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


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

Hoppy and Happy

Hoppy and Happy

Seattle Beer Week returns for its 15th year

I was enjoying a pint at my favorite Ballard brewery when I noticed the advertising flyer for the upcoming Seattle Beer Week. 

Getting Tanked in Pioneer Square

Getting Tanked in Pioneer Square

Seattle’s first ‘tank bar’ set to open early next year

Let’s skip the keg and get straight to the beer. The city’s first tank bar will soon open in the Pioneer Square neighborhood.

Fremont Brewing Sold

Fremont Brewing Sold

The popular Seattle brewer is joining forces with Pike Brewing

Seattle Hospitality Group has acquired a controlling interest in Seattle’s Fremont Brewing, three years after it acquired another iconic Seattle company, Pike Brewing.

Their Spirits Were Not Broken

Their Spirits Were Not Broken

Ballard’s only distillery finally opens after years of setbacks

Covid caused multiple delays in the fabrication of their stills in Germany. A 140-day concrete workers strike created more chaos during build-out, as did city permitting issues. Much of their equipment burned to the ground in a Kent warehouse fire...