The state requires craft distillers to use at least 50 percent Washington-grown ingredients in their products. To select the flavors, the owners researched the market and chose flavors that spanned from floral to herbal to spicy.
WHEN A LOVED one dies, it’s a tradition on the Scottish side of Mhairi Voelsgen’s family to open a bottle of good whiskey and sip it in remembrance over the course of a year. So when her uncle died in Glasgow a few years ago, she did what she had done for her father and grandmother: She opened a bottle of Glenrothes, a Speyside single-malt scotch. But this time, a life change was also opened.
After a career marketing other people’s products, she realized, “I wanted to make something I believed in.” BroVo, the company she founded last year with Erin Brophy, makes a line of botanically inspired liqueurs.
The women met when both worked for the Museum of Flight: Brophy as director of sales, Voelsgen as director of marketing. They perceived opportunity in Washington’s nascent spirits industry. To learn the art of craft distilling, they took a course at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake and made cherry brandy on a still named “Shania.”
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The state requires craft distillers to use at least 50 percent Washington-grown ingredients in their products. To select the flavors, the women researched the market, determined what interested them, then checked on the ingredients’ availability. After shortlisting 12 possibilities and talking to a lot of bartenders, they arrived at the final five by assessing seasonality and choosing flavors that spanned a spectrum from floral to herbal to spicy. The winners: lavender, rose geranium, lemon balm, Douglas fir and ginger.
To make their product, broVo licensed a Mattawa winemaker who also distills eau de vie. From May, when Douglas firs bud, to the final lemon-balm harvest in early September, shipments from farmers and foragers come in every week, and Voelsgen and Brophy are at the distillery supervising production.
They believe their three-step process — distill, infuse and blend — boosts flavors and ensures that they get the aromas and tastes they want. They add just enough sugar to meet the category requirement, and they don’t add glycerin. “It changes the mouth-feel. Our spirits don’t coat your tongue the way some liqueurs do,” notes Brophy.
Both admit the hardest part of the business is managing the financials and keeping up with regulatory requirements. Their rockiest moment: when the state backed out of an order for 800 cases after last November’s vote to privatize the liquor business. But they believe the new retail environment for spirits holds promise for craft distillers. In April, they signed on with a distributor, and in May, QFC became the first regional chain to commit to their product.
A “Life Lesson” appears on the back label of broVo bottles. It will change each year, but the first, “Never polka in sling backs,” came from Annie Brown, Voelsgen’s mother, who passed away in February. In addition to scotch, her daughter is drinking a bottle of broVo Ginger in Annie’s honor. “My mum loved the spice.”
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Steve Ringman is a Times staff photographer.
“We like to sip our liqueurs on the rocks,” says broVo co-founder Erin Brophy. “We leave the creativity to the bartenders.” This summer drink was developed by Carol Anne Lee of Ray’s Boathouse.
1/2 ounce Pur Elderflower
1/2 ounce Cassis
1/2 ounce broVo Rose Geranium
Cava (sparkling wine)
Add the elderflower, cassis and rose geranium to a Champagne flute, fill with your favorite cava and garnish with an orange twist.