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Spirit of the San Juans

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Written by Lauren Hunsberger

Photography by Taryn Emerick

Located in the SoDo food and wine district, amongst overpasses and non-descript gray warehouses, sits the country’s first seltzery.

The San Juan Seltzery is a production hub, tasting room and bar that features between 12 and 15 Pacific Northwest-themed seltzers on tap, plus seltzer-infused cocktails and a food menu crafted by local culinary icon Ethan Stowell.

The operation is the brainchild of Katy Enger, who came up with the idea for a lighter, cleaner spiked seltzer water while vacationing with a group of girlfriends in the San Juan islands at her family property.

“Crazy things happen on girls’ weekends, right?” Katy says with a laugh. “Most of my girlfriends aren’t drinking beer and wine anymore because of the sugar and the carbs. So we were out on the deck drinking huckleberry vodka and sodas—and the idea just hit.”

It was a good idea; however, Enger had no experience in the alcohol industry. “I was a second grade Spanish immersion teacher for 12 years and the raised my four kids,” she says. When she brought the idea home to her husband, Kyle, the two did some research and quickly understood that the seltzer business is currently the fastest growing sector in the alcohol industry.

“That’s when I knew we were over our skis a little bit,” she says. So they recruited family friend and 30-year beverage industry veteran Ron Lloyd, who is now the CEO. They also hired a brew master, Frank Commandy from California, and Kyle quit his day job as a bank and finance consultant to jump on board full time.

Bellevue Club Members and Founders: Krista Hughes, Katy Enger, Sally Wright and Sarah Moore.

They then got to work perfecting a product representative of the Pacific Northwest coast and Katy’s original vision for a third option to beer and wine. “The testing process was really interesting and fun,” she says. “We kept tweaking and trying all the flavors. Frank has extensive experience brewing kombucha, beer and wine, so he knew exactly what to do and just kept sending different samples.”But the taste wasn’t the only challenge in creating the new product.

“We went to great lengths to make the cleanest product on the market,” Lloyd says. “We invested heavily in a specific distilling process and equipment. We had to develop formulations that were really unique and quite different. “The greatest challenge with seltzers is getting rid of any medicinal finish. That was the top priority for us, the cleanest experience for customers with zero gluten, zero sulfites, zero sugar,” he says.

 

Above: Bellevue Club Members and Founders: Krista Hughes,
Katy Enger, Sally Wright and Sarah Moore.

 

With a solid core team and quality, clean recipe, Katy and the team sought out investors to help get the dream going, and they all agree they found a unique group of supporters.

“It’s fun and unique that the company has a female founder, but most of the investors are also female,” Katy says. “It really resonates with them because there’s the health component. They live a certain lifestyle and it’s a drink that supports that; I think that’s a large part of what got them on board.”

Founding investors Krista Hughes, Sarah Moore and Sally wright all tout the benefits of picking up a lighter beverage when choosing to imbibe.

“To be honest, I’m allergic to wine,” Hughes says. “The younger crowds like this drink too, but I noticed the older you get, the worse headaches you get. There’s something to the idea that you get a little more inflamed as you get older. So cleaner alcohol really spoke to me, plus I really like the taste.”

There are roughly 10 other female founding investors, and together San Juan Seltzer purchased what used to be the Schooner Brewery. That’s where they set up for shop for the groundbreaking seltzery. The company also distributes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Hawaii.

The team operates much like a large group of family and friends (many of their children even work the production line), and that’s exactly how they want the place to feel with its large deck area out front, complete with firepit and white shiplap benches.

“I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned through all this is just go for it. How many times do you come up with an idea and think, That’s crazy. It’s not; go for it,” Katy says.

For more information, please visit sanjuanseltzer.com.

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