From left, Wild Roots flavored vodka, La Gritona Tequila Reposado, Woodinville Bourbon, Brockman’s Gin and Cooper’s Craft Bourbon sit on a cask on Oct. 13, 2022, at the Evergreen QFC liquor section in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
When Washington state privatized liquor stores in 2011, many supermarkets simply cleared out a few aisles, stacked some bottles on the shelves and called it a day.
QFC Claremont took a different path.
The QFC store on Evergreen Way in Everett created its own liquor store, becoming one of a few QFCs in the state to initially do so. Store managers brought in hard-to-find spirits and mixers, one-off specialty whiskeys and rums, and employed experts like Luin Loeffelbein to help guide customers.
The QFC wine steward sees herself as a guide for helping customers find the best products to make delicious, creative cocktails — or to simply have a great glass of whiskey at home. Loeffelbein loves when a customer discovers new mixers to take their drink-making game up a notch, or that one-off bourbon that takes their experience to the next level.
“It hurts when I see people with a great bottle of liquor and then they pick up the worst margarita mix,” Loeffelbein said. “My goal is to steer them toward something new and better.”
Loeffelbein noticed a big change when the pandemic hit two years ago. With bars closed, she became the local bartender, answering questions about how to make customers’ favorite mixed drinks or where to find their go-to spirits.
“During COVID, everyone wanted a little bit of everything, and they had questions,” Loeffelbein said. “They were like, ‘I’ve always ordered this drink, but I don’t know what’s in it.’ They wanted to know how to make it. We became the neighborhood bar in a way.”
Loeffelbein became somewhat of a mixed drink tour guide, helping customers not only with recipes but helping them pick out the best ingredients, spirits and mixers.
“It was a lot of chatting with customers and talking to them about what they drink and then saying, ‘Well, if you’re not sure, you should give this a try,’” she said. “I love being able to help them take their favorite drink and make it a new experience.”
Just in time for the holidays, Loeffelbein has picked out some of her favorite spirits that would be great holiday gifts for drinkers.
La Gritona Reposado
Don’t let the plain bottle fool you: La Gritona Reposado is a beautiful tequila that is “phenomenal in cocktails,” Loeffelbein said. La Gritona has a sweet grassiness and is amazing in margaritas or neat. Loeffelbein said to pick up a bottle for that someone who usually drinks Patrón and blow their mind.
Coopers’ Craft Bourbon
This 100-proof bourbon whiskey is from Brown-Forman Cooperage — the same as Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve — but at a fraction of the price. Loeffelbein loves that they put a focus on the barrel, giving Coopers’ Craft a super smooth and robust flavor of uncharred wood. She enjoys it most in cocktails like a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Paper Plane.
Wild Roots Vodka
QFC has a wide selection of Wild Roots flavor-infused vodkas. Made with no artificial sweeteners, flavors or colors, the Portland craft distillery’s vodkas come in flavors like raspberry, pear and, perfect for the holidays, cranberry. Loeffelbein suggests using it with ginger beer or the pear vodka in a sweet martini. “If you don’t like flavored vodka, give this a try. It’ll change your mind,” she said.
This Chicago favorite isn’t for everyone, but QFC Claremont is one of the only places that sells the bitter liqueur. Loeffelbein describes the flavor of Jeppson’s Malört as grapefruit peel, dirty penny and dead battery. “You can’t get the flavor out of your mouth for 12 hours,” she said, laughing. Get Jeppson’s Malört for your white elephant gift exchange — and Jeppson’s new line of bourbon for yourself.
This English dry gin is infused with 10 botanicals and boasts big fruit flavors. “It tastes like a blackberry patch,” said Loeffelbein, who loves it with Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic Water. She also uses it in a drink that is adjacent to a French 75, the famous gin and champagne drink. She calls her version an Eiffel 65 and uses Brockmans Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and Luc Belair Blue Champagne. Get Brockmans Gin for your friend who enjoys Tanqueray.
Woodinville Whiskey, 21.1 Miles
This single-barrel whiskey can only be purchased at QFC Claremont — Loeffelbein even picked the barrel it rested in. After blind taste-testing a number of bottles, she settled on the whiskey that eventually became 21.1 Miles. Loeffelbein loved the flavors of a summer vegetable garden, the notes of dill and anise, that she found in this whiskey. Get it for that person on your list who loves whiskey and exclusives.
And the name? That’s how many miles Woodinville Whiskey’s distillery is from QFC Claremont.