I remember when I was a child, my sisters and I couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve (many children probably experience this phenomenon, or on the day before their favorite holiday). We’d try to stay up all night, and then wake up extra early. This feeling lives on in many adults here in Washington, but instead of Christmas, it comes around Woodinville Whiskey’s Autumn Harvest release events – the latest of which happened last Saturday.
Autumn is the ideal time for a whiskey release, as we travel from warmer summer into cooler fall and winter. As Woodinville Whiskey co-distiller and co-founder (along with high school best friend Brett Carlile) Orlin Sorensen says, it’s “whiskey season” and “the time of year our corn and rye are harvested on the Omlin family farm in Quincy, WA.” Woodinville has been having release parties since their first location, before moving into their current lovely barn-shaped distillery in 2013.
And many people who attended the most recent event began going to events at that original distillery. At each event, Woodinville Whiskey serves homemade apple cider and pastries and, of course, releases a new whiskey – this year it was a Toasted Applewood Finished Rye. The first 500 bottles were hand numbered and packaged in custom Applewood crates, and get signed by Sorensen and Carlile. Doors opened at 7 a.m., and a lengthy line was already in place at that time.
But the person at the front of line, Dan O’Brien, was there far in advance of 7 a.m., showing up at 6:55 a.m. – the day before! He told me he would have been at the distillery even earlier, except he had to drop off his wife at work first. Coming for years, this was his first time as number 1, moving up each year: 65 two years ago, 12 last year. As number 1, he helps handing out the numbers, which correspond to the bottle you get. This year, Dan gets the very first bottle.
Why show up nearly 24 hours early? Well, the whiskey, first and foremost. O’Brien has a cherished collection that’s growing. But also, as he said, “it’s a reunion every year.” Even as a newbie, you can feel the community atmosphere, and the fun everyone’s having as they wait for doors to open, standing and sitting, laughing, catching up, and often calling each other by the number they held when they met. Sorensen (he and Carlile are walking around greeting those regulars), says, “it’s like sitting around the campfire with old friends (some nodding off, some up all night chatting).”
It’s a family affair – not only was O’Brien’s wife there, now off work, but his son, too, and I saw many babies. Once I picked up my own number, 68, and found my place in the early-morning line, I was right behind an amiable pregnant woman, who talked about how she wouldn’t be able to sip the whiskey for two more months, but still wanted to get her numbered and signed bottle along with one requested by her father in Arizona.
There’s tasting of the new whiskey, as well (few things are as wonderful as sipping a little whiskey early on a slightly-chilly fall morning). This year’s autumn release is a follow up to last year’s, which was a Toasted Applewood Finished Bourbon. The Toasted Applewood Rye, an 100 percent rye whiskey, delivers a different level of spice, like rye is known for. But the newest from Woodinville is very singular, thanks to the addition of toasted Applewood staves during the aging, which conveys baked fruit notes, led by apples alongside a bit of berry, combining with cinnamon, clove, and caramel. A scrumptious tipple for the season (and the upcoming holidays), but one that wasn’t easy to achieve. Just ask Orlin, who said, “It took us a long time to perfect the Applewood finishing process. The toasting element is extremely important as it caramelizes the wood sugars which allows the sweetness and fruitiness to be released from the wood.” I believe the crowd showing up early would agree the work they put in was worth it.
If you missed the Autumn Release event, you can still pick up the Toasted Applewood Rye, but only at the distillery (14509 Redmond-Woodinville Rd NE, Woodinville) – and probably only until near the end of the year, as it is a limited-edition. Getting up early for whiskey sound enjoyable (it is, and you don’t have to match O’Brien and show up twenty-four hours early)? Best to follow the distillery on Facebook, or keep an eye on the distiller’s journal, so you don’t miss out next fall.