New distillery and restaurant projects from John Howie and Erik Liedholm

New distillery and restaurant projects from John Howie and Erik Liedholm

We are in a golden age of cocktails and spirits. From the liquor in the glass, to the distilleries that produce them, and to the bartenders that make them; this is a high time for cocktails. Add on the layer of skill by Seattle area bartenders and the quality of product, and we’re one of the best cities to get a cocktail in the country. Heck, Esquire thinks we have some of the best bars in the country. Erik Liedholm and John Howie want to tap into this. As the guys behind such places as Seastar, Sport, and John Howie Steak are ready to introduce us to their gin and vodka.

I went to a trade tasting at Seastar in South Lake Union last month, where Chef John Howie and the sommelier for his restaurants, Erik Liedholm, introduced us to their new distillery and spirits project, Wildwood Spirits Co. The story of Wildwood and Erik Liedholm is an interesting one. Liedholm has long been the wine and beverage linchpin to the John Howie restaurant family. Armed with a wicked sense of humor, he’s been on the forefront of Seattle’s evolution into wine geekdom. In fact, he’s trained a great deal of the area’s wine professionals as they climb the ranks of the Court of Master Sommeliers. I remember my first time meeting Erik Liedholm; it was at a networking event a few years ago for budding wine professionals and he introduced himself with a line from Steve Martin’s The Jerk. Yup, Liedholm is not your typical stuffy wine snob.

Which is why the Wildwood Spirits venture is exciting. Because of the passion and breadth of knowledge that Liedholm has with wine, he is applying it to spirits. Added bonus that he wanted to create a gin that goes perfectly in a Negroni. With this week being Negroni Week, it makes for an exciting opportunity to partake in a Negroni with Wildwood Spirits’ Kur gin. The gin is juniper-driven, with strong components of coriander and citrus amongst its botanicals. The vodka is called Stark Vatten, Swedish for Strong Water. Both Kur and Stark Vatten have garnered awards in the distilling and spirits world.

How Wildwood Spirits got its start is a fun one. Howie and Liedholm wanted to start a distillery to craft spirits where they understood the process from the farm through the distillation process, all while understanding it from their chef and sommelier roles. Liedholm, a Michigan native and alumnus of Michigan State University wanted to work with Kris Burglund, a professor at MSU and Lulea University in Sweden who is also an expert in craft distilling. Liedholm wove his Swedish heritage, Spartan roots, and Michigan pride to work with Burglund. In their work, they landed on a specific type of Washington wheat to use for their spirits. And naming it Wildwood? That was the name of the street that Liedholm grew up on in East Lansing, MI. The logo for Wildwood Spirits Co.? An etching of his old house.

The Wildwood Spirits distillery is going through final development with a goal of opening later this year. Which is around the same time of year that Howie and Liedholm will be opening their latest restaurant, Beardslee Public House. Both will be located in Bothell at The Village at Beardslee Crossing. Also later this year is when Liedholm will find out the results of his Master Distiller exam. If he passes, he’ll be Washington’s only Master Distiller. We’ll be crossing our fingers that Erik Liedholm passes while we wait for the new distillery and restaurant coming from him and John Howie.

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