Savor the spring’s bounty on South Whidbey

General Manager of Whidbey Island Distillery Mike Huffman (left) and senior distillation engineer Jonathan Bower (right) show off their rye whiskey. The rye is in high demand

Spring is a savory time of year. The bloom is in full and the weather is warming up as the sun grows less and less shy, and with the rays come new flavors from our very own backyards.

The annual Savor Spring Food, Wine & Spirits Tour is an opportunity to sample the distillery’s best spirits and some of the best bounty South Whidbey has to offer. Put on by Whidbey Island Vintners and Distillers Association since 2010, the self-guided tour takes guests on a trip through four wineries and Whidbey Island Distillery for a day of tasting and food pairing. Pairings are done by Whidbey restaurants mostly on the South End, but Mile Post 19 Farm in Coupeville will also be featured. The tour is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 14 and 15.

Included wineries this year are those that make up the Whidbey Island Vintners Association: Blooms Winery, Holmes Harbor Cellars, Spoiled Dog Winery and Comforts of Whidbey, with Whidbey Island Distillery the fifth member of the Vintners Association. Each winery or distillery is teaming up with a restaurant to work together to find the perfect pairing, with Sundance Bakery also offering baked goods to multiple pairing events. The featured restaurants this year include Prima Bistro, Glass Alley Cafe, Gordon’s On Blueberry Hill, Mile Post 19 Farm and Roaming Radish. It’s a list of restaurants that illustrates the quality of eats here on the island, said Mike Huffman, general manager of Whidbey Island Distillery.

“Just like everything else on Whidbey Island, the food and beverage scene here … is pretty unique,” Huffman said. “It’s quality over quantity in most cases. We’re lucky to be surrounded by beautiful gardens and farms that grow such great produce.”

As is the case with the other participating wineries and restaurants, Whidbey Island Distillery, owned by Bev and Steve Heising pays close attention to detail in order to add to the burgeoning food and beverage scene on the South End. While the process is long and patient, the distilling masters constantly monitor the status of the spirits in their homey distilling room. Their blackberry liqueur is the single highest rated liqueur of any type in North America with a score of 98 points out of 100 and a ’superlative’ rating, according the company’s website. Their loganberry liqueur received a score of 94 with an ‘exceptional’ rating, it said.

“We specialize and are known for our berry liqueurs,” Huffman said. “It’s what we started with from day one. They’ve won these great rewards but they’re surprisingly simple. We take passion in the distilling process.”

Whidbey Island Distillery will sample their berry liqueurs at Savor, which include the aforementioned flavors as well as raspberry. Some of the company’s relatively new rye whiskey will also be available to sample at the event, although supply is limited due to demand, according to Huffman. They plan to increase their output in the near future with a new, bigger distilling system in order to make the desired amount of rye whisky.

“We’ve got some absolutely fabulous restaurants and food producers and farms where people are doing all kinds of things with food that is just wonderful,” said Virginia Bloom, co-owner of Blooms Winery who also does public relations and marketing for Whidbey Island Vintners Association. “For such a small community, the amount of wineries, breweries and distilleries that are here is staggering. It’s quite a growing industry.”

To Bloom, Savor brings people from the mainland who might not make the journey across the channel otherwise. Since much of the industry on South Whidbey revolves around tourism, the attempts to put the Whidbey food and beverage scene on the map could have an impact on island commerce. From a Whidbey standpoint, those from the island might not come to the breweries without additional company. With more people circulating through the Whidbey wineries and distilleries, locals become more inclined to check out what is happening on the island, according to Bloom.

What Savor builds more than anything, though, is a personal bond between restaurants and drink producers on the South end, according to Jenn Jurriaans, owner of Prima Bistro in Langley.

“Being here on an island, we have such abundant local resources and I think working with the small farms builds more of a personal connection with the farmers,” Jurriaans said. “We have a very dynamic, growing food scene here and my philosophy is to love any opportunity to team up with other restaurants for events and pairings. It brings more attention to the growing food scene here on Whidbey.”