Checking Out Whidbey Island's Distilleries
Always fun to get out of town and take a ferry ride. Yesterday, the plan was to head over to Whidbey Island, just a short ferry ride away where there is a distillery there that I wanted to visit. Whidbey is far more open and although it feels more rural in some aspects, in others, it feels more like the real world!
The morning started out gray and gloomy so it was good to get moving and out of the house to get the 10:15 ferry and even had time to stop for a cup of coffee on the the way. We were expecting a lot of traffic as it is the Lavender Festival in Sequim which always clogs the roads. But we breezed to the ferry and had a smooth ride over. Once off the ferry, we headed south towards Clinton, contending with masses of runners who were doing a Ragnar Relay. Orange cones lined the roads, providing safe space for them, plus police cars at every intersection. We had no idea it was such a huge deal, and a lot of the little hamlets we drove through had masses of cars and throngs of people cheering their team mates on. It was all very well organized and really didn’t disrupt our travel at all, except for our destination!
The distillery, Cadee Distillery, I was headed for is right in Port Clinton, but when we got there, it was closed! “Sorry, closed due to the Ragnar Relay!” Very annoying at the time but it actually turned out ok!
We went exploring the island instead and discovered little communities and canals that we had no idea were there! Some were very exclusive with huge houses; others were older and weathered but to me, much more appealing. We even found one on an inlet with l-o-n-g walkways (probably 50 yards or so) from the houses down to the dock and boat houses. There are so many nooks and crannies and little harbors, it would take days to discover them all.
On the ferry ride over, I had picked up the little throwaway booklet on Whidbey and discovered there is another distillery, which we proceeded to seek out. Tucked off the main road on 9 acres, Whidbey Island Distillery (WID) is its own little world where Bev and Steve Heising create award-winning spirits. The compound includes The Bunker which houses the distillery and tasting room, various outbuilding, homes and an orchard.
Driving up the driveway, the Bunker is the first thing you see, clinging low to the hillside. From the parking area, stairs lead down to the tasting room and the aromas wafting out are very enticing. We walked into the tasting room, lively with millennials sipping Bunker Rye Whiskey and different fruit liqueurs. The young lady pouring the tastings led us through the lineup, with the rye whiskey first. Once again, my old belief about not being a whiskey fan was turned upside down. This rye whiskey went down soooo smoothly with a wonderful flavor, I was immediately won over.
Next came tastings of the four berry liqueurs; blackberry, loganberry, raspberry and boysenberry. The first three liqueurs are all award winners, with boysenberry the new addition. The Blackberry recently won the Beverage Testing Institute’s Platinum Medal and in 2015 the Raspberry won 1st place in Sip Magazine’s Best of the Northwest Berry Liqueur category. About half a pound of fruit is used to produce each bottle and the flavors and colors are intense. I can just imagine them being poured over ice cream or cheese cake. Susan bought a bottle of the raspberry liqueur which was also my favorite. The distillery web site has recipes so I will be doing a little testing of my own.
Mike, the manager gave us a quick tour of the distillery, which is very unusual. All the alcohol is produced on site, which I discovered isn’t always the case in some other distilleries, where neutral grain spirits (NGS) are sourced from outside and then products created from that. The WID alcohol for the liqueurs is distilled from local, island wine and the rye is Washington-grown. What makes Whidbey Island Distillery’s still different, besides it being housed in a very small room, is that it is a fully automated continuous still, designed specifically for the craft industry by Steve who is a retired aerospace engineer and physicist. Completely web-based, it can be controlled from anywhere via the internet on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android device. Gotta love technology. You can read all the particulars about the Heising 330 here.
On leaving the distillery and with some time to spare, we drove through Langley where the Ragnar Relay was finishing, so the town was jammed! It is very quaint and I look forward to going back when it isn’t quite so busy. Freeland was our next choice for lunch which we enjoyed at Charmers Bistro, outside on the patio. A cute little place we thought, seeing it from the road, looked like it was a dive! But in fact had really good food and great service.
The roads were clear on the way home, all the runners safely in. Our return ferry was full, the sun had finally burned through the heavy marine layer and we got home in perfect time for a G&T on the deck