The Hardware Distillery Company



Heads, Hearts, Tails

Bee's Knees
Bee's Knees

That sounds like a casino, or at least a card game of some sort! But no, these are terms used in the distilling process which I am starting to get a handle on!

Yesterday, a beautiful spring day, Susan and I headed down to Hoodsport on the Hood Canal, over an hour from here. I have had the idea of doing a sort of round-up on the craft distillers that are popping up all over the place. When I was with Harbors, I did my first distillery article about the San Juan Islands Distillery which was so much fun and a real eye-opener for me. It almost spoiled my taste for gin, because it is SO good and I had been drinking plonk. Then last fall, when Ryan was visiting, we went to the Seattle Distilling Company on Vashon Island and the idea was born.

The Hardware Distillery in Hoodsport, WA
The Hardware Distillery in Hoodsport, WA

Hoodsport is a cute little town on the Hood Canal and perfect distance for a day trip. We arrived just after The Hardware Distillery Company opened. It is located in an old hardware store on the main street. The building is charming, completely renovated, with spring daffodils and tulips in the flower boxes on the porch. Inside, we were greeted by Jan Morris, who owns the distillery with her husband Chuck, who we met as we were leaving. He was unloading frozen plums from a local supplier, no doubt to create a new batch of Bee's Knees Plumb.

Although it was before noon, we did a fair bit of tasting and I, of course, loved both gins they create. I especially liked the one called R, which has a slightly smoky taste, imparted by the barley that is smoked in the oyster smoker at the Hamma Hamma Oyster Company.  R Gin is named for the old wives' tale about shell fish being better in the months with an R!

The Hardware Distilling Company also makes an absolutely delicious Apple Brandy and a whiskey which of course, I tried, even though whiskey isn't my favorite. But this one could change my mind about that. Jan and Chuck have a Scottish adviser, so although it can't be called Scotch, it is smooth and creamy in the Scotch tradition. The smell reminds me of Dad! Scotch was his drink of choice.

I love the labeling on all the products and come to find out that Jan is an artist and is using her watercolors for her labels. She teaches watercolor painting in the area, although I have no idea how she fits it in with all her involvement with the the distillery.

Jan gave us a tour of the distilling area, with details about how the process works. It really is fascinating and the Hoga stills are so beautiful, all graceful curves and pounded copper! We were able to smell some of the tails (the tail end of the distilling process) which sometimes retain some of the aromas of the ingredients, like the cardamom Jan was using in one of their Aquavits.

By this time, the tasting room was starting to get busy, with several tasters lined up at the bar. I was happy we had arrived early and were able to have a tour to understand more about the distilling process, all part of the learning curve leading to writing the article I have in mind. With a few "souvenirs" to savor later, we wandered along the main street, checking out the little stores popping up and enjoying a great cup of coffee at the Hoodsport Coffee Company before heading home.

The Hardware Distillery Company 24210 North Highway 101 PO Box 129 Hoodsport, Washington 98548 206-300-0877

Hoodsport Coffee Company 24240 US-101, Hoodsport, WA 98548 360-877-6732


Seattle Distilling Company

Seattle Distilling Company gin  

I love gin! Everyone who knows me, knows it is my booze of choice. A couple of years ago, I wrote about San Juan Island Distillery on Orcas Island which really tickled my fancy and really opened my eyes to the complexities of distilling. Since then, I have tried a variety of craft gins plus some very expensive imports which have made me appreciate the art of distilling even more.

So when Ryan came to visit recently, we decided to get back from the Seattle Airport via Vashon Island and the Seattle Distilling Company. What a treat that was.

Vashon Island is between the mainland (Seattle) and Bremerton (at the base of the Olympic Peninsula) with ferries to and from. In fact, you only pay when you go to the island as they know you have to leave! And because it is a short ride to an agricultural island, the ferries are small and the rides short. But in the all the time I have lived up here, I had never made that detour and it ended up being a wonderful day trip.

Ryan's flight from LAX arrived mid-morning, so we had plenty of time before the distillery opens at noon to drive around Vashon. Such pastoral settings and a lovely, old cemetery that we explored in the rain. The business center of the island has interesting small stores, well-preserved buildings, coffee shops and restaurants. I imagine in the summer it is a busy place. But the day we visited, it was raining so very few people were out and about.

The Seattle Distilling Company is situated just off the main drag, a bit north of The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, which we saved for a different visit.

Here's my review on Tripadvisor:

[su_box title="Tripadvisor Review" box_color="#eddfcd" title_color="#090909"]Seattle Distilling is a tiny place producing a huge product. Or products!

