At the end of a pleasant, winding drive in rural Thurston County, you will find Sandstone Distillery, a four-generation family-owned enterprise that was the first legal craft distillery to open in the State Capitol area since the Prohibition. This surprising little gem is one of the highlights of the county’s agritourism loop, the Bountiful Byway, and the Bourdon family who own and operate the distillery produce internationally awarded spirits of all kinds. But how they do it is a lesson in ingenuity and sustainability.
With roots anchored deep in the Tenino community, the Bourdons have a penchant for the entrepreneurial and are no strangers to hard work, uncompromising quality and perpetual innovation. Their spirits are crafted utilizing a variety of vessels and equipment whose original purposes were far from the distilling industry. Two of their finishing stills, fondly named Hark & Harold, were soup kettles on a Navy vessel, and their 300-gallon cook and ferment vessels were originally shipping totes for syrups. The Distillery is filled with a variety of stills the Bourdons pressed into service and subsequently retired as their distillery business flourished.
“I tell people it’s a bit like Willy Wonka and MacGyver meet Steampunk,” says co-owner Jenni Bourdon “Nearly everything in the Distillery was repurposed from something else… including us,” she jokingly adds. Father and son John and Justin Bourdon have sourced, designed and overseen the retrofit of every piece, ensuring each meets their exacting standards, including their most recent addition: a giant oak-wrapped copper vessel they call Gabriel, a 3,000-gallon milk condensing machine built in Chicago in the 1920’s.
The Sandstone journey started over 15 years ago when John’s curiosity about distillation led he and Justin to do a bit of moonshining experimentation. It wasn’t long before the curiosity became a passion, and the Bourdons decided to sell their trucking company to focus on developing the spirits business.
Sustainability is important to the Bourdons. The distillery building, for example, was constructed of 75% recycled steel, and the tasting room walls lined with recycled barn wood. The Distillery’s grains are grown less than 30 miles away, and all their spent grains are utilized by local farmers for livestock feed, earning them a Green Award from Thurston County for their efforts.
Preservation of the local sandstone industry history continues to be priority for the Bourdons, and the Distillery itself was named in homage to Tenino’s sandstone quarry legacy. The tasting room and adjacent areas are filled with tools and photographs from the heyday of Tenino’s sandstone quarries, including some belonging to Andrew Wilson, owner of the Hercules Quarry and grandfather of Sandstone’s neighbor, Marianne Wright.
But it is the future of the Distillery that drives the passion of John and Justin, and their shared goal of bringing Gabriel back to life took on new momentum with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Gabe had been kind of a giant paperweight since we brought him home,” says John. “We were slowly restoring him as time and money allowed. Then the pandemic hit and there was this huge need for sanitizer. We could only produce 20 gallons a day with our equipment, so we decided to accelerate Gabe’s restoration.”
In collaboration with Truepoint Metalworks, they designed a 17’ multi-sectioned column that allowed Gabe to produce the 190+ proof alcohol needed for the sanitizer. “This is the column the community built,” John says. “Support poured in to help us get the column constructed.”
Sandstone’s sanitizer has helped businesses reopen and individuals to be protected. But they look forward to returning to their true calling: making world-class craft spirits for everyone to enjoy.