In Portland’s old days — a less civilized time when the city teemed with pirates, smugglers and outlaws — careless revelers who consumed too many libations might have been “shanghaied,” or kidnapped, and whisked away to work on the sea. Today, there’s a safer way to enjoy some fine cocktails: a trip through Portland’s Distillery Row.
The epicenter of the emerging craft distillery movement, this Central Eastside area is home to eight independent, small-batch spirit makers who have put Portland on the map of liquor connoisseurs, and great bottles on the shelf of bartenders worldwide.
The distilleries of Distillery Row
New Deal Distillery
New Deal Distillery was the first distillery to open in the area we now call Distillery Row, way back in 2004. Distiller and cofounder Tom Burkleaux started out with vodkas — still a New Deal specialty — and has branched out to offer whiskey, gin, pear brandy, a range of liqueurs, and more. Try the spicy Hot Monkey Vodka, flavored with five chili peppers, mixed with pineapple juice, or the premixed Driftwood Manhattan.
House Spirits Distillery
Another of Distillery Row’s earliest entries, House Spirits debuted the acclaimed Aviation American Gin in 2006. The popularity of this nontraditional gin, flavored with lavender and orange peel, cemented Portland as a spirits city. Acquired by Davos Brands in 2016, Aviation is still distilled by House Spirits (actor Ryan Reynolds is such a fan that he acquired a stake in 2018). Under its own label, House Spirits crafts aquavit, vodka, whiskey and rum, as well as a developmental spirits line.
Eastside Distilling, founded in 2008, has grown into Oregon’s second-largest spirit producer and the first publicly traded craft distiller in the nation. Its many award-winning spirits include potato vodka, Marionberry whiskey, coffee rum, and bourbon, whiskey and rye, all aged in Oregon Oak. Eastside Master Distiller Mel Heim was one of the first female distillers on the American craft spirits scene.
Stone Barn Brandyworks
Husband-and-wife team Sebastian and Erika Degens of Stone Barn Brandyworks craft seasonal, fruit-based liqueurs, as well as barrel-aged whiskeys. Stone Barn’s year-round offerings include cranberry, apricot and walnut liqueurs. Seasonal products like strawberry liqueur, plum brandy and pinot gris ouzo reflect the bounty of the local harvest.
At Vinn Distillery, the Ly family crafts spirits using methods passed down over seven generations in China and Vietnam. Their naturally gluten-free rice-based spirits include baijiu, the “white liquor” that’s considered China’s national drink. The Lys also produce whiskey, vodka and blackberry liqueur.
Wild Roots Spirits
Savor the fruity flavors of fresh berries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley with a bottle of Wild Roots Spirits. Each bottle of these all-natural infused spirits contains over a pound of fresh fruit for intense flavor. Options include Marionberry, red raspberry, cranberry, pear, dark sweet cherry and apple and cinnamon.
The world’s first and only tea distillery, Townshend’s Distillery starts with its own tea blends, ferments them into kombucha, and then distills and infuses them, producing unique tea liqueurs and other botanical spirits. Offerings include Townshend’s Gin, made with Silver Tip Jasmine green tea, lavender flowers, chamomile blossoms and juniper berries, Bluebird Alpine Liqueur, with aromatic herbs and spices like angelica and fennel, and spice, sweet and smoke tea liqueurs. Visitors can also experience the Idle Hands Collection: small-batch experiments available only at the tasting room.
Rolling River Spirits
Distilling since 2014, family-owned Rolling River Spirits offers gin, whiskey, vodkas and aquavits and other spirits made from the freshest ingredients. The name, Rolling River, is inspired by the many majestic rivers in the Northwest and underscores the importance of pure water in the distillation process.
Distillery Row Passport
The Distillery Row Passport from Proof Inc. is an excellent way to make sure you don’t miss out on any of Portland’s amazing bottles. For $20, pass holders get complimentary tastings and tours at 11 local distilleries (every one in Distillery Row, as well as three in the NW Distiller’s District) — a $55 value. Cheers to that!