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Capitol Hill prohibition ends: Sun Liquor celebrates four years as distillery takes shape

E. Pike’s Sun Liquor Mfg this week applied for a license that could put it in line to be the first craft distillery to open on Capitol Hill — legally — later this year, two years after the passage of state law allowing the industry.

But it’s not necessarily the state license that concerns Michael Klebeck, the man behind Summit Ave’s Sun Liquor and a co-founder of Top Pot Doughnuts.

“The federal form is inches thick,” Klebeck said of the permit process required by the government before he begins manufacturing craft gin. “The Feds have to say yes before the state will.”

sun liquor
Originally uploaded
by Matt Westervelt

Anybody who wants to get into the distillery business better be prepared to make a major investment — and to take a chance. Klebeck said the federal process requires that the distillery equipment be installed and functional before federal inspectors will sign off on the business. That means he will have sunk around $750,000 into a venture he doesn’t even have permission to operate. “You have to have a real leap of faith that you are going to get it,” Klebeck said. “You have to make the investment.”

If everything works out as planned, Klebeck expects to be producing high quality, one of a kind gin on Capitol Hill by fall.

Klebeck will have to ignore the paperwork this weekend, however, as his original Sun Liquor on Summit celebrates its four year anniversary with a Sunday barbecue and party. Klebeck said there will be drink specials and some good food to thank the people who have supported the neighborhood bar. “We’ve been open for four years and we haven’t done much advertising,” Klebeck said. “It’s been a very supportive neighborhood.” The party starts at 5 PM.

According to state records, three businesses in Seattle have a craft distillery license and there are just two more — including Sun — in the process of applying. One player not on the state’s roster is Marcus Lalario’s Batch 206. Lalario, who operate Captain Blacks and the Hunter Gatherer Lounge and is an investor in Molly Moon’s Ice Cream among other Hill business ventures, has talked about operating a micro-distillery but apparently has not yet notified the state Liquor Control Board.

Seattle’s craft distillery roster (Source:

Here are the requirements for craft distilleries operating in the state:

  • Annual license fee is $100 (compared to $2,000 for a distillery license);
  • Produce 20,000 gallons or less of spirits;
  • At least half of the raw materials used in production must be grown in Washington;
  • Sell spirits of its own production for off-premises consumption – limit two liters per day per person;
  • Samples – maximum of two ounces per person per day free of charge at the distillery;
  • Spirits used for samples and off-premises sales must be purchased from the Liquor Control Board; and
  • Required Mandatory Alcohol Server Training (MAST) for any person involved in the service of samples.

Looks like somebody needs to start a WA State sugar cane farm, ASAP. Agave, perhaps?

CHS first reported on the distillery taking shape at 514 E. Pike back in February. Back then, we referred to the place as Sun Liquor 2.

Klebeck tells CHS he envisions his new venture as an extension of Sun Liquor into Pike/Pine with a tasting lounge to showcase the gin that will be manufactured on site. That vision has Klebeck on the hunt for the perfect gin still.

“The still we need is really specialized for the gin,” Klebeck said. “In the heating process, with all the botanicals involved, you can’t have stuff sticking. It’s a lot different than the whiskey or vodka process.”

But because he also wants Sun Liquor Mfg to be a place to hang out and enjoy a drink just like its Summit Ave counterpart, Klebeck has another requirement for the tubes and tanks and heating elements that will make up his distillery.

“I’m looking at this more as retail. The still has to look good, too,” Klebeck said. “We’re into the street presence. That’s why we chose E. Pike.”

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10 years ago

I hope it all works out. This is going to be fantastic!

10 years ago

I like to drink at Sun Liquor. Sun Liquor=good,,,

10 years ago

I’m going to go get drunk at Sun Liquor’s tonight. It’s a good place to get drunk and pick up chicks ;)

10 years ago

It would be wonderful to have such a unique and specialized distillery /lounge in Cap hill! I very much look forward to it, and best of luck with the license!