It was a beautiful, brisk fall day and as I drove through Port Gamble, with its avenue of maple trees, I made a note to myself (which I had better write down today) to go back in a week when the trees will be "in full color." As they are already turning, I know I only have a few days to capture it.
As usual the ferry ride over from Kingston to Edmonds was lovely; one of the things I will miss about living up here. But not enough to make me stay! And Waze took me the back way, through residential areas, avoiding the freeway, down to Ballard, a throwback Scandinavian area that unfortunately is losing its identity as it becomes more gentrified.
But I wasn't there to site see, but to visit two tiny (in physical aspect, not in character) distilleries for a couple of articles for American Distilling Institure.
The first one, Old Ballard Liquor Company, is located right down in the industrial area near on the docks. It's a tiny 750 square foot, industrial-looking place that produces a variety of authentic Scandinavian-style aquavit (AH-kwa-veet or AH-ka-veet). The owner, Lexi (just Lexi, like Adele or Beyonce) is a livewire! Full of information and spirit - the personal kind, not the kind she makes! I learned a huge amount from here about the state of the Washington State distilleries and the battles they have to fight with an obstinate, un-moving, OWM-run bureaucracy. And how difficult it is to survive and actually make a go of it. While I was there, she got a text from one of the other local distillers saying another distillery was closing its doors and one, Seattle Distillery is for sale! It's very sad when government is so rigid and prevents new endeavors from succeeding.
Lexi is passionate about her products, which I tasted and the flavors are surprising! Nothing like any aquavit I have tasted before, but then I think I have only had it a couple of times! Apparently, Sweden, Norway and Denmark all have their signature flavors and Lexi manages to cover them all. I think my favorite was the Älskar, "citron flavored aquavit, nuanced with notes of caraway, coriander, grains of paradise and other spices." And I also tried her Cherry Bounce, which has a long history in this country. It's made with sour cherries to create a delicious liqueur and reminded me on the blackberry brandy I made last year.
For locals, you can get there by boat, with free moorage at 14th Ave NW boat launch.
Second stop was at Captive Spirits Distilling, where they produce Big Gin. They are tucked away in a residential area and like most of Seattle, apparently, parking is at a premium! I drove around the block a couple of times before realizing I could park in the no parking zone in front of the building. As Ben and Holly are not open to the public, except by appointment, they don't have to deal with visitor parking. But they are moving to a bigger facility soon down on the Ballard docks. The cement floors were just poured and they are, justifiably excited!
I was greeted by Holly and Rosie, the very sweet distillery dog! Then spent a fascinating 90 minutes with Ben, a third generation distiller (his dad and grandfather made moonshine), hearing about how they got started, his partners, their philosophy of producing just one product - GIN! And about their recent partnership with Hood River Distllers, which will help take Captive to the next level through their extensive distribution channels.
Leaving Captive, Waze once again routed me through the residential area, but even there, the traffic was horrendous and living up to its reputation of the 2nd worst in the country! And I dreamed of that gin and tonic waiting for me at home!
Old Ballard Liquor Company
4421 Shilshole Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107
Captive Spirits Distilling
1518 NW 52nd St
Seattle, WA 98107
It's amazing how fast the time is swishing by!
Last week I took the plunge and bought my ticket to South Africa. I have been watching airfares on google flights and they had dropped so I grabbed it. First I fly to Burbank for a few days with Ryan, then on November 20, fly out of LAX to Johannesburg via Heathrow, on Virgin Atlantic. It's a 30 hour trek and then a short hop to either Durban on Pietermaritzburg, depending on where Mick can pick me up.
And that is just the start of the next big adventure. The planning is coming together, bit by bit and with the distillery visits to include, it is going to be a busy time. Roughly, very roughly! these are the plans, subject to major change, of course.
On arrival, it will be recover from jet lag for a few days, rent a tiny car, then I want to go to a couple of distilleries in Zululand that make rum! Pure, Natal sugar cane into something delectable. Zoze arrives from New Zealand at the end of the month and we are hoping to go to Umzumbe, a beach with hundreds of memories for both of us. We will stay at Jenny B's (Zoze's school friend) beach house for a few days. I am hoping to plan some time with Rosemary, my dearest school friend and mother of my god daughter at the cottage at Clansthal beach.
