Not only is women-owned distillery Fast Penny Spirits one of the friendliest spots in town, but the powerhouse owners are quickly gaining kudos for their smooth, delightful creations, too: they were recently awarded a gold medal from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) for their two Italian-style amari, Amaricano and Amaricano Bianca.
Miraculously, Jamie Hunt and Holly Robinson managed to launch their distillery during a global pandemic — after three years of development. They joined forces in an attempt to raise up other women, support their local community and make waves in the beverage industry all at once. The duo commits 3% of bottle revenue to support "women in business, our communities and industry."
Their products are thoughtfully blended with a mix of high-quality, wild-crafted, organic botanicals. To follow in Italian amaro-making tradition (which Hunt witnessed firsthand throughout her travels), they've installed two brand-new white oak foeders and even worked with a chemical engineer to elevate their process even further. The day we stopped in, an aromatic three-pound haul of fresh truffles had just arrived.
The finished products, described as "rich, herbaceous and beautifully complex," are ideal to sip on their own or when masterfully added to cocktails. During our visit, curious locals popped by to investigate the Interbay venue, tucked away just a stone’s throw from a working shipyard, and just around the corner from the Ballard Bridge.
On weekends, guests are drawn to the intimate tasting deck, where they can sit at barrel tables - made by a local couple - while sipping house and signature cocktails, and perhaps savoring snacks brought in by other budding local entrepreneurs.
Hunt, who boasts Italian family roots and a passion for great food, left her longtime career in the digital realm with the aim of having a positive impact in the world. The result? Creating a company that gives back and makes a top-quality amaro produced with regional, sustainable botanicals. Partnering with Robinson, a talented distillery & restaurant industry veteran and one of the masterminds behind the successful Big Gin brand, felt like an obvious fit.
The duo met up often to brainstorm on the idea before Hunt finally said, “Let’s do this.” “OK," Robinson replied. "It’s going to be hard, but let’s do this!”
Robinson loves that she gets to focus on “my love of the farm and good food,” she says. “Plus getting the back bar to fit with food we’re putting in our bodies. I’m very proud to take this company into the future.”
She relishes engaging the community during pop-ups events, too, which not only showcases other small business owners, but also diversifies who each group gets exposed to. Job highlights for Robinson include “constant content and connection and collaboration, and constantly keeping things rolling. I love working with different folks.”
On the other hand, Hunt appreciates the variety this job has brought - from learning about production and shipping, to budgeting and distributors.
“It’s constantly changing,” she says. And, perhaps most importantly, both feel very strongly about their company's give-back model. They say that, at the end of 2020, they had given back 5% of their sales, as well as giving in-kind donations to auctions and other charity events. The pair is quick to say they couldn't have launched a brand-new company during the past rollercoaster year on their own.
“We’ve had a lot of support from the community, period,” Hunt marvels.
Alex from Big Gin pops in frequently from next door to lend a hand, and Colin from Holy Mountain Brewing came in to assist in setting up the foeders. The pair recalls him insisting they rely on his help instead of paying the $5,000 installation fee.
“None of us are getting anywhere in this business by ourselves,” he said.
The women are also passionate about creating as sustainable a company as possible, for example, when it comes to everything from where they source ingredients, getting their bottles from Mexico (the closest supplier they could find, in order to reduce the carbon footprint), recycling those bottles, even using an electric forklift versus one that uses propane.
“There’s more we can do," Robinson said. "It’s just hard as a small start-up.” But they remain committed to continually doing research and evolving.
Find Fast Penny's alluring amaro at regional retailers, bars and eateries, and be sure to check out upcoming pop-up events at the distillery's Interbay HQ: May 8 (11 am - 2 pm) with Maria Louisa Empanadas and Chocolate Spiel, May 15 (11 am - 2 pm) with Siobhan's Cakes, May 21 (4 pm - 8 pm) with Blue Bird Ice Cream, May 22 (11 am - 2 pm) with Antler Baking Co. and May 28 (4 pm - 8 pm, or until sold out) with Gorilla Pizza King and so on. We'll cheers to that!