Brandon Egbert is the new head distiller for Bellewood Distillery in Lynden, Washington, the state’s first “farm-to-glass” distillery. All the ingredients used are sourced from Bellewood Farms, a family-owned and-operated apple orchard tied to the distillery. The 31 acres are home to almost 25,000 apple trees and 21 varieties. Egbert has the challenge of bringing his own flare to the spirits he makes while being respectful of the heritage that came before him.
1) You use apples for your gin, can you describe the process and flavor as this is not the traditional base for gin?
Distilleries typically make gin from a base of grains or potatoes, which, by their nature, are void of much flavor. Apples not only add slightly to the flavor profile, but the sugars smooth out some of the harshness associated with alcohol. We believe gin made from apples is much more drinkable straight than other gins on the market, because of the smoothness.
Our gin is distilled three times. The first is what is called a stripping run, it’s to get as much alcohol as possible from the fermented apple cider. The second distillate is to make the spirit as clean as possible. The third is when we add juniper berries and six other botanicals to our gin basket to infuse the spirit with the flavors that you taste.
2) Considering Bellewood is located on a working orchard and farm, how important it is to use estate-grown fruit?
We believe in community food systems and it’s important to us that we grow or obtain most everything locally that we put into our products. Also, it gives us a great feeling to be sustainable. Not only do we grow our own apples for our spirits but any leftover mash from our distillery is put back onto the orchard as fertilizer. Another huge benefit of growing our own raw materials is freshness. I am always hearing from customers that our spirits taste fresh, not something you usually hear about spirits.
Where products are grown is a big deal to consumers so it’s awesome to just point outside and show them that they are grown right outside the distillery.
3) Why did you choose Honeycrisp apples to make your vodka?
Because of the proliferation of flavored vodkas in the marketplace, some may think that our apples are just infused in our vodkas. We actually distill them from apples, no apple flavors are added. It’s funny, even after I explain this to customers in our tasting room they still don’t understand. People don’t think vodka can be made from apples, but it can, and it is delicious. Honeycrisp apples have a high sugar content which adds to some of the smoothness of the vodka and, even after three distillations, some of that Honeycrisp sweetness comes through.
4) As Bellewood’s new distiller, how are you making your mark while respecting the heritage that precedes you?
Bellewood Distillery has a core values of innovation, excellence and humility. That emphasis on innovation allows me as the distiller to be creative and have fun coming up with new ideas. It has been a little difficult producing the same excellent tastes that Bellewood is known for while also trying to add a little of myself to them.
The spirits were getting rebranded so that gave me a chance to get my first change. After doing a taste test with the vodkas at different proofs, I decided to change the proofs from 80 to 93. I just felt at 93 proof the vodkas tasted their best, plus 93 was such a cool old number to have on the bottles. Later this year I’ll be introducing a barrel-aged gin and a cold brew coffee liqueur. I’m also developing a bourbon using local grains smoked with applewood from our orchard, which will be Bellewood’s first non-apple-based spirit.