Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition
from mediocre minds.
Einstein probably wasn’t referring to alcohol, but we are! From Cultus Bay Distillery to Whidbey’s several esteemed wineries to the Bunker’s unique collection of rich locally made liqueurs and beyond, Whidbey Island is the place to be.
No good story starts with a salad--in fact, a great story begins at Cultus Bay Distillery, an eclectic brand of in-house hard liquors. This small business is a local, island-bred company that even locals arrive at by word of mouth. Don’t let that fool you though--business is booming here. By the end of this, I hope to welcome you to the elite clientele of Whidbey Islands best-kept spirits.
My wife and I lovingly dubbed her Moonshine Kathy, but a lot of people will know her as Kathy Parks. At her distillery, you’ll find the strongest taste of the island in a little, home distillery run by the most seasoned and charming local.
Kathy’s story is a rare and unique one that resonates with all who hear it. In 1987 the Washington native lost her firefighter husband, Gary, while he was on the job. For about thirty years the mystery of who set the fire that killed him remained unsolved while Kathy and her two daughters mourned the heavy loss and navigated deep-seated grief.
While his family honors his memory via stories relayed to anyone who meets them, Kathy immortalizes him through her business. She thoroughly enjoys giving visitors a tour of the cozy distillery, how she makes the spirits, and the reason behind some of the names given to the various alcohols. One, in particular, stood out to me as I’m sure it does to everyone who stops by.
Kathy’s EFD 81 Whiskey is not only distinctive in name and taste, but it is also a special one in memory of Gary and his honorable work.
Another significant characteristic of Kathy’s distillery is how the spirits are made. They use traditional equipment of their own making to ensure authentic distillery processes. Kathy and her partners’ decades-long experience in the field certainly make Cultus Bay Distillery a business you want to keep on your radar as her customer base increases.
Be sure to carve out extra time for your visit to listen to Moonshine Kathy’s engaging stories and revel in her business experiences straight from the source. You’ll want to bring your wallet too, because if you try to leave with just one of her excellent alcohols you’ll end up leaving with one of everything.
Home is where the wine is--so just call Whidbey Island home. Spoiled Dog Winery hits the ball out of the park when it comes to places to sip on the island. Follow the path through a short stretch of woods that opens to a sprawling countryside of vineyards, fields, and blue sky! This winery is a great place to sit and visit for hours on end.
They offer snacks and treats of your choice to pair with their wine. Get a taste of all their offerings with a mixed, red, or white flight… or one of each! I personally like the mixed flight because you get a tasting of a white, rosé, and two reds.
Their staff is also very friendly and knowledgeable, and if you’re not a connoisseur, they are very eager to help you decide what you want. Patrick and Jake were excellent advisors and conversationalists on my last visit.
The prize for a distinctive destination you’ll never forget, however, goes to Comforts of Whidbey in Langley. The views of sparkling water and surrounding mountains alone are spectacular. Just follow the little dirt road up and over the hill until you happen upon an expansive view of the valley and water below.
Here, they offer tastings from 11 am to 5 pm and full pours after. They offer wine tours throughout the year, and they provide live music on Sundays in the afternoons.
The owners, Rita and Carl Comfort, are the most sociable and engaging owners you’ll meet! While Rita poured during our tastings, I got to hear her story. Her husband is originally from the island, but they met on the other side of the country and lived in Australia for over a decade where they developed a taste for bold reds.
My favorite of their own reds, whose grapes are sourced from locations all over Washington, was the 2018 CMS. This Cab/Malbec/Syrah blend is being served for the first time this year, and according to Rita, may not have been created without the pandemic halting time and limiting resources. It is a miracle COVID baby to be sure!
Their B&B sets Comforts apart from the rest. Each room has a view of Puget Sound, and there is a complimentary flight of wine at check-in. The Comforts make it their mission to help visitors recharge their souls, whether you’re visiting for the day or staying overnight.
This is a popular destination for those looking to tour and buy homes. While the tasting room is only open Thursday through Sunday, Rita is always sure to leave wine and cheese out upstairs for overnight guests on off days. Sign me up!
Now, how about a splash of liqueur? The world-renowned Whidbey Island Distillery--or the Bunker as we islanders call it--is home to some of the top-rated liqueurs in the world. Their boysenberry liqueur, in fact, takes the gold as the top-rated alcohol in the world!
Depending on the season, this distillery also releases exclusive limited edition flavors. Summer’s raspberry liqueur with orange peel, my personal favorite, is to die for and sells out fast. Of course, all their liqueurs go great with their Bunker Rye Whiskey or any mixed cocktail you make at home. Visit the island and try it for yourself with a complimentary tasting!
And if that’s not (in) your cup of tea, Penn Cove Brewing Company is the place to be. They have locations in Coupeville, Freeland, and Oak Harbor--no matter which side you’re coming from, their taprooms are always accessible.
They have a wide selection of brews from Lagers to IPAs to Ciders. Be sure to come back, again and again, to try their seasonal ciders as they change all year round! This season’s was a surprising, unique peach cider that goes down easy and feels like the bittersweet last leg of summer.
In the outside seating area permanently sits the Braeburn food truck whose menu pairs perfectly with the brewery’s drink choices. Chicken waffles, fried chicken sandwiches, and so much more! From appetizers and snacks to full meals, you’ll have plenty to fill your stomach at this cool, casual brewery.
Whether you’re into wine, brews, or something harder, you can’t go wrong here. In a place like Whidbey Island, the good times are endless, and you’re never short of a deeply meaningful, unforgettable story.