Tacoma distillery infuses the past with the present By Jillian Chandler
Situated on Puyallup Avenue in Tacoma, it can be easy to pass by Old Soldier Distillery without noticing it. Though unassuming from the outside (as its door is situated in front of Grit City Gym, with its easy-to-miss sign, especially during the summertime when it is obscured by the trees on the sidewalk), once inside, customers will descend a set of stairs into the walkout bottom-floor tasting room of Old Soldier Distilling. The rustic, eclectic space is filled with items that interest owners Rodney Kaeding and Andrew Fairchok, from old furniture, vintage tools and a railroad safe to a framed commission from Andrew’s great great grandfather.
“It’s comfortable, unpretentious and homey to us,” says Andrew. “People come down, take a tour and hang out like old friends—and we like it that way. Our tours, which are booked on Groupon, are about one-and-a-half hours and include a walkthrough of the distillery and the distillation process from ‘grain to bottle,’ some historical tidbits, humor and interesting facts.” And as Andrew says, “Most of them are true!” After the tour, guests sit down for a tasting of their products and a visit. It’s fun, educational and unhurried.
Old Soldier Distillery is solely owned and operated by Rodney and Andrew, both disabled veterans; Rodney, retired Air Force, and Andrew, retired Army. The friends, and business partners, decided to pursue this venture together using their pensions. Since day one, they have only operated on a cash basis, purchasing everything as they had funds available, keeping the business debt free.
“My great great grandfather was a quartermaster sergeant in the Civil War, and part of his duties involved rationing whiskey to the troops,” says Andrew. “Sometimes they had to make it, and we replicate that product here. We may use modern mechanical aids because we are both a little broken from our time in the military, but in essence, we stay true to the methods and his techniques.”
Originally the pair had intended to explore alcohol as a fuel for scooters, and they started by converting a lawnmower to run on alcohol, which Rodney uses to this day. Andrew had done some “research” while in the military on deployments, and then there is, of course, the family history aspect.
“We are inquisitive and like to learn how things work, so this was just something we found fascinating,” says Rodney. “It was early in the craft distillery rebirth, and as we looked more and more into the history, art and technique of craft distilling, it eventually led us to file for a permit.”
At Old Soldier Distillery, they do things a bit differently than other distillers in order to provide a fermentation process that is gentler and provides a variety of subtle benefits to their product. “Many people expect a young distillery to have sharp notes in their product due to its age but are pleasantly surprised by Old Soldier due to this attention to fermentation,” affirms Andrew.
It is important to Rodney and Andrew to give back to their community, and one important organization they show their support to is JBLM Fisher House. “We collect all the tips and donations from patrons in a big glass jar and use the proceeds to buy stuff young families need when they are staying at the house,” says Rodney. They have collected more than $1,700 and are currently buying items like diapers, baby powder and shampoo to deliver to JBLM Fisher house. “We can’t wait to bring them all the things we have acquired.”
JBLM Fisher House provides a safe comfortable place for soldiers’ families to stay while their soldier recuperates from major medical issues from service. “The costs to the family are nominal and allows a young servicemember’s family to be near them even if they are at a med center halfway across the country. It is a noble thing done for soldiers, and we want to support it,” states Andrew.
“As we grow our support will as well.”
Andrew and Rodney invite you to stop in the tasting room 4 to 8pm Friday and noon to 8pm Saturday. For those interested in a private tour, you can give them a call to set one up. You can also find their products at McMenamins Elks Temple, Pacific Grill and The Forum, as well as many other quality local restaurants and social gathering points in and around Tacoma. Most recently, their Bourbon and Bourbon Santos—a unique raisin-aged Bourbon that is only produced by Old Soldier Distillery, as they invented it!—have been stocked in all 10 Total Wine and More stores in Washington.
Old Soldier Distillery 309 B1 Puyallup Avenue Tacoma, Washington 98421 253.223.4306 OldSoldierDistillery.com