Food & Drink

Seattle-area Highside Distilling’s Secret Ingredient Gives Its Spirits a Local Flavor

On Bainbridge Island, the Glenn family uses apples to produce gin and amari

By AJ Rathbun December 31, 2019

1_lead_JC_7253

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the December 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Jeff and Helen Glenn didn’t anticipate launching second careers when they decided to retire in 2012 and 2015 respectively: he from a career stretching back to the early days of IT, and she from years owning and operating a preschool. But when son Matt, a passionate home brewer, fell in love with whiskey—“essentially the next evolution of beer,” he calls it—after a distillery tour, he talked his parents out of retirement. Together, they opened Bainbridge’s Highside Distilling just after Thanksgiving last year.

Now, you’ll see all three Glenns running the tasting room, welcoming and serving visitors, and distilling. Like many local distillers, they’re driven by a passion for their product, not a desire to make a quick buck. As it took nearly two years from lease signing to the still’s first run—a timeline common for distillers—passion is a necessary ingredient. So is creativity, both in solving problems and for putting a distinctive stamp on products. At Highside, one way these qualities have manifested is in the use of Washington apples as a base for its gin, instead of the usual grain. It started when the Glenns made a batch of hard cider that fell short of the mark. They decided to distill it and voilà! As Matt says, “The resulting spirit was incredibly soft and smooth, and made a great canvas for the particular blend of botanicals we layered on top.”

That gin also serves as a base for two traditional Italian-inspired amari: Amaro Mele and Fernet Lario. In the past decade, cocktail buffs have fallen hard for amari, bitterish herbal spirits renowned for aiding digestion and balancing cocktails. The gin base brings a bouquet of 10 botanicals from the beginning, a different starting point than the neutral grain base traditionally used. The Glenns are experimenting with other amari, as well as a Campari-esque aperitivo, barrel-aged gins (including a “pink” gin that has been resting in a wine barrel previously used for Petit Syrah, and which may have been released by now), a brandy collaboration with neighbor Eagle Harbor Wine Co., and other projects.


You can find Highside’s products at liquor stores and, of course, at their distillery. 

The single malt whiskey that Matt originally fell in love with also is on the horizon (the distillery’s name refers to two areas of Scotland: the Highlands and one of its subregions, Speyside). Created using 100% Pacific Northwest barley and a treasured old Scotch ale home-brew recipe, Highside’s first whiskey was barreled in April 2019. It will be a few years yet before it’s whiskey-sipping time, but there’s no reason to put off a visit to the distillery to sample gin and amari in Highside’s lovely little tasting room. My guess is that you’ll find the whole Glenn family there. And, if you stay awhile, you’ll start to feel like family, too.

Follow Us

Seattle’s Best Fireside Bars 

Seattle’s Best Fireside Bars 

Sip your way through winter at the city’s coziest spots

Seattle is in the heart of its dark, damp, and gloomy stretch — a season that leaves you chilled from the inside out. With plummeting temperatures and near constant drizzle, it can feel challenging to work up the motivation to step outside.

Around the World, Sip by Sip (Part Two)

Around the World, Sip by Sip (Part Two)

Quench your thirst for travel without leaving Seattle

Like wine, mezcal and pisco have been carefully produced in their native countries, Mexico and Peru, for centuries, with each farm, grower, and distiller imparting characteristics that cannot be separated from the land itself. Step into these regions with a glass in hand and conjure the magical streets of Oaxaca or Cusco. Bring the same

Around the World, Sip by Sip (Part One) 

Around the World, Sip by Sip (Part One) 

Quench your thirst for travel without leaving Seattle

Whether it’s a dry rosé that evokes the sense memory of a sunbaked afternoon in Provence, or a crisp pilsner that brings back a boisterous Prague beer hall, libations transport our minds to faraway lands. The next time you go out, bring the same sense of adventure you would to travel by sampling one of…

No booze in Seattle? No problem

No booze in Seattle? No problem

Seattle is a national leader in the booming nonalcoholic drink category

Kamp Social House in Madison Valley is alive on a Friday night. Customers pile up by the front door and politely squeeze past each other in the narrow path to the host stand, hoping to snag a table, but the place to be is on a bar stool, talking to bartenders Jeannie and Angela. Jeannie…