Larry Person was always interested in wine making. However, the Persons owned the Lazy River Farm in the Kent Valley for 25 years before deciding to dive into the world of craft distilling. In 2010, Larry and Linda Person, along with their nephew David O’Neal, started the process of turning a hobby farm into a distilling business.
There was a craft distillery movement starting around 2008 in the Pacific Northwest, most distilleries choosing to make vodka. Sidetrack Distillery decided to make fruit-based spirits instead. Everything in the 12 different products they make are grown on their farm with no pesticides, and no artificial colors or flavors. The liqueurs are sweetened with beet sugar (also grown on Lazy River Farm), and are filtered five times, so the fruit spirits are clean, not syrupy, and very flavor forward.
O’Neal and the Persons are the only three employees of the Sidetrack Distillery. That is the best part about his job said O’Neal. Nothing is routine, and there is always something different to do. They are truly farm-to-bottle, from planting the seeds, harvesting, preparing, distilling, bottling and selling. It is all done on their six acre farm along the Green River.
“It’s very rewarding seeing the end product,” O’Neal said.
It takes about three months to distill each batch in their copper stills made in Portugal. It then mellows in stainless steel tanks made in Italy, not oak barrels, so the brandy is clear instead of brown, retaining the freshness of the fruit.
The most popular spirits they make right now are the Raspberry Liqueur and the Nocino (Walnut) Liqueur. Nocino is a rich, dark, nutty classic in the Alpine regions of Europe, a liqueur made from green walnuts hand picked at just the right time in early summer. They, of course, grow the walnuts on their farm as well.
Liqueurs were a tradition in early America. Most of the early American settlers had their own secret recipes for making liqueurs and they would offer some to guests as a “cordial” refreshment. Sidetrack Distillery is continuing this tradition with a commitment to produce world class cordials, specialty spirits and brandies using their own northwest produce to craft fine artisan spirits.
Sidetrack Distillery’s spirits have won several prestigious awards. Their Raspberry Eau De Vie or Fruit Brandy, also known as Framboise, won a gold medal, “Best of Category”, at the American Distilling Institute. Bete is an earthy spirit distilled from beets with the aroma and taste of roasted root vegetables, and theirs won “Best of Category” and Gold Medal at the 2014 American Distilling Institute’s annual judging.
Their Cassis was awarded “Excellence in Packaging” and a Silver Medal in 2013, the popular Raspberry Liqueur was awarded “Best of Category” Gold Medal in 2012, and their Nocino was awarded “Best of Category” Bronze Medal in 2013. Most recently, their Shiso, an unusual liqueur essential in flavoring Asian cuisine, evokes the spice of the tropics and ends with a refreshingly cool finish, won the Bronze medal in 2015.
The farm has a beautiful venue for weddings from June through September for up to 120 guests. The large barn is only a few years old, but it looks like it has been on the property for ages thanks to the wood stain and excellent craftsmanship. They have an adorably decorated bride’s room building, and the groom’s room was built with reclaimed, 100-year old barn wood and has seating saved from an old theater.
Right now you can find their liqueurs in Washington State Total Wine & More stores, many bars in Seattle and Bellevue and at the farm. They’ve just started selling in select Boston and California establishments as well. The future for Sidetrack Distillery is selling some more out of state, but they don’t want to grow too big. They want the family business to stay a size the three of them can manage and keep the high quality they are known for.
You can visit the charming tasting room year round on Saturdays 11AM-5PM and by appointment. They give tours, by appointment, of the farm in the summer as well. Their website has a listing of all of their products, including where to find them and recipes for craft cocktails. Their phone # is: 206-963-5079.