A Hidden Distillery in Washington

Sidetrack Distilleries Portuguese copper still

Sidetrack Distilleries Portuguese copper still

The roadside sign is almost hidden by the verdant vegetation and I hang a u-turn, pulling in to the gently-marked parking area of the Lazy River Farm. Lavender bushes brush my legs, releasing its fragrance as I step up to the porch of the house. The door opens and a lanky young man, David O’Neal welcomes me to Sidetrack Distillery in Kent, Washington.

David O'Neal

David O'Neal

Sidetrack is off the beaten (distillery) track. It is a true farm-to-glass distillery, surrounded by 6 acres of ingredients for the products distilled on the farm, which backs up against the railway tracks on one side and the Green River on another.

Larry and Linda Person owned and ran the hobby farm for many years, including a period as a u-pick berry farm before inviting their nephew David, to join them in starting the distillery. They had dabbled with home liqueurs using the berries from the farm, and when Washington’s distilling laws eased up, they were able to turn the hobby into a successful farm-to-glass distillery.

With just the three of them working the business, it is astonishing what they accomplish. Starting out, they produced blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry liqueurs in the two beautifully-built Portuguese stills, using traditional methods in the distilling process. David said, “The stills have the old-world look that fit our theme.”

Since then, they have expanded the range of liqueurs, to include other fruit-forward liqueurs including cassis made with black currants which of course, are grown on the farm. They also produce eaux de vie, which are clear, unsweetened fruit brandies.

One of the really interesting products produced by Sidetrack, which particularly struck my fancy, is the Bête (pronounced bet), produced from sugar beets which are farm-grown. Originally grown and distilled to be the base spirit, (they use an apple base now) it turned out to have such a distinctive flavor, visitors suggested it be bottled as a stand-alone product. Because it is made from a vegetable, it must be called a Distilled Spirit Specialty, and not brandy. Its earthy notes are definitely distinct, even to my poorly developed palate! 

Sidetrack Distillery also produces Nocino, an Italian-inspired drink produced from green walnuts, a product that is growing in popularity in the spirit world. The walnuts are hand-picked from trees in the orchard and from a neighbor’s farm, then hand-cut before maceration.

Green Walnuts being prepared for nocino

Green Walnuts being prepared for nocino

Although not certified organic, Sidetrack prides itself on being a sustainable operation, using locally produced product, with most coming from their own farm, or from nearby farms. Washington’s laws state that at least 51% of the products must originate in Washington. For Sidetrack Distillery, it’s closer to 90%. Cooling water is used in irrigation, maceration byproducts are composted, and all the crops are drip-irrigated to conserve water.

If all of this sounds like a lot of hard work, it is, especially in the summer when Lazy River Farm operates as a delightful wedding venue on weekends. The large barn that can accommodate up to 120 people, provides separate bride and groom dressing rooms and beautifully manicured gardens for spectacular photos.

For many, just the thought of caring for six acres of orchard and gardens is daunting. Add to that the wedding venue, harvesting, crushing, pressing and fermenting, as well as all the paperwork required to run the distillery, and most would have run for the hills! For Larry, Linda and David, it’s all a labor of love and the passion they bring to Sidetrack Distillery is awe-inspiring.

Sidetrack Distillery

Tasting Room Hours:
Saturdays 11am-5pm
Weekday by appointment.

27010 78th Ave. South
Kent, WA 98032
(206) 963-5079