“Opportunity and Timing” helps bring Sandstone Distillery Tasting Room to downtown Tenino
By Carrina Stanton / For Nisqually Valley News
John and Jenni Bourdon hadn’t really planned on opening a second tasting room besides the one at their Tenino-area sandstone distillery.
They certainly hadn’t planned to do so in the final days of a pandemic or the onset of a possible economic downturn.
But to have the chance to be on the bustling thoroughfare of Sussex Avenue, they knew they had to take a leap of faith.
“It was an opportunity,” said John Bourdon. “Where can you find a place like this? They really don’t exist.
Jenni Bourdon added: “I feel like it was a convergence of opportunity and timing.”
The Bourdons opened Tenino’s Sandstone Distillery in 2014, becoming the first licensed distillery in Thurston County since Prohibition. John Bourdon taught himself how to make distilled spirits about 20 years ago. His trucking business had grown to the point that he no longer needed to drive. He found himself with free time and decided to take up distilling as a hobby. Eventually, his hobby grew to the point where the couple decided to start offering their spirits to the public.
Today, John Bourdon works with their son, Justin, to make over a dozen varieties of spirits, including gin, vodka, whiskey (both aged and their award-winning unaged or “white” whiskey) and bourbon as well as a line of mixed pre-cocktails. They produce around 5,000 to 6,000 bottles per year.
“It was all built on failure,” John Bourdon said of how the family learned about the business. “With Justin and I, our two favorite phrases are ‘hey, do you know what we could do?’ and ‘hey, let’s not do that again.’
The Sandstone Distillery already had a tasting room at the distillery, located about 20 km from downtown Tenino. The new downtown tasting room, which opened in July, is located next door and in the same building as the storefront of the Bumblebees’ other business, Wild Heart sipping vinegar, which people can also purchase in the distillery’s tasting room.
The Bourdons said building owner Chris Hallett deserves much of the credit for creating the downtown tasting room. It was something Hallett had suggested to the Bourdons before and it helped support the work that needed to be done before the tasting room opened.
“A lot of the work on the building, he covered the cost,” John Bourdon said. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”
The Downtown Sandstone Distillery Tasting Room is open from noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The tasting room at the original location of the Sandstone Distillery on Wright Road remains open from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and Sunday by appointment.
The idea of a second tasting room appealed to the Bourdons because they were aware of the huge traffic that passes through Sussex Avenue every week. A storefront in this busy thoroughfare has the potential to attract people who want to sample their spirits but may not be interested in seeing the distillery itself.
The shop offers unique local gifts to visitors, who can taste the terroir of a product made from grains grown exclusively in western Washington. The Bumblebees also participate in Harvest Hosts, an overnight lodging app where people can stay at farms and other artisanal producers. Having a boutique downtown allows them to direct their Harvest Host visitors to the downtown corridor to sample not only their wares, but others as well.
“First and foremost is the location,” Jenni Bourdon said of what drew them to the storefront. “It gives us a street presence and exposure that we don’t have at our distillery because of its distance.”
For the Bourdons, their second location was also an opportunity to reconnect with the history of Tenino, which has fascinated them both for many years. The distillery location is on part of sandstone sculptor Andrew Wilson’s farm and they have some of his original tools.
The new tasting room is located in a building whose footprint dates back to MC Cole’s billiards and saloon from 1902. During their renovation, the Bourdons discovered original 1914 windows, some of which had been boarded up since the 1950s They also exposed some of the original Tenino sandstone walls, but left some of the old tower and plaster, particularly planks bearing the name of the Tacoma Mill Company, which John Bourdon said he believed closed in the 1970s. 1930. While renovating the original floors, the duo also found a hidden trapdoor in the floor that leads to a basement they believe could be one of five known speakeasy rooms in downtown Tenino . They plan to keep it intact.
“We are sort of keepers of history,” said John Bourdon. “We like to keep (it) and preserve it.”
The new Downtown Tasting Room also gives Sandstone Distillery the ability to offer more events. They have scheduled events every Saturday, including this week’s mini spa day. They also host paint and sip events as well as bunco and bingo nights. They are also investigating the possibility of offering performances by small musical numbers as well as offering music on the 1924 player piano in space.
“For us, it’s both a storefront and a community gathering place,” said Jenni Bourdon.
Location: 297 Sussex Ave, Tenino
Hours: Open from noon to 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday (hours may change in winter)
Learn more: sandstonedistillery.com or Sandstone Distillery on Facebook