open but we're still waiting for the last couple of papers until we sell some alcohol," she said.

In the meantime, however, people can get an idea of what to expect. While many new distilleries have a focus on whiskey ("Everyone wants to make whiskey," Lexi lamented), Old Ballard Liquor Co. will be focusing on the bounce liqueur, and will also eventually offer vodka and aquavit.

Bounce is a fruit-infused product that is a higher proof and is sweet, but not overbearingly so like many other liqueurs are, Lexi said. Each flavor has to be aged for at least six months.

Stepping into the Old Ballard Liquor Co. space, one can see that Lexi is some sort of mad scientist always trying out different fruits to create new flavors. Sitting on a rack are many wonderfully colored jars with different fruits floating in them: cherries, blueberries, nectarines, Italian plums, watermelon, rhubarb and more. Some turn out well, she said, and others, not so much. But, she confides, "If it tastes like ass, I'm not going to sell it."

Her flagship product is the Cherry Bounce, for which she gets the cherries from a farm in Eastern Washington. Once a year, she said, she goes to the farm to gather up 1,600 lbs. of cherries, brings them back to the distillery where she has a team of people, and bottles up the batch for the whole year. "I like to say it goes from farm to bottle in 12 hours, though it's more complicated than that."

When creating a new flavor, Lexi said she is looking for a couple of things. For one, she wants it to taste good and clean, but also she wants the flavor to be distinct, to taste like the specific fruit, and not so much as a boring nondescript sweet flavor.

Lexi also brings with her an Old Ballard-type attitude. She's pragmatic, speaks Swedish, she mourns the fast-fading heritage of the neighborhood and she's strongly passionate about serving the neighborhood and won't go too far out of bounds if it's possible to be sustainable that way. She said she has a business plan to grow only so much, so she can continue to serve the local community without giving up quality of service or product; she's not so interested in becoming a big corporate national distributor, she said.

"It's Old Ballard (Liquor Co.), right? So it's Scandinavian, it's pragmatic ... and very unpretentious. At least, I want it to be unpretentious, I don't know what will happen when the hipsters invade," she said. (She also noted that she's not a hipster-hater and that they are definitely welcome.)

She added, "We've really lost our sense of identity, and I miss it ... this is one of the small ways that I can honor that, tip my hat to it."

Also, perhaps appealing for fellow Old Ballard types, she plans to make no-B.S. vodka and aquavit.

For the vodka, she plans to make a straight-shooting, high quality craft well, with none of the fancy gimmicks of the new flavor-forward products that have become popular on the market as of late. "In my opinion, vodka's not meant for sipping. You shoot vodka or mix with vodka," Lexi said.

For aquavit, she wants to stay true to the original flavors, flavored with caraway. Having been to Scandinavia, she said, she knows how it should taste. "I want to make it good enough that people from that area will understand it."

For Lexi, the Ballard Liquor Co. is a culmination of who she is.

"I worked software for a long time and I didn't like it. I'm really burnt out," she said. "This (Old Ballard Liquor Co.) was really an amalgamation of culinary, science and small business ownership (instead of working for someone else) that actually pays the bills."

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