Combine a background in the hospitality industry, a desire to offer a niche product and a bit of family history, and you’ll have the perfect recipe for a successful distillery. And that’s exactly what Mark Nesheim and his wife Jennifer did when they opened J.P. Trodden Distillery in 2013.
After a career as a chef and working in management roles in the hospitality industry, Nesheim was ready for a change. “For a long time, we wanted to have our own business,” he says. “We looked at a lot of different opportunities and this was the most intriguing.”
PLANTING THE SEED
After diving in on research, along with some hands-on production training at Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Nesheim started working on his first batch of bourbon in 2009. “I started studying up and jumped in with both feet, but my culinary background made it an easy leap,” he says. “We started with a small vision, and now it’s grown to five times the size.”
With a desire to offer something truly unique, Nesheim went all in, making small-batch bourbon using Washington-grown grain, aging in Kentucky-made barrels and even sourcing his equipment and bottles from American producers. Nesheim knew he wanted to focus on making one product and making it well, and today the J.P. Trodden line-up still only focuses on three bourbon options.
“We wanted to carve out a niche for ourselves that was unlike what was going on at the time,” Nesheim says. “We needed our own path. And because bourbon can only be produced in the U.S., it seemed fitting all of the equipment we bought was made in the U.S.”
By 2013, the first batch of bourbon was ready to try in J.P. Trodden’s first small tasting room in Woodinville, which has since been moved to a larger location. The distillery is now part of The Vault, a collective of three custom-built, 18,000-square-foot buildings in nearby Maltby, also housing six winery tasting rooms and production spaces.
Six wineries and a distiller have moved to a new facility that was custom-built to their requirements.
Even though Nesheim’s plan to open a distillery was a small leap of faith, the family’s history with whiskey certainly goes way back. The distillery’s name pays homage to Nesheim’s grandfather, who he spent a lot of time with growing up as the youngest of 15 grandchildren.
Trodden had a mail route in north-central Washington’s Okanogan region that required crossing back and forth between the U.S. and Canadian borders in order to complete his route during the time of Prohibition. And while the U.S. was completely dry, Alberta chose to keep the booze flowing. During his route, Trodden would buy whiskey in Canada and bring it back to share with his friends, making him quite popular.
“He was such a whiskey lover,” Nesheim says. “Naming the distillery after him seemed like a natural fit.”
Even after seeing growth and the ability to expand into a larger space, Nesheim is still all about his roots, honoring his grandfather and celebrating great bourbon. “We’ve always been big bourbon fans,” he says. “It’s easy to be passionate about making something you really love.”