Washington State Magazine

Winter 2012

Winter 2012

In This Issue...


Feasting on the Salish Sea :: About 650 years ago, inhabitants of a large plank house on Galiano Island abandoned it for unknown reasons. But not before they feasted on 10,000 sea urchins. by Tim Steury

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Slideshow: Archaeology on Galiano Island }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Seascapes from Salish Sea, Study 2 by David Ellingsen }

A Summer of Science :: Over nine short weeks this summer, undergraduate Laurel Graves helped develop one of the first research projects to measure how much carbon wheat consumes and releases. “The entire world, all 7 billion people,” she says, “and we’re the only ones doing this thing. It’s kind of a crazy thought.” by Eric Sorensen

The Law and the Land :: Indian law attorney and Colville tribal member Brian Gunn ’95 took on the challenge of his grandfather and brought home a gratifying settlement for years of federal mismanagement of Indian trust lands. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Brian Gunn and the land of the Colville Tribes }


The Ethics of Climate Change :: A political scientist, a geologist, a philosopher, and a sociologist contemplate the ethical implications of an imminent problem. by Andrew Light, Kent Keller, Bill Kabasenche, and Eugene A. Rosa


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Magazine: “Unleashed” A magazine used for education on sexual assault prevention }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Twin Vista Ranch }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Heart at KWSU in 1976 }


:: First Words: Maps, memory, and imagination

:: Posts

:: Short Subject: Spirits on the rise

:: In season: Onions

:: Sports: That voice

:: Last Words: The 1710 Senex map of North America

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Map: Craft distilleries in Washington }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Bob Robertson, Voice of the Cougars }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story and Recipes: How to choose the right onion, and some onion lore }


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Slideshow: Bowling at WSU }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Salmon and other water videos from Chris Dunagan }

New media

:: Alpha Phi Alpha: A Legacy of Greatness, the Demands of Transcendence edited by Gregory S. Parks and Stefan M. Bradley (’98 MA History)

:: Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands: 60 Paddle Trips Including the Gulf Islands by Rob Casey ’91

:: No Room of Her Own: Women’s Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death, and Resistance by Desiree Hellegers

:: Boocoo Dinky Dow: My Short, Crazy Vietnam War by Grady C. Myers and Julie Titone

Cover photo: Laurel Graves measures light in a wheat canopy in one of dozens of projects involving undergraduate researchers. By Zach Mazur

Short subject
Jim Caudill and Bob Stillnovich work in their Golden Distillery on Samish Island. <em>Robert Hubner</em>


Jim Caudill and Bob Stillnovich work in their Golden Distillery on Samish Island. Robert Hubner

Spirits on the rise

by | © Washington State University

The morning is cool on Samish Island, with a fog hanging over the water. But inside an old chicken coop, it’s steamy and sweet. A beer of barley mash is bubbling not too far from the door, tall copper stills stand like sentinels on the left, and the back is layered with metal shelves stocked with small white oak barrels.

During Prohibition, boats loaded with whisky from Canada would slip through the San Juan Islands and land just down the beach from here. According to family lore, Mary Lou Caudill’s uncle was often on board. “He worked on the boats bringing alcohol in from Canada,” says Caudill ’68. “He kept the engines running.” Some of the deliveries were consumed at the nearby speakeasy, others loaded into big touring cars and driven down to California.

Now, thanks to a series of new liquor laws, Caudill and her husband Jim and another couple have brought whisky back to Samish Island, having formed Golden Distillery, a small-batch craft operation.

The Caudills and the Stilnoviches are retired restaurateurs, the Caudills having run La Conner Seafood and Prime Rib House. The men were looking around for something to do. Mary Lou, who saw an advertisement for a distilling clinic organized by the Washington State University–Mount Vernon Research Center and the nonprofit Northwest Agriculture Business Center, urged them to check it out.

