Let me preface this edition's painful infliction of verbosity with an excerpt from Armon M. Sweat Jr. when addressing the 1952 Texas House of Representatives:
"If you mean whiskey, the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children ... then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.
However, if by whiskey you mean the lubricant of conversation, the philosophic juice, the elixir of life, the liquid that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; ...; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into Texas treasuries untold millions of dollars each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children,...our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.
This is my position, and as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle."
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Damn straight, Armon.
Let's start out with a Reader's Digest historical foundation on the sale of demon liquor, weaving in a modicum of Roth family lore. In the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, a temperance movement ran globally rampant. Bad news for my great-grandfather Charlie Roth and grandfather Al Roth Sr. They were gainfully employed in the whiskey and beer sales business in 1919 when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, prohibiting liquor manufacture and sale.
About the time Charlie passed on, unemployed Al Sr. moved to Wenatchee, Wash., after purchasing the Wenatchee Bottling Works, bottling soft drinks such as Orange Phosphate and Coca-Cola and operating it without alcohol until the 21st Amendment kicked the 18th Amendment to the curb.
It was then up to the states, counties or cities to remain dry or allow alcoholic beverages to be manufactured or sold. In 1934, the Washington State Liquor Control Board was established for the logical purposes of licensing, regulation and enforcement, and the counterintuitive purpose of distribution and retail. Duplicative private beer and wine-only distribution and sale were allowed, but distilled spirits were monopolized by the state.
Distilleries, breweries and wineries sprouted up like weeds around the nation. The type of wine initially made post-Prohibition in Washington was almost exclusively sweet and fortified with distilled spirits, just like Port and Sherry are to this day. Other than those wineries like Nawico and Pommerelle, the parents of Chateau Ste. Michelle, who may have necessarily vertically integrated operational distilleries, the history of stand-alone distilleries has largely been lost in antiquity.
Washington legislation in 2008 allowed small craft distilleries to license and produce. Since then, a cottage industry of distilleries has dotted the Washington map, reputedly 40 at last count. And you can find some 46 artisan distillers in Oregon, several in British Columbia and a few in Idaho.
You would probably need to be a mole to not have heard that in 2011, Washington voters removed their state's stranglehold on booze, so by the time you take this column to your favorite reading spot, you will likely be able to grab a fifth of corn whiskey from your favorite grocer.
With any luck, broader distribution and availability of home-grown moonshine can be shelved by us all.
Here is a basis of the kind of distilled spirits made in these Northwest mini-Stolichnaya factories. Clear, delicious vodka is typically distilled from wheat or potato starch, to be consumed chilled straight up or mixed with juices. Gin starts out like Vodka but is later infused or redistilled with juniper berries and a secret blend of other botanical aromatics, mixed with tonic or shaken-not-stirred with an olive or three. Brandy is distilled from fermented fruit, wine and sometimes wine byproducts, and it is either aged in charred oak barrels like Cognac or left clear for us to enjoy the fragrant nuances of the fruit or grape from which it was distilled. Whiskey is normally made from corn or wheat, then aged in heavy-char oak barrels to acquire its husky flavor and darker color. There also are sweet flavored liquors for blending or enjoying solo.
So much we owe to alcoholic beverages of every kind. Anyone who knows me would say I never would have gotten a date were it not for alcohol.
As I see it, making delicious hard liquor available in Washington -- as it is in California -- will diversify entertainment and relaxation, and create positive economics. Oh, how Grandpa, my sweet dad, Al Roth Jr., and I dreamed of getting the liquor board out of the liquor business. We took a few runs at it when we were wholesalers, but it took the muscle of Costco and the brains of the populace to make it happen.
Now we have the increased opportunity to enjoy the elixir of life, with a spring in our step, frequently, in moderation.
COKE ROTH is an attorney who lives in Richland, Wash. He is an original member of Wine Press Northwest's tasting panel. Learn more about him at cokerothlaw.com.