Move over regional celebrity chefs—it’s time to make room for a growing cadre of artisan distillers. Nowhere have these creative beverage makers, who like many chefs are handcrafting tantalizing products from fresh and local ingredients, put down roots as extensively as they have in the Pacific Northwest.
Meet a few of the maker teams and their must-try craft spirits, and remember them the next time your adventures take you to the Pacific Northwest:
Patrick Bernards and Lee Medoff, Bull Run Distilling
The founders and chief distiller at Bull Run Distilling set up their distillery, barrel house and tasting room in a Northwest Portland, Oregon warehouse in 2010, helping spark a regional craft spirit revival and putting Oregon craft spirits on the map with their outstanding line of vodka, whiskey, rum and gin. Named after Bull Run Lake on the flanks of Mount Hood and the source of what many say is the nation’s finest and purest local drinking water, the distillery infuses their spirits with Bull Run water, which, they say, imparts a “soft, rich mouth feel that is impossible to duplicate outside of Oregon.”
They also employ reclaimed Oregon wine country fermenting barrels to an amazing effect. Their Temperance Trader straight bourbon whiskey is aged in these barrels no less than six years, producing a luscious bourbon that opens with soft, warm, vanilla notes, detonates into to a spicy mid-palate and finishes with silky honey feel.
Don Poffenroth and Kent Fleischmann, Dry Fly Distilling
This distillery’s name—Dry Fly Distilling—was inspired by the former marketing executive founders passion for fly-fishing. The craft distillery, located in Spokane, Washington, is known for its outstanding line of craft vodka, gin, whiskies and bourbon, sourced from sustainable locally grown grains and botanicals. They do not use any outsourced bulk alcohol and have a limited annual output of only 12 to 15 thousand cases of 12/750 mL bottles. Their craft spirits are uniquely distilled in two 450-liter capacities custom designed Christian Carl pot stills manufactured in Goppingen, Germany.
To get a sense of what Dry Fly offers, don’t miss their World Spirits award-winning Triticale Whiskey, which opens with harvest-fresh notes of rye and corn, expands to warm yeasty hints of bread, vanilla, nuts, chocolate and caramel and finishes with a slightly smoky hint of pure mouthfeel magic.
Larry Gotter and Steve Earles, Eastside Distillery
Gotter founded Eastside Distillery in the heart of the Portland Oregon’s Southeast Industrial District and burgeoning Distillery Row, and brought Earles on as his CEO. The distillery has been producing innovative craft spirits since 2008, beginning with Below Deck Rums, the first in a series fine and flavored rums. They soon launched several more award-winning spirits, including Burnside (Oregon-Oaked and Straight Bourbon) Whiskeys, Portland Potato Vodka, Marionberry Whiskey, and their unparalleled award-winning Cherry Bomb Whiskey.
Eastside also produces small batch and seasonal products like Holiday Spiced Liqueur, Peppermint Bark and Egg Nog Liqueurs. Try a splash of their bold and sassy Below Deck Ginger Rum in a tall glass with a spot of soda or cola for the perfect summer drink. Handcrafted and flavored using natural fresh sourced ingredients (and, uniquely, no sugar), it maybe one of the few rums you’ll drink in the evening and wake up feeling like you could still go for a run in the morning.
David Eliasen and Diane Paulson, Organic Nation
The founders of Organic Nation Spirits, a subsidiary of Cascade Peak Spirits, credit Master Distiller Thomas McKenzie for helping them learn the ropes and launch their craft distillery. Inspired by the desire to drink locally sourced and produced organic spirits, they set about defining themselves as the first organic distillery in the Northwest and the only micro-distillery in Southern Oregon. According to Paulson, the team decided to start an organic distillery because of the way they live: They “eat organic foods, support CSA’s, don’t use any chemical fertilizers, or any products that contain chemicals that degrade our water, soil or air.”
The company craft distills their award winning certified organic spirits from organic rye, wheat and corn. Their organic gin is handcrafted using 12 botanicals, including juniper, coriander, black pepper, dill, cucumber, lemon balm and angelica. The vodka is distilled seven times for purity, and has just the right hint of sweetness to make it as easy to sip neat or mixed lightly with berries. It opens with subtle notes of vanilla and cocoa and expands with fresh grain and a rich mouthfeel.
Rob Strasser, and Bob Woodell, Rogue Spirits
Jack Joyce, the third column of the Rogue foundation, passed away in 2014, but his spirit lives on. Rogue Spirits, a spinoff of Rogue Ales, has the distinction of growing their own ingredients on Rogue farms in Independence and Tygh Valley, Oregon for their craft spirit collection that includes Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, Rogue Farms Oregon Rye Whiskey, Oregon Single Malt Vodka, Dead Guy Whiskey, Spruce Gin, Pink Spruce Gin, Chipotle Spirit, Hazelnut Spice Rum and Rum. They floor malt and micro-malt their grains at their Farmstead Malt House, roast and smoke grains, peppers, hazelnuts and other ingredients at the Rogue Brewery and Distillery in Newport. Then they mash, ferment, distill, ocean age and bottle their spirits by hand.
This past summer, they began a two-year long process of growing and crafting their first-ever batch of corn micro-malt, which they mashed and distilled to create Rogue Sweet Corn Bourbon. At this time, it’s being “ocean aged” in barrels at the Rogue Distillery on Yaquina Bay along the Oregon Coast. White Oak Barrels are crafted to resist water but are not completely airtight, so every day, a little bit of the salt air from Yaquina Bay seeps inside, nudging along a process known as micro-oxygenation that helps their “spirits age gracefully.” If you have but one shot at a Rogue Spirit, try the Oregon Single Malt Whiskey with its floral honey, peach and mango notes that expands to lush mouth feel, and a ripe fruit and brown spice finish.