Who we are, how we got here and what we are doing

We are three partners: Rich Anderson and Suzy and Hawk Pingree. Rich Anderson is a retired Boeing systems analyst who planted the orchard at Westcott Bay and began making hard cider in 1999. Suzy and Hawk Pingree are retired University of Wisconsin-Madison professors who went for a walk one day by Rich's orchard and said to themselves, "Why isn't that guy making apple brandy with those beautiful apples?" It turned out that Rich was pretty interested in that idea, so now we are all partners in both Westcott Bay Cider and San Juan Island Distillery. We all work together to pick apples, press them and make wonderful ciders and spirits.

Westcott Bay Cider is the second-oldest ciderworks in Washington. We harvest the 16 varieties of apples in Rich's small (acre and a half) orchard, press the apples into fresh juice, pitch a champagne yeast into the juice and slowly ferment it into their prize-winning ciders. Half the battle of making a fine spirit is in properly fermenting what goes into the still. We know how to do that!

The climate conditions at Westcott Bay Cider are nearly identical to those in Normandy, where French farmers make cider from their apple orchards and a very fine apple brandy called Calvados. Making a Washington state apple brandy just as good as French Calvados is our dream, and we're off to a good start, with gold and bronze medals for our Apple Eau de Vie (the fresh clear distillate from the cider) in 2011. But it takes at least three years in French oak barrels for apple eau de vie to become apple brandy: caramel colored, vanilla notes, more complex.

While we're waiting for the brandy to age, we've been using research skills from our previous careers to experiment with recipes for gin, fruit brandies and liqueurs, and bitters. Both of our apple- and grain-based gins employ foraged island botanicals to produce intense and evocative aromas and tastes that are great in cocktails but equally worth drinking just over ice. The fruit brandies and liqueurs sip well alone, but we also love them in cocktails.

So far we've been focused on developing products and introducing them to visitors at the distillery and tasting room near Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. The two hours we're open each Saturday gather a happy mob to taste and talk in front of our two stills, a 200-liter German Adrian still with bells and whistles and a 30-liter Portuguese pot still just for making gin.