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Northwest Craft Distilleries Hung-over After Washington Liquor Privatization

Dry Fly Distilling
Mikel, a distiller at Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, checks quality levels during the process.

A Hood River distillery has the top selling brand of liquor according to sales numbers released by the state of Oregon. But other craft distillers say those hot numbers don’t reflect their experience.

Before liquor sales were privatized in Washington state in mid-2012, small local distilleries were featured in state-owned shops there and throughout the Northwest. Now, top craft distillers say national brands are hogging the shelf space in Washington, the biggest market in the region.

It’s harder to get their bottles in front of Washington consumers says Alan Deitrich, CEO of Bendistillery in central Oregon.

“Immediately after the passage of the ballot measure, I would say our sales finished out that year at about 50 percent of what they were the previous year," he says. "We’ve clawed back maybe half to two-thirds of that deficit.”

The owners of Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane say their business has recovered from an initial dip. But smaller distilleries say a continuing problem for them is attracting private distributors who prefer to deal with higher volumes.

A new concern for the little guys is ballot measure now circulating for signatures in Oregon that would end that state’s retail monopoly similar to Washington.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.