The Washington distillery industry is full of great stories about how and why people decided to start up their stills. Colin Campbell, distiller and owner of Cadée Distillery, has a story that goes back farther than most. He is a member of a clan in Scotland that has been crafting spirits since 1494. It’s in his blood, though it might be a little surprising that he’s distilling spirits on Whidbey Island.
He and his wife first visited the region (which he calls “The Isle of Whidbey”) on vacation around 25 years ago, and they kept coming back, making friends and falling for the scenic locale. Before moving to the states, Campbell enlisted as an aeronautical engineer for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, and then worked as an aeronautical engineer and tech exec. But his clan’s legacy was always waiting to pour out from him. He just needed to find the perfect spot to make it happen.
The area located at sea level between the Cascades and the Olympics Mountains provides an ideal humid maritime climate for aging spirits. Campbell started with gin and vodka, which are produced fairly quickly, and has since added whiskey and rye to Cadée’s lineup. “We are in a barometric trough, which squeezes our barrels and spirits back and forth in a symphony to pull out the most unique flavors from our oak and port-soaked barrels,” says Campbell.
But it’s not just location. Campbell, who opened the distillery in the town of Clinton in 2015, also uses 200-year-old recipes from his clan, his family, and historical sources as starting points, sourcing the purest ingredients available, and carrying that commitment all the way through to the name of his distillery, Cadée, which means “pure” in Gaelic.
And he works tirelessly with those ingredients and recipes to get the flavors just right. Cadée’s Intrigue gin, for example, went through 20 rounds of flavor profile testing until Campbell felt the botanicals were balanced perfectly. He has also imported particular port, sherry and rum barrels from all over the world for aging bourbons and ryes, even handling one late-night delivery during a freezing rain and wind storm. Of course, if you ask him about that eventful night, he only says, with a twinkle in his eye and a grin, “Scotland prepared me well for this!”
Campbell’s good nature and sense of humor are evident to those who visit his distillery. He’s as dedicated to giving visitors a good experience as he is to delivering memorable spirits. You can also see this humor and dedication in the video of the Cadée story on the distillery’s website in which Campbell, clad in kilt, attempts a yoga pose or two under the gaze of Kevin the goat, before rising out of Whidbey’s Lone Lake wearing face paint straight out of Braveheart. He’s always telling tales and jokes in his Scottish accent, serving up samples, explaining the crafting and telling the stories behind the spirit—and laughing. I think the 500-year-old Campbell clan would be pretty happy to have Colin Campbell and Cadée carrying on its legacy.
8912 State Route 525, Clinton, Whidbey Island