Craft distiller adds invention, instruction and advocacy to new distillery

When Rusty Figgins starts something, he goes all in. The owner of XO Alambic Distillery has a post-graduate diploma in distilling, teaches craft distilling courses through an institute he helped develop, mentors start-up distilleries and sells a still he designed to distillers across the country.

Figgins, a native of Walla Walla, WA, grew up in a family of farmers and winemakers. After earning an honors degree in Viticulture and Oenology at Australia’s Charles Sturt University, he became a winemaker for many years in the Walla Walla Valley before switching gears to spirits.

“Spirits became a really big interest to me — especially cognac — as a vertical business [and] vertical integration of turning grapes into wine and wine into brandy,” he says. The three functions of one property to make a value-added product appealed to him, says Figgins, who studied process engineering in college. He traveled abroad again to complete a graduate diploma in distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London.

Equipped with these new skills, he co-founded the Ellensburg Distillery in 2008, the second distillery to open post-prohibition in the state of Washington. Figgins was instrumental in advocating for the initial legislation that allowed distilleries to operate in the state 10 years ago. After four years with Ellensburg Distillery, he then moved on to co-found Batch 206 Distillery.

In December, Figgins will bring a new class of students to XO Alambic to continue his craft distilling course onsite through the Spirits Institute of Puget Sound (SIPS). The institute, which he co-founded in 2010, has graduated 320 students. The distillery floor will be transformed into a classroom where students will learn everything from the science of distilling to licensing and regulations, earning them a certificate in craft distilling.

“The workshop isn’t going to make you a master distiller, but it’s perfectly tailored to suit the aspiring craft distiller that wants to get licensed at the federal level. We spend a whole day on licensing,” he says.

The five-day course will end with the production of a batch of spirits made onsite in the Figgins Reciprocator. Figgins put his engineering background to use designing the unique still. XO Alambic houses the prototype and seven others are in use across the United States.

– Article by Catie Joyce-Bulay, Wine & Craft Beverage News

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