Then comes the trip down to the Cape, where we will stay part of the time with Biff and Julie at their new home in Villiersdorp, and some of the time at a self-catering cottage right near them. From here, I want to visit as many distilleries as I can, and as we will be almost in the wine country, there are numerous ones, with brandy being at the forefront. Then, at some point after January 6, I want to take the Light Blue Train from Cape Town to Jo'burg, where I am going to do a basic distilling course and visit more distilleries!
Then it's back to Maritzburg, more distilleries, more visiting and then I am scheduled to leave at the end of February, when I fly back to Los Angeles before heading to Belize, which is a completely different adventure!
If you are wondering about all the distillery action, I am working with the American Distilling Institute, doing some writing for them. And while in South Africa, getting assistance and introductions to the South African craft distillery scene through Hendre Barnard of Distillique, who heads up the new South African Craft Distilling Institute. This is a steep learning curve for me, but a lot of fun! I've really not been much of a "hard liquor" drinker, except for gin! But I am discovering a whole new world out there. Once you get away from the mass produced products, the craft spirits open up brand new tastes, flavors and aromas and I'm finding that spirits I never liked or didn't even try, are amazing! And each distillery has it's own unique flavor. So you can just imagine how much fun it is!
And of course, the visual delights in the facilities - huge, shiny copper stills, enormous stainless vats, rows and rows of aging barrels, bottles filled with all colors of liquids! Every distillery seems to try to outdo the others with creative names for their spirits and labels, some of which are just gorgeous.
So there it is, my rough plan.
In the meantime, I have three articles to write; find a perfect home for Hinckley and Buddy; take care of this house in some way; sell my car; sell or donate everything in the house and reduce my belongings down to one suitcase.
Wish me luck!
Falling into Place
My plans are solidifying - a bit - as I set my sights on a mid-November departure. It looks like (at least at the moment) that I will initially go to Mick in KZN (KwaZulu Natal) where I will meet up with Zoze who flies in from New Zealand towards the end of the month. Then we will head down to the Cape mid-December and stay with Biff and at a self-catering cottage while Julie's Susan is with them over Christmas. We are hoping Mick will be able to come down then as well.
While in the Cape, I will be visiting a lot of distilleries with the blessing of the South African Craft Distilling Institute who is busy opening doors for me! The articles will be mainly for ADI but I have also pitched South African Country Life , which I used to write for, but haven't had a response yet.
SACDI has offered to put me up and introduce me at other distilleries up around Johannesburg and Pretoria, and I will also be doing one of the their distilling classes, which is very exciting. What I would like to be able to do is to take the Light Blue Train from Cape Town to Jo'burg and then back from there to Maritzburg. I have wanted to do a train trip like that for ages, and with the exchange rate in my favor at the moment, it seems like a great opportunity.
Once back in KZN, we want to do a couple of game reserves in Zululand where there is a also a new rum distillery! And of course, I will be spending time with my oldest best friend Rosemary and my god daughter Catherine at "the cottage" at Clansthal.
Then at some stage, probably February or March, I will fly back to LAX, see the boys then head south to Belize for the duration, however long that is.
In the meantime, I have three articles to do for American Distilling Magazine. I need another interview with Keith at Bainbridge Organic Distillery which I hope to do tomorrow and then will go over to Ballard, across the Sound for two more, hopefully next week.
This distillery biz is all a huge learning curve for me but I am thoroughly enjoying it and loving the people who are involved in this industry. They all seem so passionate about what they do, which is so very refreshing!
I realized that I have not posted anything about my trip to Coeur d'Alene with Ryan to see Cody and the little boys, so that is the next one; a bit out of order but oh well...
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So you see, there was method to my madness with all the distillery tastings I have been doing!
It's been a bit hectic getting the site ready and the Zozi booking engine integrated, but we are actually thrilled it has come together so fast. We are hoping that the tour will be on the Zozi Marketplace today and soon on Viator, which is part of TripAdvisor.
Of course, there is still a lot to do - paperwork etc. The first tour is scheduled for June 4, the first weekend after Memorial Day, so I will be hustling to get it all done!
Ryan is coming up this weekend and we will "run the route," right from the Bremerton ferry, so he will have the full picture. He will meet the distillery people and see the sights (and weather is predicted to be good!). We will also meet up with our, we hope, gourmet picnic lunch provider.
Then on a weekend before our planned launch and when our van is ready, I am planning to grab some friends and do a "test tour."
Want to come?
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