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Oregon Distillers Follow Craft Beer’s Pioneering

Decanting with Delkin

By Fred Delkin

Oregon claims credit for showing the legislative way in 1980 to foment the craft beer revolution that now has small batch brewers in all 50 states.

Now, it can take a bow for creating the nation’s first craft distilling guild in 2007, with 24 members bottling the hard stuff in sites across our state. Yes, there are now distillery tasting rooms and retail counters in such civic centers as Joseph, Warren, Brookings, Camp Adair, Sheridan, New Pine Creek and Troutdale, in addition to multiple outlets in Portland and Bend, as well as sites in Eugene, Medford, Hillsboro, Ashland, Tigard, McMinnville, Newport and Wilsonville. Oregon distillers,just like our brewers and winemakers, can sell directly via mail order or in person to anyone of voting age.

The variety of hand crafted product ranges from Vodka, Gin, Whiskeys and myriad Liqueurs crafted from local crops of fruits and herbs. The true pioneer in the Oregon distilling ranks is Steve McCarthy, who founded Portland’s Clear Creek Distillery 26 years ago. He was inspired by European travels while in college and
tasting the eau de vies (“water of life”) created in northern Europe from orchard fruits. The McCarthy family has owned and operated Hood River valley orchards for over a century, so Steve had inherited a source for his distillation efforts. Now the Clear Creek label adorns bottlings of pear, apple, plum, cherry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry and loganberry liqueurs and apple and pear brandies and now, McCarthy’s single malt whiskey that honors the ancestral heritage.

Speaking of fruit-based hootch, next time one wanders in southeastern Oregon, a visit to Stringer’s Orchard Wild Plum Distillery in New Pine Creek is a must. This enterprise in Goose Lake valley gains inspiration from the region’s wild plum crops that are a botanical rarity. You have not lived ’til you’ve sipped Stringer’s liqueur!
Oregon distillers are blessed by near-at-hand natural resources including pure water, fruits, grains and herbs. Vodka distillations come in a savory variety of flavor infusions, such as saffron, tarragon, espresso, various peppers, fruits and berries. No need to go to Kentucky to sample a tasting room source for bourbon. Rum
and gin are also available from Oregon distilleries. Our state’s vineyards have been a source for a wide variety of liqueurs, while even our filbert orchards and spruce trees have been distillers’ targets. Yours truly sipped a distillation while in Switzerland that was flavored by pine needles, so nothing seems off limits to the creative distiller.

Portland tourism promoters now tout “Distillery Row” as a taster’s paradise, with the sampling rooms of five distilleries: Eastside, House, New Deal, Stone Barn and Vinn are neighbors in the city’s lower eastside district just up from the banks of the Willamette. Since 2008, Oregon liquor law has been amended to allow distillers the same marketing privileges enjoyed by our brewers and vintners. Empower your search engine to oregondistiilers.com web site and you’ll find a list of legal moonshiners throughout the state. We close with the note that a non-craft category distiller has been around here since 1934 and the end of Prohibition. Hood River Distillers currently boasts sales of $29 mil/annum and functions as a manufacturer, importer and distributor. It produces an Oregon event-honoring bottling, Pendleton Round-Up whiskey.

Small Sips…

Oregon as an ideal vineyard site has just been underlined by the purchase of several hundred Dundee hills acreage by the California conglomerate Precept…the Oregon division of Seattle wine distributorship Cavatappi is adorning local outlets with Greek labels Diamantakis, Domaine Kikones and Muses Estate…the Greeks taught the Romans how to grow grapes and ferment wine, but then they created what the American import market has known as “retsina”, wine flavored like turpentine because of the sealant used on clay amphorae shipping containers (way back in the B.C. days) affected the contents. Now, the Greeks have come to the export market with wines blended from premium cabernet, merlot, trebbiano and sauvignon blanc grapes from newly planted vineyards. We’ve
tasted these and pronounce them very palatable…4 Spirits Distillery of Camp Adair has launched Slap Tail and Webfoot vodka labels to appeal to the Oregon State and Oregon collegiate aficionados…the U.S. craft beer market grew 15% in 2012, while the overall industry sank 1.3%. So much for those mass producers of sour soda water that dominate our TV sports screens!…the new Greek wine bottlings feature very contemporary, appealing labels and that notoriously sunken Greek economy may yet recover…

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