Kirby Kallas-Lewis' main passion is for community-building. The things he's loved and created over the years – as an artist, a tribal art dealer, designer and now, craft distiller – have mainly served as means to that end. During his time as a Seattleite (tried-and-true: he's kicked around town for over twenty years!), Kirby's been a passionate student of everything from food, wine, art, cocktails and entertaining and their role in connecting people to one another.
When the bottom started falling out of the market for the tribal art, artifacts and furniture Kirby imported, he set out to reinvent himself. He and his wife KT Niehoff saw opportunity in the Northwest food scene about which they'd become so passionate. He saw spirits as the perfect place to "be somebody" (food wasn't his forte; wine was overcrowded) – KT's years of bar tending experience and the nascent New York-based cocktail revolution converged to create the perfect storm. Cocktails were beginning their ascent into the realm of art, and Kirby was perfectly poised to take advantage of that.
He began an intensive study of the art and science of distilling, attending numerous workshops, tastings and conferences and making a name for himself in the industry throughout Washington state. It all culminated in the opening of Oola Distillery in the Capitol Hill neighborhood – only the second to open in Seattle in this decade – where Kirby and his team now produce small batches of gin, vodka, flavored vodkas and bourbon whiskey. Unsurprisingly, like the owner himself, the distillery wears many hats: part dance studio (his wife KT Niehoff is a contemporary dance choreographer), part bar/restaurant, part event venue, part sales room and part micro-distillery. His "grain-to-glass" spirits run the gamut as well, from straight gin and vodka to botanical variations. He sees spirit-making as "a creative act," and takes special care to use only local resources.
You could say Kirby puts the "art" in artisan.