Bellingham is known for its slew of breweries and beer-friendly culture – and rightly so. But its cocktail game is also worth raving about, and is set to be celebrated during Bellingham Cocktail Week.
Try something completely different with a Japanese Whisky tasting at Uisce on February 3 or a game of Clue at northwater that same night. Like rum drinks? Swing by Temple Bar on February 7, and then hit Gainsbarre Vin Naturel to learn all about aperitifs.
Redlight owner Rebecca Ogden and former Temple Bar owner Chelsea Farmer threw the first Bellingham Cocktail Week in late 2015, a celebration of all things spirits. It was a rousing success, but 2016 came and went without a follow-up.
In spring of 2017, the two women approached Sara Holodnick about reviving and growing the event into an annual happening.
“They thought I’d be a good fit, so I took it on,” says Holodnick, who writes extensively about local cocktail culture for WhatcomTalk and has long been involved in downtown Bellingham events through her Good Time Girls tours and Bureau of Historical Investigation.
She began with a deep dive into researching other Cocktail Weeks across the country and landed on a plan that shines the spotlight on Bellingham’s bars and bartenders with a daily mainstay event, giving community members a chance to imbibe, enjoy – and learn.
“There will be one main event every day to draw people, and then they can go around to different locations and try specials and tastings and such,” says Holodnick. “We really want people to show up and engage with the bartenders and people there; they’re creating events that will be really engaging and exciting.”
Holodnick also enlisted the help of HappyChap Creative Co., a talented team she calls her “co-conspirators” and “the evil geniuses” behind the event’s branding and promotion. You can see some of HappyChap’s inspired work, including an entertaining video titled “Even Brewers Think It’s OK to Drink Cocktails,” on the Bellingham Cocktail Week Facebook page.
And while the majority of stops on this year’s calendar are downtown and in Fairhaven – such as Uisce, övn, Miller’s Back Door, Rook and Rogue Board Game Pub, the Racket, and many more – folks outside the core have also jumped onboard, including northwater and BelleWood Distilling. Holodnick intends to ultimately stretch Bellingham Cocktail Week into all corners of Bellingham where cocktails are shaken and stirred.
Temple Bar beverage manager Riley White-Brainard has fabulous events planned, including a visit from Skip Rock Distillers on February 7, who will focus on their rum selections, showcasing the diversity and flexibility of the spirit.
“We’re also partnering with St. George Spirits to create a special cocktail menu for the evening of February 8,” says co-owner Carrie Cooper, “and we’ll offer Happy Hour Whiskey flights from Heaven Hill Distillery.” Spirits specialist Matt Harvey will be on hand to answer questions.
Temple Bar will offer additional tastings and/or educational seminars during the week.
“Gainsbarre – co-owned by Tom Grayling, former Daphne’s manager – features aperitif cocktails, so they’ll do a vermouth spotlight and educate and involve people in how you make a cocktail when you don’t have spirits,” says Holodnick.
As title sponsors of Bellingham Cocktail Week, Grayling and his Gainsbarre team strive to be ambassadors of good spirit and goodwill in Bellingham’s vibrant night scene.
“Besides offering specials all week that showcase our exciting cocktail program with wine-based spirits, we’re hosting a few really special nights full of education with a big focus on aperitifs,” says Grayling.
Events at Gainsbarre – and its neighboring, soon-to-open Swim Club – will offer h’ors d’oeuvres, education, tasting and socializing with both a VIP ticketed evening featuring Lustau Sherry ambassador Nathan Layman and American Northwest Distributors, and also a public showcase on vermouth and aperitifs with Leith Shenstone of Fasel Shenstone Import in collaboration with Young’s Distributing.
Whole Foods Market will sponsor an industry appreciation brunch on February 6 and provide ingredients for a garnish competition as part of February’s Art Walk, where several downtown bars will compete to create the prettiest drink. People can sip the cocktails during Art Walk and then vote online for the winner. Whole Foods will also provide pop-ups throughout the week, highlighting craft cocktail ingredients.
“We’re excited to be part of this exciting event,” says Whole Foods’ Olivia Yates O’Donnell. “Bellingham Cocktail Week creates a platform to highlight local craft cocktail artisans and the creative ingredients they use, while providing residents with an opportunity to come together over artful cocktails.”
Bellingham Cocktail Week will also partner for a February 4 “Bellingham Rhapsody” event at Pickford Film Center. Holodnick dubs it “the official recuperation brunch” of Bellingham Cocktail Week.
“The Pickford will screen “Wayne’s World” alongside a brunch buffet with a Bayou on Bay bloody Mary bar and a coffee cocktail from Bellingham Coffee Roasters,” she says. All ticket sales will benefit the Pickford.
Holodnick thought carefully about the timing of Bellingham Cocktail Week.
“The holidays are too busy and so many people are doing dry January now, so we thought we’d wait and be ready for everyone on February 1,” she says with a laugh. “It’s also the time of year when people are realizing how much longer winter is.”
She specifically aimed to wedge the event into a time of year when area bars aren’t so busy and would benefit from a boost.
The bottom line is that Holodnick has every expectation of making a splash with Bellingham Cocktail Week and is fully committed to creating something special that will grow into an annual, signature event.
“I’m hell-bent on it,” she says with a grin.
For more insight into Bellingham Cocktail Week, check out this recent episode of The Whatcom Report, where host Kevin Coleman interviews Sara Holodnick.
Keep on top of all the Bellingham Cocktail Week happenings at www.bellinghamcocktailweek.com and remember: There’s no need to try all the drinks in one evening; imbibe responsibly – and double-check that your Uber app is at the ready, should you need it.