Disclaimer: I’m probably going to pour on heaps of praise over the spirits I tasted yesterday and Bainbridge Organic Distillers. But I do want to say that it’s not because I got to do a free tasting or that I owe Bainbridge anything. What I tasted yesterday revealed to me the possibilities that truly hand-crafted spirits can represent. I’m no industry rep – I’m just a regular guy who loves spirits; a nobody in the whiskey world who doesn’t have an agenda with this blog. But the experience I had with these spirits yesterday was transformative. I want to share that here.
A song comes to mind… Fields of Gold by Sting. The Spaniard in Gladiator walking through a field of wheat, running his hands through the stalks of golden grain; his wife and son waiting for him in the distance. I am that man. Then whisked away to a ship upon the seas
Then whisked away to stand at the bow of a ship upon the seas; the curvature of the Earth ahead of me on the distant, far-off horizon. Breathing in the salt air, I’m refreshed by my lovely lady, the deep azure ocean…
No, that wasn’t a Matthew McConaughy commercial…
Passionate. Creative. Adventurous. Unique. Integrous. Honest. Hand-crafted. Artisinal. Just damn good!
As I explained to Ronnie Armada, Bainbridge’s head of sales, my judgment of a wine or spirit goes far beyond the senses. For me to give a positive assessment of anything I’m tasting, it has to take me to another place; triggering long lost memories or tickling something in my imagination.
For when I taste true greatness, I immediately close my eyes because I know that what I’m tasting is going to transport me to another place; put me in a waking dream. This is the experience I had with each spirit I tasted from Bainbridge yesterday. That’s never happened to me before – even when I was writing about wine – and I can’t express the gratitude I feel to Ronnie for providing me the opportunity to taste his product line.
There’s something special happening on Bainbridge Island, WA just across the Puget Sound from Seattle. I got a quick taste of it a couple of weekends ago when I was up there with the Battle Point whiskey. Made from 100% organic wheat and 100%-organic certified, it was unlike any whiskey I had ever tasted. This compelled me to ask Ronnie if we could meet sometime so I could explore the flavor profile even further. But having tasted 5 of the 6 offerings from Bainbridge, I feel as if the products together demand so much more than mere tasting notes.
But having tasted 5 of the 6 offerings from Bainbridge, I feel as if the products together demand so much more than mere tasting notes. This is because each spirit had its own story to tell; each having its own complexity and sophistication that would be diminished if I described them in a utilitarian, pedestrian manner. Shit! Here I am waxing rhetorically! But that’s the effect these spirits had on me! And mind you, this was a tasting so my senses weren’t muddled.
It’s About the Wheat
One of Bainbridge’s taglines is “grain to glass.” It’s even on their labels. All Bainbridge spirits start with 100% wheat sourced from a single, 100%-organic farm, Williams-Hudson Bay Farm in Walla Walla in Eastern Washington. As Ronnie shared with me, “Sure, we have this distillery that’s creating some incredible stuff, but we feel we have a responsibility to the farm where we get our wheat. It’s a reason why we’re also certified 100% organic.”
When the wheat arrives at the distillery, it is hand-ground into a grist. Hand-ground. I asked Ronnie about that and he said that they don’t use modern machinery so they could ensure that everything is done organically from the delivery of the grain to the finished product. Hand grinding also ensures they have complete control over the process from start to finish. This is artisanship at its best, folks.
No matter what spirit I tasted, that foundation of wheat was always there. By no means is it over-powering. But it is definitely a component that gives Bainbridge spirits their provenance.
Admittedly, and even Ronnie says this, that wheat isn’t for everyone. In fact, when I first met him in Seattle, he was saying this to the two ladies sitting next to him at the bar when I walked up to introduce myself. From my perspective, I love it. The velvety mouthfeel and smoothness from the wheat, plus that “bread” component is something I really dig.
Exploring Bainbridge Organic Distillers
I originally was going to do a transcript of my “interview” with Ronnie. But our meeting quickly became less about doing an interview, and much more about establishing a friendship. Sure, I asked questions about the spirits, but amazingly enough, I didn’t go into the real “geeky” minutiae that I’d normally get into in situations such as this.
It was so much more rewarding swapping stories and sharing about our lives and intermingled with philosophical discussions; things in which great spirits compel one to engage. I learned about the story of the distillery, but that’s something that you can read on the website (http://www.bainbridgedistillers.com). Instead, our conversations led us to discuss things like the wheat as I discussed above.
One whiskey that I didn’t taste was the “Yama.” This is the ultimate high-end whiskey produced by Bainbridge. Aged in Japanese Mizunara oak casks, this whiskey retails at $595, but regularly fetches much more. But the story behind it is SO cool. The whiskey was named after a long-gone town on Bainbridge Island called Yama, which was founded by Japanese immigrants in 1883. It was abandoned due to the closure of the Port Blakely Mill.
Recently, people and organizations have gotten together to restore the town. To help with this effort, Bainbridge donates profits from the sale of its Yama whiskey. I love stories like this! I probably could’ve teased that out with a series of questions, but the whole story – it was A LOT longer than what I provided here – was triggered by a simple comment that I made, “Wow! That Yama must be something else if it’s going at that price point.”
