A Scotchman’s dream: Clinton man brings booze business to limelight

Colin Campbell has spent a year building his business

Colin Campbell knows how to make a splashy entrance.

After a year working to get all the permits and licensing in place, the Langley resident and native Scot is ready to emerge as a power player in the growing world of craft distilleries in Washington.

Campbell is a month away from opening the doors to his Cadée Distillery’s tasting room and facility in Clinton. Cadée is gaelic for pure, and Campbell wants to keep that at the heart of the bourbon, rye whiskey, vodka, gin and single-malt whiskey in the Scotch vein that his company will produce and sell.

“If you use quality components in quality barrels … then you’ll develop good product,” Campbell said, motioning toward the white oak barrels used to store port wine during a recent interview with The Record.

To help spark the business’ launch, Campbell set up a promotional video on the online crowdfunding site Indiegogo that showcases some of his more eccentric characteristics. In the video, Campbell is wearing a Scottish kilt, complete with knit wool socks and the shoes worn during ceremonial sword dancing performed at the recent Highland Games in Greenbank, and is meditating in a field with bright red barns behind him. He wanders around the pasture, tries to feed metal art in the shape of a goat, does a bit of fishing at Lone Lake and even takes a dip into the notoriously toxic algae-filled waters, emerging with bright blue face paint like William Wallace in the blockbuster film “Braveheart.”

He didn’t know at the time of his swim that the water was potentially dangerous to him, though he said the young angler tossing in a lure nearby mentioned it — after Campbell came out of the water.

“I have had a cough ever since,” he said with a laugh.

That video was essentially a commercial. Seeking $30,000 and with about $10,000 pledged to date, most of the pledges are for products — candles, T-shirts, snifter glasses, hats — and will help finance other supplies, equipment and materials. Capital purchases of equipment and retail space were already made, and all of the bottling machines are in the back section of the shop that is walled off and accessible from the front by a sliding barn door that Campbell built himself.

He already has the lease for the former Whidbey Telecom tech support building near Deer Lake Road. Plus, the video serves to underline and undermine his opinion that spirits were the drink of the wealthy while beer the drink of the poor, and he’d like to see those class distinctions erased.

“Historically, there’s been a lot of snobbery about spirits,” Campbell said in the tasting room off Highway 525 that has yet to open.

Prices were not yet set on what a fifth of bourbon, rye whiskey, gin or vodka would cost, he said, but he said they will be affordable for the average imbiber.

Putting the business in Clinton was a simple choice; space was available and he figured it would make for an ideal location to lure commuters on their way home from work and tourists. News of the burgeoning business was welcomed by Clinton Community Council President Jack Lynch, who serves as a volunteer for the group trying to unify the unincorporated area’s voice and interests.

“To me it’s wonderful news, particularly somebody who’s willing to open on the highway side and with something that will be an attraction,” Lynch said.

“Hopefully others will see what he’s doing and give further consideration to likewise locating in Clinton,” he added.

Craft distilleries are still emerging as an industry in Washington. Fees from the Washington State Liquor Control Board totaled almost $64,000 in the past year, and that does not include the state’s taxes on the sale of spirits.

Locally, it could mean much more.

Ron Nelson, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council, said the establishment of a new distillery to join the two others on South Whidbey, plus the handful of wineries, creates an “industry cluster.”

“When you think of the rural character that we prize so much in Island County, that type of business fits,” he said.

“That’s a great way for our farmers to come up with more income,” he added.

Campbell is a native of Scotland with a 500-year-old family — or clan, as he says — history in the distilling industry. He retains his thick Scottish accent in the vein of pop culture’s most famous Scot, Sean Connery, after a lifetime of travel and a more recent lengthy stint living in Langley. His clan is from the Scottish town where the Grant & Sons distilling company produces such brands as Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Hendrick’s Gin and Tullamore Dew. He is relying on some old friends from the beverage industry to guide his own product, and a group of “spiritual” advisors, with an emphasis on “spirit.”

Despite the quaint, small-time feel of his Indiegogo video, Campbell has treated this venture with serious ledger oversight. He keeps a detailed spreadsheet of every batch produced, its measurable qualities and how it tested with blind tasters. Thus far, he said, all of the blind taste tests have seen Cadée spirits best their more established competition.

Once open, some time in late September, he will join a small booze-producing industry on Whidbey Island. Only two other legally operating distilleries exist on South Whidbey. The long-established Whidbey Island Distillery on Craw Road specializes in loganberry, blackberry and raspberry liqueurs and has occasionally forayed into whiskey, and Kayak Spirits Distillery in Freeland. Another distillery, Cultus Bay Distillery, is in the process of opening in the Sandy Hook area of Langley.

Campbell has had a varied career with the United Kingdom Royal Air Force, as an aeronautical engineer with Airbus and a technology company executive, before finding Langley as a place to settle some roots and take up a bit of real estate work. Now, with his sights set on becoming the next great booze baron a la the Bacardi family, he is already thinking about the next two steps before even having the first one all the way grounded.

Despite not being open, Campbell’s self-financed craft distillery (limited to producing 60,000 gallons per year) is preparing to quickly get its product out to customers and distributors seeking high quality, affordable alcohol. After that, or rather even now, he is looking for investors to help grow the business — before this all selling a bottle.

“This business is not just about this tasting room,” he said, adding that craft distilleries can support many more jobs beyond their doors.