The Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River trails let you bike from Seattle to tour Woodinville's craft distillers making whiskey, vodka, absinthe and grappa.
Stretching from Ballard to Woodinville along the banks of Lake Washington and the Sammamish River, the Burke-Gilman connects with the Sammamish River Trail to provide the crucial human-powered link between Seattle and the delicious nectar of Woodinville’s more than 90 wineries and tasting rooms and the Red Hook Brewery. No designated driver needed. (Legal disclaimers: Don’t drink too much and ride a bike. Stay in school. Give peace a chance.)
Despite the abundance of wineries, our bicycle crew wasn’t interested in cabernet sauvignon — not even the 90-point, award-winning stuff. No, we were looking for something a bit stronger. And we were willing to pedal for it.
Law change paves way
In 2008, Washington passed a law allowing smaller distillers to operate with a craft distillery license. Since then, several makers of absinthe, whiskey, grappa and vodka have cropped up in Woodinville alongside the notable wineries.
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Four of us — an educator, a scientist, a tech manager and this sweaty writer — met at Gas Works Park, on Lake Union’s northern bank, on an impossibly sunny afternoon to ride our bikes out to the new distilleries.
There was a conspicuous lack of spandex, modern biking equipment and water bottles for a 19-mile ride. But that’s the beauty of the Burke-Gilman. From beach cruisers to mountain bikers, the relative flatness and access to amenities along the way make it an accessible ride regardless of tight biking clothes or skill level. (Note: Two miles of the Burke-Gilman are closed for repairs between Northeast 145th Street and Log Boom Park in Kenmore. Follow the detour signs and plan on adding at least 15 minutes to the ride — or, start from Log Boom Park).
After arriving in Woodinville, we bellied up to the tasting table at Woodinville Whiskey Co. Still sweaty, we were served tastes of White Dog Whiskey and Peabody Jones Vodka. I could insert something pretentious here about “nose” and “mouthfeel,” but I’ll just leave the critique to “really good” and “made my empty stomach feel funny.”
We also took a tour with distiller Mike Steine and learned all about the fascinating whiskey-production cycle, including that the leftover mash and tails from the distilling process are fed to some very lucky local pigs.
Pick one or two
Out of the five distilleries in Woodinville, four are open for tours. Though tasting rooms are strictly regulated and overserving is forbidden, in the interest of staying safe and not overdoing your day, pick just one — or maybe two stops close to each other. (We found that this one stop, with the tour, took up our afternoon, just leaving time for a quick side trip to Januik/Novelty Hill Winery to play bocce ball before rendezvousing with our ride home at the Red Hook Brewery.)
Both Soft Tail Spirits and the Woodinville Whiskey Co. are on the west side of the Sammamish River along Northeast Woodinville Drive-Woodinville Redmond Road. It’s a flat, five-minute bike ride between the two.
To learn about vodka from Project V Distillers and absinthe from Pacific Distillery, the warehouse district is the place to head.
Arranging a ride home from Woodinville is a fantastic idea. Also, plan to bring plenty of water, snacks and a backpack with small towels in case you want to take home a bottle or two.
John Kinmonth is a Seattle-based freelance writer.