All in all, if I were to distill (excuse the pun) our four-hour meeting down to summarize it all I’d have to say that Bainbridge is a distiller with a conscience.
Heritage Organic Doug Fir Gin
Douglas Fir? Who woulda thunk? But, believe me, it totally works! The doug fir gives it a slightly green tinge depending on the lighting and angle you look at it. On the nose, is an immediate hit of Douglas Fir needles. This is immediately followed by citrus and vanilla with a little saddle soap and tanned leather. The citrus component lingers in the mouth, accentuated by the brightness and heat of its 90 proof. There’s a hint of the obligatory juniper berry and fresh fennel root.
Heritage Oaked Organic Doug Fir Gin
I loved the unoaked gin, but this is an entirely different animal. Similar aroma and flavor components as the unoaked gin, but on the nose they’re subdued, and a definite vanilla/tannin component is present, mellowing out the douglas fir and citrus. On the palate, the oak helps smooth the mouthfeel and the heat, and the finish is long, velvety smooth and oaky.
Interestingly enough, unlike other oaked gins that are barrel aged. This gin is chipped, with medium char chips added along with the botanicals to make them part of the flavoring process up front. The result is an absolutely magnificent gin.
With either gin, I don’t think I could bring myself to drink them with tonic. In addition to the flavor components I mentioned, both have a distinct herbal bitterness, which the quinine in the tonic provides, and why I usually most other gins – when I drink gin – with tonic. Since there’s already some bitterness, I think I’d drink this with a lime twist and a chip of ice – at most. These gins demand to be untainted by unnecessary additives.
Legacy Organic Vodka
It’s no surprise why this Vodka won the Worlds Best Vodka at the World Drinks Awards in London, winning against a field of over 1000 competitors. Before I even knew this, I knew this was something special the moment I first smelled it. Its wheaty provenance dominates the nose, and there’s even a slight antiseptic quality about the aroma that is not at all off-putting. In fact, my first comment to Ronnie was simply, “Clean.” There’s a sweetness to this vodka that lends to the mouth-coating feel of the liquid. That sensation of cleanliness continues in the mouth, but I also get a hint of hazelnut mid-palate, and then a kiss of sea salt. The finish, like the gins, is long and super smooth. I do like that there’s a nice warming effect in the finish, despite the vodka only being 80 proof.
There’s a sweetness to this vodka that lends to the mouth-coating feel of the liquid. That sensation of cleanliness continues in the mouth, but I also get a hint of hazelnut mid-palate, along with… uh… poundcake – again the wheat gets expressed. The finish, like the gins, is long and super smooth, with slight classic black licorice quality – yum. I do like that there’s a nice warming effect in the finish, despite the vodka only being 80 proof.
The thing about this vodka is that nothing really stands out except the wheat – I think that’s intentional. If any of the Bainbridge spirits show off the wheat as the star player, this is it, and it’s awesome!
Vanilla Organic Vodka
As Magnum P. I. would say, “I know what you’re gonna say…” Me too. Flavored vodka? Damn! Hadn’t we had enough of flavored spirits? It’s bad enough that Fireball is popular, but that apple shit is just NASTY!
As Ronnie put it, “This is the flavored spirit for those people who don’t like flavored spirits.” In my most objective opinion, I probably would’ve never even considered buying this. But I have to tell you: This vodka is all about FUN!
The vodka gets its vanilla not from vanilla extract, but from three whole vanilla beans that are placed in the bottle and left to infuse. According to Ronnie, this started out as kind of a fun experiment for a show. Before they knew it, people were asking for it – a lot. So they decided to make it a regular part of their product line.
To me, this vodka in both the nose and the mouth immediately reminds me of Christmas; specifically that Christmas taffy I’d get after sitting on Santa’s lap. While the wheat component and salt are all present, the addition of the vanilla adds a bit of – as I mentioned – fun.
One of the things I mentioned right after tasting it the first time was that it also reminded me of vanilla ice cream. Ronnie laughed and said that a restaurant in Seattle actually makes a milkshake and spikes it with the vanilla vodka. I can easily see why. I’m actually going to do the same…
Battle Point Organic Whiskey
I already reviewed the whiskey, and even though my initial tasting was quick, not much changed. But I do have to say that with the addition of a few drops of water, this whiskey absolutely blooms! That King’s Hawaiian Bread quality is there for sure, along with that banana bread I initially smelled. And as I had more time with it this time around, that cinnamon quality seems more pronounced as the whiskey gets some air, and the long, silky-smooth finish gets a bit of yeasty dough along with the notes of brown sugar. In addition, there’s a slight, roasted cashew component to the finish.
I still stand by my initial assessment: I can see myself sitting on my front porch, pulling on a Cuban cigar, and then washing it down with a healthy sip of this whiskey. It’s not about how heavy this whiskey is. It’s not. It has enough tooth to be slightly chewy, but it’s not at all syrupy in nature. This is such a pleasing whiskey. It definitely will be part of my regular rotation. I daresay that I will be fairly judicious in consuming it, though. It’s much to nice to be a regular drinker.