Small Seattle distillery says tariffs have already put an end to its exporting, hiring plans

SEATTLE -- The Trump administration announced plans for another round of tariffs on Chinese goods , worth $200 billion, ramping up the trade war between the U.S. and China.

Recently, the European Union started enforcing tariffs on American imports like peanut butter, orange juice and bourbon.

For local businesses like OOLA Distillery on Capitol Hill, they are already impacted by the tariffs and have halted long-planned export production.

It’s the science behind the spirit that led Kirby Kallas-Lewis to open OOLA Distillery on Capitol Hill nine years ago.

“I always have loved math and science,” said Kallas-Lewis.

This place is a laboratory for this spirit scientist.

“We call them gin kits. A gin botanical mixture and each one of them will infuse 100 liters,” said Kallas-Lewis. “We do gin, vodka and whiskey."

The process of grain to glass is his passion.

“We make about 15,000 cases a year,” said Kallas-Lewis.

He had planned for years to expand OOLA’s products internationally.

“The last year, it’s been a real focus to start exporting,” said Kallas-Lewis.

Exporting to England, Germany, Belgium and Spain, Kirby says the projected profit from entering the European market would increase overall business by 30%, but now the cork has been put in the bottle for that plan.

“The tariffs have just absolutely pulled the rug out from under us. We completely shut down that program,” said Kallas-Lewis.

The distillery purchased a several hundred-thousand-dollar copper still to increase production for exporting.

“It’s a big purchase for a small business,” said Kallas-Lewis.

The cost of the new equipment, which helps speed production, and the lost potential profits is having an impact professionally. “There are some people we were going to hire that we won’t hire now. Our growth will impact compensation for the employees we have,."

The impact is also personal.

“It’s hard not to kind of feel like a pawn,” said Kallas-Lewis.

He says the tariff impact also hits other businesses like breweries, wineries, still makers on equipment, which could impact consumers.

“Certainly they’ll be pressure on prices (to increase), for sure,” said Kallas-Lewis.

The distillery business, he says, already has slim profit margins.

“It’s pennies per bottle, not even dollars per bottle,” said Kallas-Lewis.

Kirby says just like his bourbon in barrels that needs time, so does his business right now.

“It’s going to take some, hmm, confidence-building because I feel like this just came out of nowhere,” Kallas-Lewis said of the Trump trade war.

The focus now? Aging locally instead of globally.