Inspired by Portland’s lively craft beer scene and the quality of Willamette Valley wines, a batch of craft distillers has uncorked a new recipe for success with Oregon-made spirits.
In a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) stretch of Portland’s Central Eastside known as Distillery Row, you can tour production facilities, taste various spirits and buy bottles to stock your home bar. And with the Proof Inc. pass as a guide, you’ll skip tasting fees, catch nuances through tasting notes and score cocktail recipes from each location.
Though micro-distillers aren’t necessarily new to town — recently relocated to Hood River, Clear Creek Distillery had been concocting elixirs like its Pear-in-the-Bottle brandy in Portland since 1985 — upstarts like Eastside Distilling have been turning heads with bottles like the spicy, bold, award-winning Burnside Bourbon. Try it for yourself at their tasting room on Southeast Seventh Avenue, where spirits can be sampled straight up or in a cocktail.
Over at New Deal Distillery, original recipes like their spicy Hot Monkey Vodka and Ginger Liqueur will have you rethinking your favorite cocktails. House Spirits, which mixes juniper, cardamom, orange peel and other botanicals into its Aviation Gin, pours everything from Scandinavian aquavit to Stumptown Coffee liqueur at its 14,000-square-foot (1,301 sq m) tasting room, opened in late 2015 and boasting six times the capacity of its former location.
When not making seasonal, fruit-based liqueurs in their urban distillery, Stone Barn Brandyworks makes whiskey and dreams up some incredible recipes, like the October Dapple Apple, which features their Stone Barn Apple Brandy. Meanwhile, the rice-based spirits of Vinn Distillery stand on their own; their Mijiu Fire and Mijiu Ice are rice wines with delicious but contrasting flavors.
Savor the fruity flavors of fresh berries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley with a bottle of Wild Roots Spirits. These all-natural infused spirits are available in flavors such as red raspberry, Oregon Marionberry and Washington apple and cinnamon. Joining Distillery Row in 2015, Townshend’s Distillery distills Townshend’s Tea Company blends into tea liqueurs and other botanical spirits.
NW Distiller’s District
Across the river, Northwest Portland now houses its own version of Distillery Row. The NW Distiller’s District (as it’s known) is currently composed of Freeland Spirits, Bull Run Distillery and Aria Gin.
Created by acclaimed Portland distiller Lee Medoff, the co-founder of House Spirits, Bull Run Distillery looks for raw ingredients with a focused flavor. Their two 800-gallon (3 cbm) stills are the largest in the state, in keeping with Medoff’s dream of putting Oregon on the distilling map with an Oregon whiskey.
Native Texan Jill Kuehler opened Freeland Spirits, the state’s first women-owned and run distillery, in December 2017. The brand launched with its signature teardrop-shaped bottles of small-batch gin, distilled in a traditional copper pot with 13 different dried botanicals (including pink peppercorn, coriander and star anise). In November 2018, Freeland Spirits debuted its first whiskey, made in charred oak barrels and pinot noir barrels from the Pacific Northwest. The distillery is open for tours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and transforms into a full bar on Fridays and Saturdays (with wood-fired pizzas by Chef Mark Doxtader of Tastebud).
Another small-batch gin distillery, Aria Gin uses traditional British ingredients and the London Dry style to craft their classic English-inspired gin. The distillery’s experts combine ingredients like juniper, coriander, cardamom, lemon peel and angelica root to craft their gin, which can be sampled plain or mixed into a cocktail at their Northwest Portland tasting room.
Ready to get started? Pick up your Portland Distillery Passport to bypass tasting fees and receive $5 off your first bottle purchase.