Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tasting the Spirit of Portland Along Distillery Row

The entire state of Oregon is famous for its craft beer.  The Willamette Valley is often visited for its world-class Pinots and other wines.  But what about spirits?  Oregon’s most recent foray into handcrafted alcohols can be witnessed and tasted along Portland’s Distillery Row, located in an industrial neighborhood of small warehouses in southeast Portland.  Portland’s Distillery Row consists of six distilleries: Eastside Distilling, House Spirits, New Deal Distillery, Rolling River Spirits, Stone Barn Brandyworks, and Vinn Distillery.  During our time in Portland we got the chance to visit a couple of Portland’s distilleries and taste the movement.

House Spirits Distillery

House Spirits Distillery Portland's Distillery Row Oregon
House Spirits Distillery's apothecary library.
House Spirits Distillery was founded in 2004 and is located in Portland’s Distillery Row.  House Spirits’ lineup includes Aviation American Gin, Krogstad Festlig Aquavit, Krogstad Gamle Aquavit, Volstead Vodka, Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey, House Spirits Series Coffee Liqueur, and House Spirits Series White Dog Whiskey.  All are batch-distilled and made with ethically sourced ingredients.

We tasted the gin, vodka, whiskey, and coffee liqueur.  Rome is a whiskey guy and loved House Spirits’ whiskey.  We both really enjoyed the vodka, which is filtered through coconut shells.  The Volstead Vodka is cheekily named after the father of prohibition Andrew Volstead.  The coffee liqueur is made with molasses distilled into rum and then blended with locally roasted coffee.  The liqueur is perfectly flavored and not too sweet or syrupy.

Clear Creek Distillery

Clear Creek Distillery Portland Oregon
Clear Creek Distillery brandies.
Clear Creek Distillery is not part of Portland’s Distillery Row, as it is located across the river.  Clear Creek Distillery was founded in 1985 by Steve McCarthy and is actually a forerunner of Portland’s Distillery Row.  McCarthy started the distillery because he wanted to find a use for the fruit from the family orchard.  The name comes from the creek that runs through McCarthy’s family orchard.  McCarthy discovered traditional European spirits during his travels and knew that the fruit grown in the Pacific Northwest would make exceptional fruit brandies.  Clear Creek Distillery uses traditional techniques and local fruit.  No colors or flavors are added.

Our favorite offerings from Clear Creek Distillery were the Williams Pear Brandy and the Loganberry Liquor.  The Williams Pear Brandy uses Bartlett pears grown in the Hood River Valley.  The pears are crushed, fermented and then distilled.  It takes 30 pounds of pears to make one bottle of Williams Pear Brandy.  The liqueurs are thicker and sweeter than the brandies, perfect for sipping chilled or pouring over ice cream.  Clear Creek Distillery even produces Apple-in-the-Bottle Eau de Vie de Pomme, with apples grown directly inside the bottles.

Oregon is doing great things with alcohol, but it can be hard to experience all the beer, wine, and spirits and still stay sober for enjoying the non-alcohol attractions of the state.  But do try to visit at least one or two of the distilleries of Portland’s Distillery Row.  Luckily, since Oregon is so proud and supportive of its crafts, it is also easy to try Portland’s spirits when eating out at restaurants, so order a cocktail made with locally distilled craft spirits and be part of the Portland spirit movement.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.