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Walnut Creek Magazine

Savage & Cooke Makes Mare Island Worth a Day Trip

Feb 20, 2023 09:36AM ● By Fran Miller

While its historical elements are still evident, and even celebrated, the island is now known more for spirits than for shipbuilding. With his Savage & Cooke distillery, Dave Phinney of Prisoner and Orin Swift wine fame, is changing the face of this former military installation. 

Inside three historic and remodeled buildings on the island, Phinney produces whiskey, rye, and bourbon at Savage & Cooke. Each is crafted in the style he most appreciates: complex, concentrated, and balanced, and each is fittingly aged in wine barrels: Cabernet for the bourbon and whiskey, and Grenache for the rye. His ‘second glance’ whiskey, ‘lip service’ rye, and ‘the burning chair’ bourbon (each bottled in provocative, opaque black bottles) are available to taste and purchase during distillery tours. 


Craft cocktails grace the menu at Savage & Cooke Restaurant (open Thursday-Sunday noon to 7pm) along with fried chicken and soulful southern sides (think buttermilk biscuits, herbed cole slaw, and creamy mac ‘n cheese.) Designed by Master Sommelier and Kentucky Colonel Chris Blanchard, many of the menu selections are family recipes, perfected over generations. 

Beer drinkers will want to veer to Mare Island Brewing Co’s Coal Shed Brewery where a spacious outdoor beer garden features games like cornhole, foosball and darts. And history lovers won’t want to miss Mare Island Historical Park Foundation’s Saturday morning sightseeing tours.

Explore the Victorian Admiral’s Mansion and surrounding gardens, the USS Vallejo Submarine Sail Memorial, and St. Peter’s Chapel, the oldest naval church in the country. Art aficionados will appreciate Mare Island Art Studios and its gallery space that hosts solo and group exhibitions. Open by appointment and during shows, the space exhibits the works of 19 eclectic artists.

St. Peter's Chapel. Photo by Laurel & Michael Evans/Unsplash

One of the best ways to explore the island is by bike. Start at the Vallejo Ferry Building, and follow the bike path along the waterfront where you’ll find panoramic views of the Bay. On the southern end and western side of the island you’ll find the Mare Island Preserve, with hiking trails, great bird watching, and more views. 

Photos courtesy of Savage & Cooke, except where otherwise noted

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