Tucked between the train tracks and South Tacoma Way at 8016 Durango St SW, Mastrogiannis Distillery offers a cozy tasting room for guests to try handcrafted liquors, while also giving them the chance to see how the distillation process works.
At the back of the space sit two stills – one hand hammered copper from Portugal and the other a modern version with computer technology. It’s through these two machines that hundreds of gallons of wine is heated to create a steam that is collected and then condensed back into liquid form, creating the liquor that is bottled and sold.
While large quantities of wine goes in, due to the nature of the distillation process, the end result is significantly less liquid.
“It takes about 550 gallons of wine to make 59 gallons of brandy,” distillery owner Ilias Mastrogiannis said recently from inside his business.
In its third year of operation, Mastrogiannis Distillery offers five liquors and produces between 200 and 300 cases a year.
The manufacturing business was born out of an idea that was planted years before owner Mastrogiannis even knew about distilled spirits.
A native of Greece, Mastrogiannis was raised by working parents – his mother a tobacco farmer and his father a mason. His father’s winemaking hobby, which later became a source of income for the family, ultimately budded Mastrogiannis’ idea to create handcrafted distilled spirits from wine.
“My dad started doing wine about 30 years ago,” Mastrogiannis said. “I remember I was a small kid. I remember the truck would come to our house and the truck was full of grapes and we’d start shoveling and then crushing it and make wine.”
That experience left a lasting impression on Mastrogiannis.
Years later – after his move to America at 16 years old to live with a family member, and after graduating high school and college – Mastrogiannis reflected on his childhood in Greece.
The idea to open a distillery came one day on his commute home from Microsoft, where he currently works. Sitting on the bus wondering what was next for him in life, Mastrogiannis said it hit him: “I should make Grappa.”
While Grappa originated in Italy, the fragrant drink is common in Greece where it is called Tsipouro. Like Italy’s Grappa, the Greek version was born out of winemaking families not wanting to waste what they harvested.
Instead of throwing away the skins, pulps, seeds and stems that remain following crush (when grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented to create wine), these “leftovers” are used to create a grape-based pomace brandy. The end result is a beverage meant to be sipped over ice on a hot day, or heated to warm you up during the winter.
While his initial idea was to produce Grappa, Mastrogiannis learned the hard way it wasn’t going to be easy.
“Due to the nature of Grappa production, yield is low compared to the amount of grape skins required,” he explained. “It takes approximately one ton of pressed red grapes to produce just 11 bottles.”
While he still produces Grappa, it’s in smaller quantities than the other liquors bottled.
Mastrogiannis’ full lineup includes:
- Aged and unaged Brandy, both from Riesling grapes sourced from the Yakima Valley AVA.
- Ouzo, an anise-flavored wine distillate common in Greece.
- Mastiha, which is named after the aromatic resin Mastiha that Mastrogiannis used to infuse the Riesling before it is distilled. The resin comes from the island of Chios, Greece and is used to make chewing gum.
The products Mastrogiannis makes are one-of-a-kind. While most distillers use corn or grains to produce their spirits, Mastrogiannis has stuck with wine as his foundation.
Along with sourcing his grapes from Washington’s top wine regions, Mastrogiannis is beginning to explore using Washington apples and plans to incorporate them into his product lineup.
“I grew up with wine and it just makes sense,” he said. “It was just inspiration from my dad to use wine grapes and build on top of that. Not a lot of people do just wine or grapes or fruit for that matter.”
These Greek -inspired distillates set him apart. Mastrogiannis’ Mastiha is the only one of its kind in the region, and quite possibly in the state and beyond.
He purchased a few pounds of the resin and let it soak in his unaged, Riesling-based brandy for four months. The end result is a liquor that he said makes a perfect cocktail when combined with watermelon, basil, lemon or a touch of agave syrup.
“It’s so unique, so refreshing,” he said of the limited-production liquor that he describes as capturing the essence of Greece. “It’s great for summer.”
While his father passed away in 2018, Mastrogiannis had the opportunity to return to Greece and learn his family’s winemaking secrets from him in 2016. He planned his visit right as Grappa season was ramping up.
“As soon as I got home I filed for my LLC,” Mastrogiannis said.
From there he researched everything he needed to know to open a distillery. A byproduct of that research was the launch of his Distillery Nation podcast – something he began after he realized there wasn’t a lot of information available for those looking to open distilleries. Through the podcast he met others in the industry and shared their stories. Not only did this help him open his business, but he hopes it helps others wanting to do the same.
And although he still has his “day job” at Microsoft, Mastrogiannis said his end goal is to one day transition to running the distillery full time, expanding its products and growing its name recognition.
“I love it,” he said. “We’re just a small family-run business that is very focused on what we do. We’re different, nobody does grapes. We take pride in that.”
Because of its pioneering spirit and because of its one-of-a-kind spirits the Lakewood City Council recognizes Mastrogiannis Distillery as its March 2019 Business Showcase.
Mastrogiannis Distillery is open for tastings on weekends by appointment. To schedule an appointment call the distillery at 206-701-9202 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. View the website for more information at mastrogiannisdistillery.com.Print This Post