For some, increased time spent around family can result in a markedly increased consumption of alcohol.
For the Glenn clan, owners/operators of Highside Distilling, Bainbridge Island’s newest distillery, it led to the making of a lot of booze.
Inspired by trips to the Highlands and Speyside regions of Scotland and the vibrant craft beverage culture of the Pacific Northwest, especially in Kitsap County, the mission of Highside is to combine the two ideals and provide a local take on the time-honored crafts of fermentation, distillation and aging of spirits.
“We’re taking these classic and traditional spirit styes and methods and combining that with more contemporary, Pacific Northwest-inspired processes,” said owner/distiller Matt Glenn.
Highside (8895 Three Tree Lane NE, across from the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network) opened the day after Thanksgiving, offering tastings of their flagship gin and mini cocktails.
The thrice-distilled gin (88 proof) is distilled from a Washington-grown apple cider base, which is fermented and distilled fully on-site, with a 10-botanical blend, including juniper, orange peel, rose petal, bay leaf, cubeb berry and vanilla.
An additional stable of spirits is currently in the works, including amaro (an Italian herbal liqueur that is commonly consumed before or after dinner), fernet (a type of amaro, typically served as a digestif, often with coffee and espresso) and, of course, whiskey.
The talented trio behind the so-inspired libations are Matt and his parents Helen and Jeff Glenn.
Matt, who actually worked at the Mac & Jack’s brewery in high school, and his dad, recently retired from the telecom industry, had long been into brewing beer at home, but then a distillery tour while living in Boston sent Matt down the path of distilling instead — and he quickly returned home and enticed his parents to tag along.
“[I] was just fascinated by the fact that it’s kind of one evolution beyond brewing,” Matt Glenn said. “I just kind of caught the bug and started doing it and figuring it out — and pulled them out of retirement to kind of go through this crazy business together.”
Single malt whiskey, what Glenn ultimately intends to be the distillery’s staple spirit, will go into production in January.
“We’re taking the traditional single malt whiskey from Scotland and then applying more of these craft brewing techniques and using local grains and different things that might not have been experimented with in the past,” Glenn said.
Despite the ever-increasing crop of breweries and distilleries in Kitsap County (www.visit kitsap.com reports at least a dozen breweries alone currently in operation), Glenn said established businesses were nothing but supportive upon learning of his budding endeavor.
“Everyone’s been super welcoming, even [the owner of] Bainbridge Organic [Distillery] just down the road has been super helpful and we’ve leaned on him for advice as a startup since he’s very well established and successful,” Glenn said. “The whole industry, actually, is very supportive and collaborative.
“More business around here have been really welcoming and accommodating because, as we build up this profile of different breweries, wineries and distilleries, it’s becoming this sort of hot spot and mecca for people to come seek out. I think it’s helping everybody.”
For the consumers too, Jeff Glenn added, the appeal is obvious.
“I think it’s just that people like local, that’s kind of what we’re tapping into,” he said. “Meeting the producer — like meet the farmer, meet the grower — meet the producer of your spirits. I think a lot of people … just kind of get tired of this big corporate behemoth and you don’t know what’s behind it; you don’t know how they make their product.”
Reactions have so far been very positive, Matt Glenn said, as customers find their way to the budding business via social media outreach and word of mouth.
“It was a relief finally selling product and seeing positive reactions from folks after all the work we put in,” he said.
However, even now for the brains behind Highside, doors open and drinks being poured, the work is far from done — not only in the distillery itself but at home, surrounded by books, as well.
“My dad and I are enrolled right now in a master’s program in distilling at this school in Scotland,” Glenn said. “We’re more formalizing our education, especially relating to single malt whiskey.”
Of working together, and with their son, both parents agreed it was an adjustment to go from the boss to the business partner.
“I think we’re a pretty close family, but this has definitely tested the relationship and we’ve learned a lot about each other,” Helen Glenn said.
“You learn stuff about yourself that you like and that you don’t like so much,” Jeff Glenn agreed. “I thought I was done maturing, but I guess I’ll grow up until the day I die.”
Visit www.highsidedistilling.com to learn more about the distillery, as well as the latest updates on forthcoming products. The tasting room is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday, and during the week by appointment.