Berry picking leads to merry drinking

Whidbey Island’s thorny berry bushes are ripe with possibilities. The sweet fruit can be made into cobbler, jam or turned into a special batch of distilled beverages.

The past three summers, Whidbey Island Distillery has solicited the help of its neighbors to collect blackberries for its Community Batches of blackberry liqueur.

The result of last year’s harvest is released for sale today, Aug. 3.

For every pound collected, the distillery will donate $2 to the nonprofit of the berry picker’s choice. When the batch is completed, it will donate another $2 per bottle sold.

“Every year, it tastes a little different,” General Manager Mike Huffman said.

It takes over 200 pounds of berries to create a typical batch of the distillery’s product, Huffman said. About four years ago the distillery decided it wanted to make some of its product from the island’s own blackberries, but the idea of picking enough of them with its relatively small staff was a little overwhelming, he said.

The distillery recently started accepting berries for next year’s beverage and will continue to “until the berries are gone,” said Huffman. Blackberries may be dropped off 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at the Whidbey Island Distillery in Langley.

Last year, the effort raised about $600 through the berry picking and another $2,000 in bottle sales, he said. The biggest beneficiaries were Ryan’s House for Youth and the Whidbey Homeless Coalition.

Huffman said he also had a group of North Whidbey people who would donate berries to raise money for the Oak Harbor Boys and Girls Club.

Berry picking leads to merry drinking

There are about 160 bottles for sale this year, which is fewer than average. Huffman said he hopes to collect more blackberries this summer to produce a larger batch for next year.

The process is a little less controlled than it is for a typical product by Whidbey Island Distillery, he said. As long as the berries are clean, from the island and pretty ripe, the company will accept them.

“This is one where we throw a little more caution to the wind,” he said. “That’s kind of fun.”

At the tasting room, the distillery will offer side-by-side comparisons of the community batch and its regular Blackberry Liqueur, made from berries purchased in Sequim. The distillery’s standard blackberry drink holds the highest rating of a spirit made in the U.S. from the Beverage Tasting Institute.

• The Community Batch will be on sale until bottles run out. Whidbey Island Distillery is located at 3466 Craw Road, Langley