By Leslie Kelly
January 04, 2016

There's a long list of essential things to do when visiting the stunningly beautiful San Juan Islands off Washington state's coast: Whale watch, kayak, wander the farmers market during the summer months and explore the cool shops in charming Friday Harbor. But a trip wouldn't be complete without a Pig War Martini. Uh, say what? That cleverly named cocktail doesn't contain a speck of bacon, but rather is a boozy tribute to the 12-year standoff between British and American troops over the sudden death of a foraging pig. A condensed version of the history of the nation's most obscure conflict is printed on the cocktail menu at historic Roche Harbor, and a local distillery uses its own small-batch gin to create its version.

pig war martini at san juan island distillery
Gin from San Juan Island Distillery. Photo by Leslie Kelly

In 1859, the San Juan Islands were occupied by British troops and a small population of Americans, though the territory was still up for grabs. When an American shot a pig that belonged to the Brits, the military commander threatened to evict the settlers, but soldiers from a nearby company stepped in. While tensions ran high, there were no casualties... except for the pig. Twelve years later, the border dispute was settled by binding arbitration and the British troops left the island. Visitors can tour both the British Camp and the American Camp, the former includes a formal garden and a garrison designed to protect the harbor.

Every summer, the island's Pig War Picnic draws huge crowds on the Fourth of July and the National Park Service leads guided walks detailing the nation's most under-the-radar conflict on Saturdays from June through August. There's even a Pig War Band, and, of course, that martini.

At the cozy Fireside Bar in McMillin's restaurant -- named for one of the pioneers of the region -- the popular cocktail leans toward fruity. It's a shaken drink that begins with a foundation of vodka and Triple Sec. Splashes of orange, cranberry and pineapple juices are added before it's mixed until frothy. A teaspoon of Grenadine turns it a pale shade of pink. Like an adorable piggy bank.

pig war martini at roche harbor
The historic Pig War Martini at Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island. Photo by Leslie Kelly

At San Juan Island Distillery, just down the road from Roche Harbor, owner Suzy Pingree sells pre-batched bottles of the drink, her version a more classic martini made from gin and vermouth. What makes this Pig War Martini extra special is the small-batch gin distilled with botanicals grown or gathered on the island. The teeny distillery, which houses a gorgeous copper still, sits adjacent to Westcott Bay Cider. It offers tastings on Saturdays from March through December.