Golden Distillery on Samish Island turns fruit wines into excellent brandies

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 29, 2013 

Golden Distillery on Samish Island

Retired restaurateurs and founders Jim Caudill and Bob Stillnovich focus on small batches of handcrafted brandies and whiskeys at Golden Distillery on Samish Island.

GOLDEN DISTILLERY — COURTESY TO THE HERALD

People who live on Samish Island in Skagit County must know who lucky they are. Situated between Samish and Padilla bays, the picturesque, somewhat isolated area is the site of oyster farms and of estuaries teeming with bald eagles, hawks and herons.

And now, to add to their good fortune, it's home to one of Washington's premiere distilleries.

When I considered visiting Golden Distillery, I thought that including it in a wine column might be somewhat of a stretch. But once I learned the brandy-making operation of the distillery requires the use of fruit wine, the segue between my beverage of choice and its higher-proof cousin was a slam dunk.

Retired restaurateurs and founders Jim Caudill and Bob Stillnovich started getting serious about distilling spirits in 2008, and after a series of stops, starts and, according to Caudill, "making some pretty awful stuff," they opened their tasting and sales room in the fall of 2010.

The duo focuses on small batches of handcrafted brandies and whiskeys. In fact, everything is done by hand and starts with made-in-Washington ingredients: wine from apples, blackberries and raspberries are utilized in making brandy, and barley is used in brewing the beer that is later distilled into whiskey.

After distillation, everything is aged 12 to 15 months in small, toasted white oak barrels, which lend color and flavor to the finished product.

Two award-winning whiskies are currently available, a Single Malt Whiskey ($39.95 for 750 mL, including taxes) and an outstanding Single Malt Whiskey Reserve ($44.95) that's aged a few months longer in red oak.

Caudill claims, "We sell more whiskey to people who don't drink whiskey," and the dreamy flavors of hazelnut, caramel and vanilla, and the smooth, rich finish, were reasons enough to believe him.

I also tried three brandies, which serve as excellent palate cleansers between courses and are also perfect at the end of a meal. The Blackberry Brandy and Raspberry Brandy ($24.95 each for 375 mL, including taxes) are sourced from wine produced by Pasek Cellars in Conway. I especially enjoyed the raspberry, where a bit more of the fruit came through on an ultra-long finish.

An Apple Brandy ($29.95) is also currently available and an additional release, made from apple wine produced by Mount Baker Vineyards, is scheduled for later this spring.

Golden Distillery is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Make time for a visit; you won't be disappointed.

For more information, including directions, call 360-542-8332 or see goldendistillery.com.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.

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