Mini Day Trip to Ballard

Old Ballard front
Old Ballard front

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.

Traditional Aquavit

Old Ballard Distilling
Old Ballard Distilling

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.

Big Gin


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

Trip to Whidbey Island Distillery

2016-07-16 15.28.41Road Trip!

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.

Bunker Rye Whiskey


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 categoryAbout 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 pure alcohol is 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

The Whidbey Island Distillery 3466 Craw Road Langley, WA 98260 360-321-4715