But what we're actually proud of is not the number, but the quality and breadth of the liquor made here by Oregon's craft distilleries. Two of the eight Best of Class awards bestowed by the American Distilling Institute this year—signaling the finest version of a spirit made in the U.S.—were handed to Oregon craft distillers, for Oregon Spirit's Merrylegs genever-style gin and Cannon Beach's Donlon Shanks rum. In our tour of 17 local distilleries, we found pinot noir grappa, nine-year brandies, Lithuanian honey liquor and the only baijiu rice spirit made in America.
Consider it a return to form. Back in the days when alcohol was outlawed, they say, you could read a book by the fires of illegal stills near Pendleton, and Portland was notorious for its lax enforcement of Prohibition laws. But by 1934, Hood River Distillers—a bottler of high-volume well liquors alongside imported Canadian whiskey such as Pendleton—was the only legal distiller around after the formation of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Its vodka is still the best-selling spirit in the state, though you won't find it on any top-10 lists.
But about 30 years ago, Steve McCarthy of Clear Creek became famous worldwide for making pear brandy at the craft distillery he founded in 1985, when only the French and Spanish were considered serious brandy makers. That brandy still tastes amazing, and McCarthy has served as spiritual godfather for the craft-booze scene that sprang in his wake. Visitors from Canada and Europe now swarm Portland's Distillery Row in inner Southeast, home to six (soon to be seven) liquor makers, including the renowned New Deal and House Spirits. Our bars and restaurants are also becoming known for their cocktails—we feature some of the town's best in this guide.
The Oregon Distillers Guild and liquor control commission don't differentiate strongly between those who actually distill the liquor and those who blend, infuse or age spirits that have been distilled elsewhere. But for the purposes of this guide, we've focused on people who distill their own liquors. For lovers of gin, vodka, rum, whiskey and fruit liquors, we offer our favorites that are distilled—and not merely bottled or blended—in this state.
But don't just take our word for it. Oregon liquor stores set aside a certain portion of their shelf space for the state's tiny distilleries, meaning you can find almost all of their products at Portland stores. And tastings at many distilleries cost a mere $5. So get drinking, people. It's your patriotic duty as an Oregonian.
Matt Buckingham, James Yu
Martin Cizmar, Rebecca Jacobson, James Helmsworth, Tyler Hurst, John Locanthi, Matthew Singer
Thomas Teal, Natalie Behring, William Corwin, Jerek Hollender, Daniel Cole
Edgefield Distillery, by Daniel Cole