Richard Anderson, Suzanne and Hawkins Pingree of San Juan Island Distillery, Near Roche Harbour, San Juan Island, Puget Sound, Washington, USA.
In the mid 1990’s newcomer to the island,
Rich Anderson, saw the local climate was very similar to the famous apple
growing area of Southern Normandy in France (for making Cider and Calvados Brandy). He decided to plant 16 different
varieties of cider apples (not great for eating) on his 2 acres of land (around
1,000 trees) with a view to producing hard cider. His endeavors led to
founding the successful award winning Westcott Bay Cider.
In 2010 neighbors and longtime island residents Suzy and Hawk Pingree became partners with Rich, with a view to extend the operations, including a distillery producing Gin and Brandy. Thus San Juan Island Distillery was born, becoming the 32nd Craft Distillery in Washington, and production started in January 2011. A tasting room was made for early summer 2011 and new products are being continually added to their portfolio.
Using a grain based neutral spirit (sourced
from Pacific Distillery, Woodinville, Washington, USA.) they
produce very small 7-gallon batches of Gin at a time, using a 30-liter
Portuguese pot still. The finished product is presented in tall clear
cylindrical bottles with clean simple black and white labeling.
New Western Dry Gin.
42% (84 Proof).
$$$$$. Available at the distillery and
several other places on the Island. There is limited availability off of San
Juan, with only a few retailers supplying on the mainland, in Washington State
and SW Canada. For us it’s just the excuse we need to go back to the island
with its wonderful climate, great vista’s, fresh clean breathable air…and Gin.
Although some remain a secret, the botanicals
(about half are wild and hand foraged from the island) include: blackberries, cardamom,
juniper berries, lavender, lemon peel, madrone bark, orris root, pine needles
(Douglas Fir), roses and star anise.
The waters surrounding San Juan Island are
teeming with marine mammals including Orcas (or Killer Whales), making it a
haven for whale watching – yet another reason for visiting in our book. They
come so close to shore, you can enjoy their antics with the naked eye. One such
antic is where the Orca whale curiously raises itself partially out of the
water, sometimes up to the front dorsal fins, with its nose pointing upwards to
have a look around above the waters surface. This movement is known as “spy
hopping” and so it is of no surprise to people familiar with the island that
this Gin should be called Spy Hop.
On the nose is pine-like juniper, floral
and citrus with faint fruit notes. On the palate the juniper leads first before
being overtaken by floral lavender and citrus (lemon). The finish lingers with
light woody spice notes and fades with the reappearing juniper bite and a soft
backdrop of floral lavender and lemon citrus. This has elements of a classic London
Dry Gin and soft aspects of a New Western DryGin, while showing nuances of
botanical complexity found in many of the best Gins.
This is great in a Martini – it is our go to Gin for this drink – and good in a Gin and Tonic. Unfortunately we have not tried this in other Gin based mixed drinks for one simple reason, when you find something in short supply that “works” (for us, a Martini) one is loathe to “try and fix it” in anything else! This is smooth but not ultra smooth and that smidgeon of roughness, (we believe) adds rather than subtracts greatly to its overall character.
The trio of makers have looked for the Gin to evoke a taste of San Juan Island and we cannot but think of San Juan whenever we take a sip – we have particularly fond memories of the island restaurant Duck Soup Inn where this Gin was served. We have a hard time not being biased towards Spy Hop because we like Gin with lavender as a botanical (e.g. Aviation Gin). Even so, this is one of the best, if not the best, American made New Western Dry style Gins we have tried – a strong, firm, favorite with us – highly recommended.
Silver Medal, American Distilling