A recent visit to the distillery, located on picturesque Vashon Island shows you don't need a huge space to create amazing spirits.

We arrived at opening time - 12pm - and were greeted by Paco Joyce, the VP and Master Distiller. The next hour was spent getting an education about the fine art of distilling; viewing and touching the steampunkish copper and steel stills, pipes and gauges; and really getting a feel for what goes into making a great bottle of whiskey, vodka or gin.

After the tour, we tasted the products - gin, vodka, strawberry-infused vodka, Idle Time whiskey and the Coffee Liqueur. My favorite, and my son's, as well, was the gin which is unlike any mass-produced gin you can buy at the liquor store. The flavors are carefully melded and include local lavender and juniper berries. The only ingredient that is not from the island, is the lemon peel that comes from, if I remember correctly, California.

Perhaps the most interesting fact to take away from the visit was understanding the symbiotic relationship between the distillery and the island community. As an example: The remaining mash left from the grain used for the base alcohol is fed to island livestock on nearby farms. The farms, in turn, provide some of the other ingredients needed, or the farmers apply their talents, like welding, to keep the stills and machinery running.

Although it is all local and very small, the Seattle Distilling Company is making a name for itself, winning Best of the Northwest from Evening Magazine, among other prestigious awards.

Well worth the visit.[/su_box]

Gin Tasting in Roche Harbor


Another fun jaunt! This one for an article for the summer issue of  Harbors Magazine. This time, I took the Kingston ferry over to Edmonds. The Kenmore Air Base on Lake Washington is just 15 or so minutes from there. I thought I was going directly to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island, but I was shuttled (by seaplane) to Lake Union. The short flight, about 10 minutes was very cool though and I had a young woman pilot! I was the only one on board, too but chose to not fly right seat as the windows in the back are bigger! Even though it was a misty day, the view was spectacular! At Lake Union I changed planes to the bigger Otter that seats 11 people. I flew right seat which is always a kick, especially taking off and landing!


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The flight is less than an hour and we came in from the west with the marina laid out below. OK - so this is where the money is! Roche Harbor Marina puts Newport Beach, California to shame. These boats are big and well maintained, and you can tell they are used as boats, not party platforms.

But I wasn't there to look at boats!

Hawk Pingree, one of the owners of the San Juan Island Distillery and Westcott Bay Cider picked me up outside the lovely old Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Works building that sits right on the dock. He was driving a cute little blue Mini with the license plate Distiller - so I couldn't miss him. Of course, I could have walked but it was a little drippy so appreciated the ride.

The next couple of hours was very educational and I learned a lot about cider making and distilling spirits! The ultimate goal behind the distillery is to produce Calvados, the lovely apple brandy popular in France. But that takes at least three years to mature, so Suzy and Hawk decided to produce something that takes a lot less time - gin! And what makes their gin so special is that they forage for the botanicals to make their gins. Things like rose hips, orris root, madrone bark and local juniper berries. They brew small batches in their Portuguese pot still and vary the ingredients, depending on the season. The also brew a wide range of othe spirits including Apple Eau de Vie, Blackberry Brandy and cocktails like Red Sky at Night, a popular one with the yachties, which is a clever blend of Spy Hop Gin, Lavender and Wild Rose Liqueur and Westcott Bay Cider Syrup.

Westcott Bay Cider bucks the flavoring trend and produces three wonderful ciders - Traditional Very Dry, Traditional Dry and Traditional Medium Sweet - all of which have clean, clear flavors.

Spy Hop GinEven though it was a gray day and at times, rather drizzly, there was a steady flow of visitors ready to taste test all the wares! And as I considered myself a visitor, I taste tested right along with them! And I was so impressed! I'm a gin lover so when we got to the gin tasting... well, I broke down and bought a bottle of Salish Juniper Spy Hop Gin! It's distilled using wild roses, blackberries, lavender and madrone bark with local tiny juniper berries. This is the most amazing gin - sip it neat - I cannot imagine diluting it or adding anything to it, the flavor is just so special.

Time ran out and Hawk took me back to the harbor and I watched my ride materialize over the water and gently land in the harbor among all the boat, then taxi to the dock. We loaded up and made the return flight back to Lake Union and then to the Kenmore base.

I was home by 8 pm, still light outside and well informed about cider brewing and gin distilling - and wondering how difficult it would be to set up a still in the garage! Hmmm... let's see... Sand Spit Gin, Bridgehaven Brew....

San Juan Island Distillery and Westcott Bay Cider 12 Anderson Lane, Roche Harbor 360 378-2606