The Spirits of San Juan Island - Local Libations of the Isle

The word for a person eating locally is Locavore. What’s the word for somebody who drinks locally? Locabibor? Locapotor? Maybe it’ll come to us after visiting the amazing producers of liquid arts on San Juan Island. With a vineyard, a brewery, a distillery and a cidery, the isle offers artisan alcohol for virtually every taste. Get yourself a cab (as in “taxi” not “wine”) or designate a driver and do a tasting tour of the local libations of San Juan Island.

1)         San Juan Vineyards

Three miles from Friday Harbor nestled amidst the lush farm fields along Roche Harbor Road, you will find the destination vinery and historic tasting room of the San Juan Vineyards.

Founded in 1996 by Yvonne Swanberg, the 30-acre farm grows Madeleine Angevine & Siegerrebe grapes, which make up 20% to 30% of the total annual wine production of San Juan Vineyards; the remainder is grown across the mountains in the sunny Yakima valley. Since 2006 no pesticides have been used on the land. The historic tasting room sells, besides award winning wines, adorable wine paraphernalia and offers a comfortable porch to enjoy your box lunch with a sip of wine in the sunshine. The property features a renovated schoolhouse from ca. 1895, the perfect setting for an old-fashioned wedding.

Open daily for tastings from 11:00 to 5:00. Don’t miss the Annual Barrel Tasting in June and the Harvest festival in September.

Insider Tip: Say “hi” to Mona, the island camel, residing across the street from the vineyard. Learn all about her story and have a sip of Mona Vino Blanc at the tasting room.

 

2)         San Juan Distillery & Westcott Bay Ciders

A mile southwest of Roche Harbor, on the shores of beautiful Westcott Bay, you’ll find apple orchards dating back to 1870, from a time when San Juan Island was the proverbial fruit basket of Puget Sound. Tucked in this nook is a lovely little gem: Westcott Bay Cider replanted in 1990, growing vintage apples with lovely names like Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill and Sweet Coppin. Those are not apples for eating, those are strictly for drinking! Cider making is the art of blending apples with different astringency & spiciness. Westcott Bay Cider has very successfully done just that and delighted the world with their award-winning Traditional Very Dry, Traditional Dry & Traditional Medium Sweet Cider since 1999.

In 2010 they added a few partners, got a new license and a very shiny copper Adolf Adrian pot still, hand-hammered in Germany. Just seeing the still warrants a trip to San Juan Distillery. The very first release of the distillery’s Apple Brandy in 2014 won Gold and Best in Class at the American Craft Spirit Association, making it the best rated Apple Brandy in the nation. They have since added Gin, Vodka, Pommeau, Eau de Vie, Bittters & Liqueur to their astounding resume, with an emphasis on blending unique, seasonal, local flavors and their apple based spirits. Micro-batch, limited quantity spirits make it possible to experiment, play with and refine flavors. Among the seasonals available are Salal, Salish Juniper, Elderberry or Nettle Spy Hop Gin, Blackberry or Madrone flavored Brandy and Lavender & Wild Rose Liqueur.

Open for tastings & tours every Saturday 1:00-4:00, Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Insider Tip: Bring your favorite spirits home. They make fantastic, unique gifts, since San Juan Distillery rarely distributes outside of San Juan County.

 

3)         San Juan Island Brewing

San Juan Islanders and visitors had to make do without a local brewery since the Front Street Ale House closed its doors in 2009. This unbearable dry spell came to an end in the Summer of 2017, when San Juan Island Brewing opened the doors to its brewpub done right. Within walking distance to the Friday Harbor Ferry dock, the open and airy atmosphere, live music, and excellent bar food incorporating their fine brews, this brewpub clearly had the capital and skill to start on the right foot.  The brewery itself, home of brews with locally resonating names like Bull Kelp ESB and Lane 4 Vienna Lager, is visible through gigantic glass windows from the pub. Large outdoor seating and garage doors open on warm evenings make for a festive, beer-garden atmosphere. There is a play corner for the kiddos, flat screen TV’s to follow local sports and fun special events like trivia night to make new friends.

Open year-round, daily, closed on Mondays.

Insider Tip: Have a San Juan Sampler (your choice of five 5oz beers) and the Pig War Pizza before deciding on a chic, engraved, vacuum insulated growler to-go.