Q&A: Todd Buckley of the Tacoma Alcohol Consortium

American Distilling Institute, Manhattans, Laura's Bayview Bar & Grill and a regional group hug

By Ron Swarner on November 6, 2013

After tiring of driving to Seattle for alcohol tasting events, Tacoman Todd Buckley created the Tacoma Alcohol Consortium in 2011. He wanted to create camaraderie between all local alcohol producers, such as The Harmon, Wingman Brewery, 21 Cellars and other future alcohol manufacturers, such as those distilling today in the South Sound. Buckley hosts alcohol tastings, bringing together producers of wine, beer and spirits to share product knowledge, history and most importantly, let people try the goods. Buckley and I chatted during a recent trip to visit Heritage Distilling in Gig Harbor.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: What's the big news in local distilling?

TODD BUCKLEY: Seattle was chosen to host the American Distilling Institute's 2014 conference. It speaks to Washington as the up and coming region for distilled spirits. People will fly in from all over the world. I have been lobbying ADI to bring folks down to Tacoma. The ADI sponsors a Hands-On Whiskey Distilling Workshop Dec. 8-13 at Heritage Distilling Co. 

VOLCANO: How are your distilling efforts coming along?

BUCKLEY: I'm still trying to release my vodka. I'm in discussion with a few folks. Hopefully I can release it in early 2014. Stay tuned. Also, I was hired to consult with Chuckanut Bay Distillery in Bellingham on its Yukon Gold potato vodka recipe. It was released several weeks ago, which is cool.

VOLCANO: How did you get started in the business?

BUCKLEY: In 2008, when the Washington state Distilling laws changed making the process more affordable and practical, I thought, ‘Wow, how many industries open up in front of you?' So I took advantage of my passion. I started studying; meeting people and learning everything I could on distilling spirits. I attended an ADI conference and met a lot of people. It's like catching a sweet wave in Hawaii. You can get crushed by it, miss it or ride it for a fun time. I'm trying to ride it for a fun time.

VOLCANO: Is there similarities with your technology job and your distilling passion?

BUCKLEY: No, not really. Technology is kind of dreary. You release a product, then there are updates, bug fixes, and disappointments and then you have to get the next product out quick. There's a forever churn. In Distilling, there's a nicer cadence. You make your product, you may refine your product, but people are happier. They are drinking and discussing and there's camaraderie. It's a wonderful thing. Even competitors are cool. The industry is full of what I like to call ‘coopetition.' We cooperate, but it's still competition. It's friendly competition. You go to a conference and you pretty much like everyone who is there.

VOLCANO: What cocktail do you wish you invented?

BUCKLEY: The Manhattan is a great cocktail. It's also how I judge talent. It's a simple drink but very hard to make right. Although, with all the different bourbons that are on the market, there are many versions of the Manhattan.

VOLCANO: Where do you like drinking in the South Sound?

BUCKLEY: Jason Alexander of the Tacoma Cabana is fast becoming a local cocktail hero. Of course, you always have to pay homage to Chris Keil at Hilltop Kitchen. And, you know, I have had several fantastic cocktails at Laura's Bayview Bar & Grill down the street from Doyle's.

VOLCANO: Bourbon or rye?

BUCKLEY: Why pick just one? But, if I must, bourbon, because it IS American whiskey. In 1964, under President Lyndon Johnson's administration, Congress declared bourbon America's Native Spirit.

VOLCANO: Potato vodka or grain vodka?

BUCKLEY: Many people believe that most vodka is made from potatoes. However, the opposite is true. Most vodka is made from grain. Potatoes started being used widely during grain shortages in Europe, but there was also potato blight, which afflicted Europe. So once again, I would say, why pick just one? We need them both (and grapes too!).

VOLCANO: When you hear the following words what do you think of?

Tacoma: "Where Your Destiny Lies. We have something very special in Tacoma, but we must seize it and make it ours."

Olympia: "An attractive, tattooed lover that your parents don't like you getting too involved with."

Mixologist: "Goofy."

Pork: "Divine. Have you tried pork liver and jasmine?"

Apple: "Childhood memories of growing up on an apple orchard in Wenatchee."

VOLCANO: What are your hopes for the drinking/cocktail scene in the South Sound?

BUCKLEY: I truly believe we can be a bridge for everything wonderful to the north of us - Seattle and Vancouver - and everything wonderful to the south of us - Portland and San Francisco. Tacoma has great food, great beer, great wine and soon great spirits. But we need a lot more of those things and Tacomans need to support it, because not only is it local, but also it is made by people who care about what they are doing. As William Jennings Bryan said, ‘Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.' We must get out there and make it happen!