In 2007, the state legislature started moving the state out of the shadow of Prohibition by passing a law permitting craft distilling. Dry Fly in Spokane was the first to start operating that year. First a trickle, then a cascade of new license applicants followed. In June and August of 2008, the ag business center organized the distilling courses at the Mount Vernon research station. One reason for the program was to offer farmers a way to add value to their crops, says David Bauermeister ’83, executive director of the NABC. The state is a major producer of berries, apples, grapes, potatoes, and grains, all of which can be turned into alcohol.

The two-day class taught the basics of distilling, starting with the science of hand crafting an alcoholic beverage. While they caught on quickly, it took Jim Caudill and Bob Stilnovich about a year to finesse their method. “When we first started there was no one around who could tell us how to do it,” says Stilnovich. “We made some of the worst stuff you’ve ever tasted.”

They also played around with their technique and put their restaurant know-how to work on the stills. Instead of using thermal sleeves around the tall copper pots, they set them on surplus restaurant griddles. They could just as easily be flipping hamburgers on them, say the guys.

Here’s where the craft begins. Larger distilleries are mechanized and measured. Here at Golden the whiskey makers do everything by hand, measuring the barley, brewing the beer, even tasting the distillate to know when to start capturing the alcohol when the flavor is where they want it, and stopping before the undesireable compounds come out. It’s the heads and tails, Caudill explains. The first stuff to come out is the head, higher alcohols such as acetone and esters that could harm you to consume. At the end come the tails, which can make the distillate taste bad.

They age their whiskey in white oak barrels, where it picks up flavor and color, and when it’s ready they hand bottle it. Their process works. This year two of their single malts took gold medals at the American Distillery Industry meeting in Kentucky. And now restaurants and hotel bars are asking specifically for their products.

A few of the region’s 40-some other new distilleries were also introduced to the craft through the NABC workshops, notes Bauermeister, naming Fremont Mischief and San Juan Island Distillers as two of the newer ones.

“I think it’s going to unfold much like the wine business,” says Dennis Reynolds, the Ivar B. Haglund Chair in Hospitality Business Management at WSU. That means we should expect a growing number of high-quality small-scale craft distilleries.

“The spirit business today has evolved. It’s like a marketing machine,” he says, pointing to the slick magazine ads for vodka. But this new generation of consumers is discerning. They are craving high quality products that are more special and unique “like Seattle restaurants selling Seattle-made alcohol,” he says. “It follows the farm-to-fork idea.”

Like a fine aged whiskey, the craft industry is going to take some time to mature. Until this year, the small-scale and craft distillers weren’t finding their way into the state’s purchasing system—and then not onto the shelves of liquor stores and bars. When voters passed Initiative 1183 in 2011 they changed the state laws allowing the small-scale distillers to sell directly to restaurants by last spring and by June, to deal directly with private liquor stores. But it was a rough few months. “When the state lost the deal, they shut us off,” says Jim Caudill. “From November until May we couldn’t sell anything.” Still the change in the law and the direct access to customers “made it possible for us to survive,” he says.

This scene on Samish Island is unfolding all over the state. Dry Fly in Spokane has led the way for Fremont Mischief in Seattle, Walla Walla Distilling, and Ezra Cox in Centralia. In Snohomish County Ryan Hembree and his wife Julia have Skip Rock Distillery where they make artisan vodka out of Yukon Gold potatoes from Skagit Valley. Now that the vodka has won great reviews, Hembree, who studied winemaking at WSU, is making a white whiskey and working on several other products.

As project manager for the NABC, Jake Fowler ’03 helped run the distilling clinics, but has recently turned his focus to the apple orchard at BelleWood Acres in Lynden and the new distillery, the first in Whatcom County.

“We’re just seeing the start of this,” says WSU’s Reynolds. “People here are ready for it. Look at the success of our wine industry, our microbreweries. I think the distillery business is going the same way.”

Categories: Business | Tags: Liquor, Distilleries

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