Kate Johnson considers herself a novice, a neophyte when it comes to fine wines, craft beer and cider, cheese and cured meats.
Perhaps in the context of standing next to a career charcuterie expert or a Master Sommelier, she is indeed a neophyte. For the majority of her customers at The Tipsy Gourmet, she’s a wealth of information and insight into flavor and taste.
“I like to try to get stuff in that people can’t find,” she said.
In the shop in Langley Village, the shopping area between Second and Third streets, Johnson has collected a host of hard-to-find brews, wines and spirits. Tipsy Gourmet is Langley’s new go-to place for anyone looking to put on a cocktail party.
Her talents were recently utilized in an edition of Kitsch ‘n’ Bitch, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ food and drink series. She created the Jammy Juice, based on a pajama-themed evening, that includes vermouth, brut rosé and an orange slice for garnish (see breakout box for the recipe).
Ask her about how to pair some of the cheeses with crackers and the right wine, and she’s got several answers. A question about what defines “abbey ale” had her stumped, but only for as long as it took for her to search online for a good definition. She may not know everything, but she’s quick to learn.
“There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” she said.
Johnson is an island girl who left Whidbey after high school, pursued culinary school in Portland, returned to the area and finally returned home to start her own business.
She opened in September 2014 in the space formerly run by the Langley liquor store. With alcohol sales taken out of the state’s strict hands, Johnson said her aim is to provide booze for special occasions and people willing to try something different. She knows that means customers have to trust her, and she’s hoping to earn that trust, one sip and one nibble at a time.
When people come in, they can often get a sample of the cured meats and special cheeses she stocks. Prosciutto, manchego, and an assortment of blue cheeses are all up for interested taste buds. Her reason is simple: she wants customers to know they like it before they buy it.
Offering that same service for the imported wines or craft bourbons isn’t as simple. She can’t just crack open a bottle and offer sips at all hours of the day, so she hosts regular events. Some of the upcoming tastings cost $5 to $10 and include organic and sustainable wines, American cider tasting, ladies night and Eastern European wines.
Anyone with hesitation about attending one of her wine tastings should take heart from a story she told about one regular customer. He had not attended any of her near weekly tastings until she asked why and heard that he didn’t know how to properly taste a wine or swirl it. She was happy to show him the method of keeping the glass on the table, how to smell and taste wine like an aficionado.
Those seeking local products will be hard pressed to find it in Johnson’s store. She said that’s because if they want a Whidbey wine, they should go to the winery itself and directly support them.
“When you don’t want to drink Washington wine, come see me,” she said.
Kate Johnson, owner of The Tipsy Gourmet in Langley, crafted this cocktail in honor of WICA’s Kitsch ‘n’ Bitch series.
4 oz. BroVo Spirits Jammy Vermouth
1 oz. Oriol Rossell Brut Rosé
1 orange slice
Pour vermouth over ice in cocktail glass, top with a floater of rosé. Garnish with orange slice.