Wash. Liquor Privatization Leaves Northwest Craft Distilleries Hungover

Jan 7, 2014

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. We’ve clawed back maybe half to two-thirds of that deficit,” said Deitrich.

The owners of Dry Fly Distillery 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 smaller players is a ballot measure now circulating for signatures in Oregon. The measure would end the state’s retail monopoly, similar to the way Washington did.