In May of 2021, Scott Bianchi and Jo Huang opened The Botanicale, a plant emporium and tasting room, in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle to showcase the engaged couple’s two passions — craft beer, wine and spirits for him, tropical plants for her. The result is a hidden gem: A cozy and inviting space below street level in the rear of a building on North 36th Street, with a comfortable outdoor seating area to enjoy a drink while perusing the library of tropical plants and accompanying pots, grow lights and other merchandise, all hand-selected by Huang.
The lineup of beer and wine is curated by Bianchi, designed to connect guests directly to the brewers and winemakers with whom he and Huang have forged personal relationships.
“What I want is for everyone who is open to it to learn something about the brewer or winemaker that they can’t read online or find on a website,” Bianchi says. “I think having that connection to the places and the people behind what you’re drinking creates a more special feeling to it than just ordering something and drinking it.”
The small tables and delightfully mismatched chairs and stools sit among shelves upon shelves of tropical plants of all shapes and sizes that are for sale, but also to just enjoy inside the tasting room.
“I grew up in Guam, and tropical plants are my favorite. They just remind me of home and what I grew up seeing in the wild,” says Huang, who further cultivated her interest in plants and flowers while working at an on-campus florist while studying at UCLA. “I studied psychology, but I find myself relating psychology, healing and growth to everything around me. The way plants adapt to lower-light situations, us humans are resilient in that way too. Our favorite makers have carved their own path and shown resilience in their own ways.”
Huang started a cottage business selling plants out of the Renton condo she shares with Bianchi during the COVID-19 pandemic, but wanted to expand out of their home to a showroom where she could entertain prospective “planterior design” clients and display her entire collection at once.
A location in SoDo was promising, and would have allowed for Bianchi to host occasional beer shares, tastings and private events based around Seahawks, Mariners or Sounders games as well. But the logistical problems of bringing water to that space for all of Huang’s plants were unable to be solved, bringing them to the Fremont location.
“We love that you have to be intentional about coming in here, and we love seeing the look on people’s faces when they walk in, like, ‘What is this place?,’” Bianchi says. “We’ve created a really cool, magical atmosphere.”
The work Bianchi put in during the leadup to opening The Botanicale, which included cold-calling, emailing and direct messaging his favorite brewers and leaning on friends like fellow Blaine native Josh Atwood Smith of Atwood Ales to make introductions to those in the industry whose work he admired. This hard work bore fruit in the form of two collaborations.
The first, with Barmann Cellars on the Mount Baker Highway in Everson, Washington, resulted in a blended white wine called Nouveaux Amis — French for “new friends.”
“Jesse (Nickerson) and Steph (Barmann) are just amazing people and when Jo and I went out to do a tasting with them we were just blown away by what they make,” Bianchi says. Nouveaux Amis, under Barmann’s Irrational Wines label, is a dry and refreshing blend of 70% Siegerrebe and 30% Madeleine Angevine and is sold exclusively at The Botanic(ale).
Another collaboration, with Bellingham-based Artivem Mead Co., produced a black currant, oolong tea and black pepper mead.
Bianchi and Huang hope to keep collaborating with their favorite producers, and other plans for the future include expanding their outdoor space and possibly knocking down an indoor wall to create a roomier environment.
Bianchi’s passion for craft beer and wine stems from adversity. He has been cancer-free for 10 years after being diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg while teaching preschool in Japan.
After he finished a 10-month stay in a Tokyo hospital, he and a friend took a 48-day road trip around the United States spurred by the elevated chances of relapse in the particular form of cancer Bianchi had. Along the way, they ate barbecue in Texas and visited iconic craft breweries like Russian River in Santa Rosa, California, and The Alchemist in Stowe, Vermont.
“One of the very first beers that blew my mind was Adam by Hair of the Dog in Portland. I had never tasted anything like it, and I loved the early Fremont barrel aged stouts. I just expanded from there and just wanted to try everything,” he says.