Seattle DINING! logo


 

ADVERTISING
Pike Mkt recovery

 

Chuckanut Bay Distillery

Seriously local spirits

Often the word "local" is used loosely. In the case of Chuckanut Bay Distillery, it's precise. All of the grains and potatoes they use are sourced from within 27 miles of the distillery. Decisions on what to make and how are based on the ingredients at hand. "I've always loved rum and would love to make it," says co-owner/head distiller Matt Howell. "But you can't get cane sugar in this area, so we don't make it. Our bourbon is less sweet than others; we use a lot of rye to give it a spicy profile. When we started, no one around here grew rye. We told a local farmer we wanted 30,000 pounds of rye and asked if he could grow it for us. Just like wine, spirits should speak to the place."

Matt and co-owner Kelly Andrews agree in their appreciation of spirits while wanting to make something of their own. "It's never our goal to emulate someone, nor do we fully feel that we have to do a process a particular way just because that's 'how it's done'. However, distilling has a long history and tradition which we deeply appreciate. We embrace the challenge of looking to alcohol history and subjecting it to our innovative spirit, processes, and love for certain character in forming our various expressions."

Their first spirit was potato vodka made with fresh raw potatoes and no sugar. "We use a lot of potatoes," laughs Matt. "Fifty pounds for a single bottle. It's not a moneymaker, but it tastes great and is what we want to make. We grind 50,000 pounds of potatoes. We're not averse to taking the brutal punishing path." He's serious - when they released their first batch in 2013, they didn't have an electric grinder. Matt connected a bicycle frame (still in their tasting room) to Kelly's old apple grinder. He ground over 13,000 pounds of potatoes (400 pounds an hour). "We probably won't ever make a potato gin again. I love it because it's so different, but it took 75-80 pounds of potatoes per bottle. It's just not doable." They're also using wood fermenters in addition to stainless steel, which imparts more complex flavors.

When taking about slow-crafted spirits, "It's really about attention to detail and taking the time to respect the process and savor the end product, like the slow food movement." In addition to potato vodka and bourbon, they make Muzzleflash whiskey which is more like an Irish whiskey, Old Busker Coffee Liqueur, Krampus Herbal Liqueur, and Barrel-Aged Krampus.

Matt arrived in Bellingham in 2000 to attend school, loved it, and stayed. While in school, his mom decided he should have her dad's liquor cabinet. One of the bottles inside was a 50-year-old gin that someone had given him as a gift. He hated gin, so it had never been opened. "I always thought of gin as something you had to add something to," says Matt. "This bottle was perfect for sipping. It started me thinking about creating something like that." One of his early jobs was working for a wine importer/distributor where he began to appreciate the idea of the product reflecting the place it's from. Just out of college, Kelly worked as a brewer for Hale's Ales. Like Matt, Kelly also received gin from his grandfather. The difference? Kelly's grandfather loved gin. "It was an early goal for Kelly and me to make a delicious gin, which we did in 2013."

"Kelly and I met through a mutual friend, around 2005. He's a wonderful partner. We handle different roles and balance each other. He has great ideas and moves things forward. We both believe in taking the hard road if we believe in it. The past few years have been tough. In 2017, we bought an historic 18,000 square foot building in downtown Bellingham, and have been acting as our own contractors, demo-ing and creating what we want. We're using wood, metal, and radiators from the original building. We were out of production for 19 months while we made this move. The building looks nothing like it used to. It has several floors, but only the main floor has been used since the 1960s. We had to break through a wall to get to the basement. Now there's production and barrel storage there."

They are working on the other side of the main floor as well as the upstairs, planning a restaurant and bar. "We want to offer styles that people can only get here." Another bar will be upstairs overlooking production, and there will be a large events area that should accommodate up to 300 people. There will even be a rooftop bar with a view of Lummi Island. "We're really excited about doing this, I've never seen something like this anywhere out of the maybe 180 distilleries in the state. Our goal is to open the restaurant this summer. We'll start with baby steps, then open a full-on restaurant later with a wood stone oven. The restaurant and bar on the main floor are part of our first phase, then it's on to the top floors and roof."

Between Kelly, Matt, and the staff, they have more ideas than time. "We're getting ready to re-release our gin later this month, and late March we'll be releasing a wheat whiskey infused with select botanicals, over three years in the making. We have numerous items cellaring away which we are excited to share in the future. Currently, we're pleased to have our tasting room open 3 days a week, with heated outdoor seating. We've recently started offering cocktails in addition to spirits tastings. Our focus is simple cocktails that emphasize quality ingredients. We are proud of our space and love to educate and look at our tasting room as a great way to do this. The more people know about spirits, the more they will enjoy them, so we're excited to resume our tours. We want this to be a place where people come for an experience."

Connie Adams/February 2021

Chuckanut Bay Distillery
1311 Cornwall Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225
360-738-7179

chuckanutbaydistillery.com

Photos courtesy of Chuckanut Bay Distillery

Awards:

  • 2020 USA SPIRITS RATINGS: BOURBON - GOLD, OLD BUSKER - GOLD, KRAMPUS - SILVER
  • 2016 NEW YORK WORLD WINE & SPIRITS COMPETITION: BOURBON - SILVER
  • 2016 MICROLIQUOR SPIRIT AWARDS: BOURBON - GOLD
  • 2016 SAN FRANCISCO WORLD SPIRITS COMPETITION: BOURBON - SILVER; OLD BUSKER - SILVER,
  • POTATO GIN - BRONZE
  • 2016 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL SPIRIT AWARDS: OLD BUSKER - GOLD, GIN - GOLD
  • 2016 FIFTY BEST INTERNATIONAL SPIRITS: GIN - SILVER

Photo: Krampus says "safety first!"

  • 2015 BEST OF WESTERN WASHINGTON: VOTED 2ND BEST DISTILLERY
  • 2014 BEVERAGE TASTING INSTITUTE: POTATO VODKA - GOLD, VODKA - SILVER
  • 2014 SAN FRANCISCO WORLD SPIRITS COMPETITION: POTATO VODKA - SILVER
  • 2013 NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL SPIRITS COMPETITION WASHINGTON STATE: DISTILLERY OF THE YEAR
  • 2013 NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL SPIRITS COMPETITION: POTATO VODKA - DOUBLE GOLD

We've worked hard to upgrade this site. Click here to notify us of any problems we need to correct.

Bargeen-Ellingson

SUBSCRIBE FREE

Subscription has its privileges - Each month Seattle DINING! publishes new features on new restaurants, food and beverage news from around the Northwest and special events. Don't miss out on these informative stories.

Sign up today for your FREE subscription and you'll get notification each month when the new issue comes on line. You'll also be the first to find out about special Seattle DINING! events.  What are you waiting for? Sign up now!

 Click here to sign up now!