Photography by AnneMarie Zarba

A Family Affair, Von’s Legacy Lives On

by | Jul 29, 2022

Northwest Spirits Tasting Room & Retail Center is now open for business in Woodinville

At the grand opening of Northwest Spirits’ new tasting room and retail space in Woodinville, Wash., Merrisa Firnstahl-Claridge makes her way through the crowd of close friends, family and longtime patrons of Von’s Gustobistro with warmth and intention. You can tell she is in her element, making sure to personally thank each attendee for supporting her as this venture slowly became a reality. 

Now open 30 minutes from downtown Seattle in Woodinville Wine Country,  Northwest Spirits Tasting Room & Retail Center is located just down the street from the iconic Chateau St. Michelle winery. The prime site will offer spirit tastings and sales, full craft cocktails and Northwest fare from its sister restaurant, Von’s Gustobistro, which is opening next door later this year.

This is, on all accounts, a family affair, with several members participating in the development of the brand and distillation of the spirits, including brother-in-law Jason Amador for his development skills and Nick Warren as master distiller. Not coincidentally, Warren just so happens to be her cousin-in-law.

“You cannot build a biz with just three people,” Firnstahl-Claridge says as she dedicates the opening of the new tasting room to her parents, a plaque of them glimmering in her hands.

Once the ribbon has been cut and the whiskey has been poured, I had a chance to enjoy a drink with Firnstahl-Claridge to find out how this all came to be and what’s next for the brand.

(Left) Merrisa Firnstahl-Claridge (Middle) Savor Spear Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Right) Northwest Spirits Tasting Room

Sip: What was the inspiration for the interior space and bar?

Merrisa Firnstahl-Claridge: Oh, this is a great question. My dad built some of the most beautiful restaurants and bars Seattle had ever seen back in his day. I remember going into his saloons [and] bars and peering at all the bottles and library ladders in wonderment. I also remember the beautiful wood paneling and smells of cigars — yes, you could smoke back then. I always appreciated the warmth and comfort of his restaurants, and wanted to recreate that feel in our tasting room. I was so lucky he saved one of Jake’s 1890s back bar that we refurbished as the main feature in our tasting room. 

Sip: How has family played a role in the progress and process of taking on this new endeavor?

MFC: My family is a huge part of this endeavor. I come from five generations of esteemed purveyors of fine food and spirits. My great-great grandpa was a master cheesemaker, my great-grandpa and grandpa created and ran Sunny Jim, and my dad, of course, ran some of Seattle’s best drinking establishments. All I have ever known are creators and entrepreneurs in my family. My dad always would tell me, ‘if it is in, it’s out.’ We definitely try to go in the opposite direction from the trends and find our own path.

Throughout my life, my dad would often say in these special moments, ‘these are the Halcyon Days,’ which was before Google, and I had no idea what it meant. I created my own definition of it and, for me, it means, ‘this is a moment in time I need to remember. I need to take a breath and notice this is a special time.’

Sip: What were some of the initial challenges of launching this new distillery tasting room?

MFC: Haha, well, COVID-19, of course. The supply chain has also been very challenging. Specifically, getting the glass bottles in time for our opening. The combination of reopening our restaurants with building this new business has been challenging but definitely rewarding, finally seeing guests in both places.

Sip: What has opening during a global pandemic taught you about yourself and your new brand? Pros and cons?

MFC: Opening during the pandemic was one of the hardest things I have ever done, to be honest. We had to lay off over 200 people twice when our restaurants were shut down. Doing that while trying to build a new brand and business and stay positive was so hard. It also took double the amount of time we expected. I learned so much: perseverance, determination and belief that we had some great products that people would love. We love to take care of guests from the minute they walk into our doors and we love to do it with a show and fun! I knew we had to get back to taking care of people and that meant we had to get this brand off the ground so people could enjoy our products in our restaurants — and also in their homes.

Sip: What makes Woodinville the ideal setting for your new tasting room?

MFC: Woodinville has a great community and after being downtown for over 30 years, we really wanted to transition to the hub of Washington wine and spirits. I also personally love the country, easygoing vibe of Woodinville. We feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to be in Woodinville.

Sip: What are you producing now and what can customers expect from the new space? 

MFC: We are producing Bar Boss Vodka, Bar Boss Gin, Bar Boss Bourbon and Savor Spear Bourbon. Our Bar Boss Collection is the perfect spirit for your everyday cocktail. We definitely know spirits after running bars for over 50 years and our mixologists have approved these spirits for their craft cocktails. 

Our Savor Spear Bourbon is triple oaked and finished with a stave in the bottle and has a rich caramel-vanilla finish. When customers come into our tasting room, people should expect a very classic vibe reminiscent of a bourbon bar. Our tasting room is comfortable and welcoming and has a lot of interesting elements — like our custom 53-gallon pot still and our 1890s back bar — and we sell everything needed to set up a craft home bar. And of course, we have delicious cocktails for our guests to enjoy along with our flights and tastings.

Sip: Any words of wisdom for women coming into this industry for the first time?

MFC: First, women have great palates for tasting fine bourbons. Even though bourbon is considered more of a male-dominated spirit, I have found women love it. I would love to make bourbon more of an approachable spirit for women. Our bourbon is definitely a great entry for people who don’t know a lot about the spirit. It is smooth and has a great vanilla-caramel profile.

Sip: What are you most excited about now that the space is open? What’s next for you?

MFC: I am honestly so excited to have this beautiful tasting room in Woodinville and the opportunity to share our spirits. We are going to be launching a Savor Spear Tequila this winter and of course, are so excited for Von’s GustoBistro to open next to the tasting room in December 2022.

The retail center offerings will include custom spirits for off-premise enjoyment and a well-curated selection of barware to outfit mixologist-approved home bars. Tasting room focal points include an 1890s mahogany back bar showcasing bespoke spirit products, a 53-gallon artisan copper still, cozy bar/indoor and outdoor firepit seating.

What more do you need to know? Make your way to Woodinville and enjoy these ‘spirits for your Halcyon Days.’

The Northwest Spirits Tasting Room
Hours of Operation: Thursday – Monday, 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Off-premise liquor sales, craft cocktails, small bites, barware for the curated home bar and indoor and outdoor fire pit seating.

15029 Redmond – Woodinville Rd NE, Woodinville, WA 98072

northwestspirits.com

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