“Women can be anything they want.” That was the lesson passed down to Freeland Spirits founder Jill Kuehler by her Texan grandmother “Meemaw” Freeland, for whom she named the business. Distilling booze has traditionally been thought of as a craft practiced primarily by men. Portland women distillers are breaking new ground and proving they can be anything they want with creative approaches to flavors, bottles and branding. Meet a few of the city’s favorite woman-run distilleries.
Portland Bitters Project
If you drink your coffee black, you might consider adding a little punch to it with Pitch Dark Cacao Bitters. That’s one of the ways that Portland Bitters Project founder Cindy Capparelli enjoys her small-batch tinctures, which are made with therapeutic-grade botanicals.
The former landscape artist didn’t originally set out to build a bitters business, but Capparelli has always enjoyed making things with plants. “I researched how bitters were made and started tinkering with it,” she says. “After several batches, I found out I have a knack for refining flavors.”
Launched in 2013, Portland Bitters Project features six flavors, including Lavender, Super Spice and Woodland (a Douglas fir concoction Capparelli likens to “sipping a hike”).
Fun fact: The bitters come in amber-glass bottles to protect from light and make them easier to travel with.
The most beautiful bottle in town happens to be full of gin. Freeland Spirits’ signature bottle is shaped like a teardrop and made of blue Mexican glass. It’s etched with the figure of a woman, her arms raised, head tilted and hands firmly grasping the stem of a single stalk of grain.
Established in 2017 by Kuehler, Freeland Spirits produces two highly sippable spirits that not only look stunning on the shelf, but also celebrate the women of the craft. Master Distiller Molly Troupe — who has a Master of Science in distilling from Scotland — combines two distillation techniques to achieve the gin’s complex, layered flavors. (Try it over a single cube of ice to detect hints of honey, mint and cucumber.) Freeland’s whiskey — a blend of 3-year and 12-year — is aged an additional six months in pinot barrels from Elk Cove Vineyards, giving it a unique color and mouth feel.
Freeland offers tours and tastings on select days at their Northwest Portland headquarters, a modern industrial space as thoughtfully designed as their gorgeous bottles. “You can see everything behind the scenes,” says Troupe. “We’ll give you an introduction of processes, you can ask questions, and then have a tasting with a mini cocktail trio.
Fun fact: Save your Freeland Spirits gin bottle after it’s empty; it doubles as a unique vase. Search #freelandflowers for inspiration.
Find at: Freeland Spirits tasting room and select Portland liquor stores.
When Faith Dionne began envisioning JAZ Spirits, the craft distillery she founded in 2016, she knew that spruce tips would feature prominently in her creations. As a young girl growing up in Southeast Alaska, Dionne foraged spruce tips, berries, fiddleheads and mushrooms with her mother, a ritual that instilled a lifelong passion for the forest.
You can taste the woodsy influence in JAZ Spirits’ Cold Tree Gin (with notes of toasted juniper, honey and spruce tips) and Verstovia Spruce Tip Flavored Vodka (smooth, with citrus notes). Dionne, who doubles as a pastry chef, forages the Sitka spruce tips with her family in Pacific Northwest forests, along with the fruit for her newest release, Perpetua Salal Berry Liqueur.
“I believe that products shouldn’t come to market unless they are bringing something new to the table,” says Dionne. “My products each paint a picture, from the warm forest floor in Cold Tree Gin, to the breezy tree tops in Verstovia Spruce tip vodka, to the drape of burgundy velvet in Perpetua Salal Liqueur.”
Fun fact: JAZ Spirits vodka makes a killer Moscow mule.
Find at: Select Portland liquor stores.
Pull up a stool at the sleek wooden bar inside the Vinn Distillery tasting room and prepare to sip some history. As the only Chinese maker on Portland’s Distillery Row, Vinn offers rice-based whiskey, vodka, blackberry liqueur and baijiu — the national drink of China — crafted from family recipes that go back seven generations.
“Baijiu is very important in our culture,” says Michelle Ly, Vinn’s president and one of five siblings involved in the business. (Vinn was founded by their father, Phan Ly, who passed away in 2012.) “It’s used for celebration, to toast a marriage, to honor ancestors, to cook and to make medicine with. It’s been around for thousands of years.”
Earthy and nutty with a hint of floral — Ly describes it as “somewhere between sake and tequila” — Vinn’s baijiu and other spirits are crafted by master distillers Kim Trinh and Vicky Lien, Ly’s mother and sister. At the tasting room, you can sample a flight, learn how the products are made and choose a favorite for your home bar.
Fun fact: Vinn’s blackberry liqueur, which is infused with Oregon blackberries, blends beautifully with both its vodka and whiskey.
Find at: Vinn Distillery tasting room and select Portland liquor stores.
Genevieve Brazelton loves an old-fashioned. Back in 2013, she set out to craft the perfect aromatic bitters to doctor her beloved cocktail, using fresh ingredients in her home kitchen. It tasted so good, she and her husband Dan turned it into a business: The Bitter Housewife.
Today, the brand — which won a 2018 Good Food Award and a Sofi gold award for its cardamom bitters — caters mostly to restaurants. Fans, however, can turn to RAFT Botanicals, which the Brazeltons took over in 2016. Featuring four different bitters (aromatic, orange, grapefruit and cardamom) and a range of syrups, RAFT uses small-batch, seasonal ingredients to bring depth to cocktails, salad dressings and meat marinades.
“Our goal is to be in everybody’s home bar,” says Brazelton. “We’ve found this middle ground in a cocktail mixer, making something that is craft — made with natural ingredients and a lot of care — but for the mainstream audience. It’s not esoteric or intimidating in any way. It’s for everybody.”
Fun fact: The peel of an entire navel orange goes into every bottle of RAFT Orange Bitters.
Find at: Tender Loving Empire, New Seasons Market