Our beautiful Adolf Adrian pot still is hand made in Germany, all hammered copper inside and out, and it is a joy to keep polished. We put 50 gallons of our Westcott Bay Cider into the still and heat it up very slowly to get the best quality Apple Eau de Vie (the fresh fruit distillate) we can. A typical 6 to 8 hour run produces about a gallon of 80% ethanol (hearts).
Most of this goes into old 59 gallon French Limousin oak barrels for aging, we expect this to take at least three and probably more like five years. We are tasting as it ages, it’s already delicious but we know it will be better.
Our climate in the San Juan Islands is very similar to the climate in Normandy, where fine ciders and Calvados are made. We are using techniques that those French farmers use for our production – old fine French Limousin oak barrels, reconditioned with Pommeau (a mix of cider, fresh apple juice and Apple Eau de Vie) from our ciderworks.
Apple Eau de Vie
Apple Eau de Vie is the clear fruit distillate that we get when we distill the cider. Most of this goes into barrels for aging into apple brandy, but we save some out for this spirit. It is not aged in barrels, although we do age it in glass bottles before we add San Juan Island well water to bring its alcohol content down to 40%. It is clean, crisp, almost sweet, and wonderful as an after dinner cordial. It won a gold medal at the Great Lakes Cider and Perry competition and a bronze at the American Distilling Institute judging in 2011.
We make two exceptional gins, one is made with alcohol distilled from our cider, the other is with a grain-based alcohol.
We distill our gins with botanicals that are commonly used in gin – juniper, of course (or it wouldn’t be gin!), cardamom, star anise, orris root, lemon peel – but we also add botanicals that we forage on the island. As Sunset Magazine points out, we are all about looking for flavors in the woods and fields of our beautiful island.
We want our gins to taste like San Juan Island, and we look for botanicals that evoke the feeling of walking through the woods by the sea on our beautiful islands.
So our gins are distilled with blackberries, wild roses (or rose hips in the winter), lavender from Pelindaba Farm, and Mdrone bark. We also collect new growth Douglas fir and a couple of other secret Island botanicals.
We also always look for seasonal ingredients to add to Spy Hop to create our Seasonal Spy Hop Gins. In August, we add thimbleberries, which add a sweet raspberry sparkle. In the fall, it’s salal berries, the little plump purple berries that ripen under the leaves of the beautiful green salal bushes all over the island. They add a citrusy note on the finish, which is very delicious. In the winter we do Barrel Aged Spy Hop Gin, aging Spy Hop Gin for only a few months in our oak barrels so that the gin has an "oak note," but still tastes like gin. Barrel-aging the gin makes for very interesting and complex gin cocktails, especially nice in the winter. In the Spring we add stinging nettles, gathered just as they come up from the ground. Nettles are a wonderful celebration of Spring and they add a delicious green note to our Seasonal Spy Hop Gin; and in late Spring our seasonal gin is made with foraged elderflowers. More variations to come!
Our spirits are all small batch, limited quantity. Really, we do micro batches (7 gallons at a time). This gives us the ability to experiment and play with our spirits, we are having the best time! We distribute them locally to our island stores, but they are not available outside the islands, with a very few exceptions (Wine World in Wallingford, Esquin in Sodo, Premium Wine in Redmond and Capco in West Seattle). Come to San Juan Island to experience our tasting room, our gorgeous views, our exceptional climate, and all of the delicious spirits we produce.