Ever since two pharmacists joined forces over a whiskey still at Mutiny Bay, it’s been a collision of chemistry and creativity on a daily basis. The spirited results now live inside bottles of cleverly crafted small-batch whiskeys and liqueurs at Mutiny Bay Distillery, which is part of the upcoming Autumn on Whidbey event.
During the event on Nov. 9 and 10, the dynamic duo of former pharmacists Rod and Kathy Stallman will be joining five other liquid-magic creators on South Whidbey to celebrate the end of harvest and showcase the latest works by Whidbey artists.
The Stallmans will be pouring from their tasting room on Cameron Road in Freeland, which has been open for about two years now. But their primary Palouse Gold whiskey, a single-grain recipe named for the original wheat sourced by family farmers in Eastern Washington, was aging in barrels long before the first pour.
The couple put down their first barrel in 2013 and continued to work their day jobs while the whiskey aged – which turned out to be four years. Rod explained that most new distillers start off with an unaged whiskey, or what’s called a “white dog,” but they wanted to launch straight out of the barrel as an authentic distillery with a whiskey aged right on Whidbey Island.
Now that core whiskey serves as the base for an eclectic collection of five additional craft spirits, including a triple-distilled whiskey, aromatic gin, and three liqueurs, including the Sweet Lulu whiskey liqueur, which they call “the whiskey for people who don’t like whiskey.”
The other distillery liqueurs come from ingredients sourced on Whidbey, including organic blueberries from the fields of Mutiny Bay Blues Farm, which happens to be right next door. A coffee liqueur emerges from the Baby Island Blend of beans by Useless Bay Coffee in Langley.
The Stallmans create all their grain-to-glass products by hand, starting with mixing the grains with extremely hot water in the mash tun vessel, stirring it for about six hours, and then letting it sit for six days.
The approximately 6-percent alcohol solution that emerges goes into the still for a process involving two distillations, according to Kathy. The first one distills off the poisonous, bad-tasting alcohol, and the second one is called the “spirit run.” That’s when they start breaking down the parts of the product depending on how they want to use them.
“Those divisions are called the heads, hearts and tails,” said Kathy. “The hearts are really the sweet spot, and they go directly into a new white oak barrel for our aged Palouse Gold whiskey.”
In a third distillation, the “heads and tails” get distilled, with the hearts ending up as the Bayside whiskey, which ages in a used Madeira-wood cask. Since Madeira casks are no longer made, the couple first experimented with placing pieces of Madeira into a standard whiskey barrel and rolling it every day for 60 days.
The first batch sold out immediately, and the Stallman’s son, Scott, a civil engineer who runs the distillery with them, created a barrel-rolling system to enable consistent production. They continue to use genuine Madeira wood from the island of Madeira in Portugal.
Yet another distillation creates the liqueurs and the gin, and then a fifth round gives the gin its smooth finish after soaking in juniper berries and other “secret” botanicals.
Every week, Christine Williams, author of the island’s Free Range newsletter, and her husband, Jeff, pull up outside the distillery and scoop up the spent grains in buckets and bins – which make for some happy sheep with full bellies in nearby pastures.
During the Autumn on Whidbey event, visitors can taste all six of the products and get a glimpse of the distillery room. Artist and photographer Holly Davison from Clinton, known for her outdoor nature landscape and ethereal “starry skies” imagery, will be showing her work inside the tasting room.
The event is sponsored by the Whidbey Island Vintners and Distillers Association, and the tickets include tastings of fine wine and spirits at Mutiny Bay Distillery, Whidbey Island Distillery, Holmes Harbor Cellars, Spoiled Dog Winery, Comforts of Whidbey and Blooms Winery.
Each venue will be showcasing sculptures, paintings, ceramics, glass and more by local artists, with some of them doing live presentations of the artistic process.