Top Distilleries in Portland, According to My West Coast Buds
By Ben Ferguson
Ah, Portland. A city well known for its level of alcohol production (and consumption). You’ll find enough bars, breweries and distilleries to make your head spin. So we wanted to make a list of what we feel like are some of the best distilleries around town, to help narrow it down for you kind folks.
New Deal Distillery
New Deal’s Portland 88 vodka is 30 bucks and “freakin’ delicious” according to Joe. New Deal, whose owner and distiller offers hands-on whiskey-making classes, creates award winning small-batch spirits in Southeast Portland. Tom Burkleaux’s mantra of “make it simple, make it right” has proven successful in the world of small license distilling, surviving as the longest standing distillery in Portland’s Distillery Row. New Deal used their skill at fostering positive relationships with breweries to help grow Distillery Row into what it is today.
“I believe the craft distilling industry couldn’t exist without craft breweries and all the local and farm-to-table movements in food. Also, the appreciation of artisan and craft you find in cities like Portland. Without them, our customers wouldn’t exist.” - Tom Burkleaux
New Deal’s loyal focus on local economics has become their culture, one that fits perfectly in the Rose City atmosphere.
Eastside Distilling, who proudly display the fact that they’re the first publicly traded craft distillery in the nation by posting their NASDAQ stock symbol at the top of their home page, takes the distilling process quite seriously. Another small batch distillery, Eastside has become Oregon’s second largest spirit producer. Touting a list of cocktail suggestions using their diverse array of spirits, Eastside lets you know they’re concerned with the consumer experience.
Eastside has kept the tradition of local going strong with their recent Burnside whiskey collection, in which all flavors are aged with Quercus garryana, or Oregon oak. Check out their spirits on their site(https://www.eastsidedistilling.com/award-winning-spirits-bourbon-whiskey-rum-vodka/) or at many of the bars and clubs around the state and across the country.
Rogue, whose careful attitude is immediately expressed by their “Are you 21?” entry page to their website, is a brewery founded in Ashland, OR in 1988. The company later moved into making spirits and claims the title of starting the first rum distillery in Oregon since prohibition. While they only make a few different spirits, their single malt whiskey kicks ass and their whiskey flight experience at the pubs alone is worth the trip. They’ve spent many years as a company refining their drinks and it continues to pay off. Their beer game is on point, too - definitely check out the Charlie if you’re ever lucky enough to be around when it’s on tap.
Wild Roots’ homepage auto-plays a video about the tartness of a cranberry that kinda pissed me off at first, but as I continued to watch after realizing that there was no pause button, it began to make me crave their cranberry vodka. Another local distillery focused on keeping it local (you’re probably seeing an all-too-familiar pattern here, especially if you’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while), Wild Roots caters to the tastes of the “natives.”
“In the crowded world of vodka, something was missing. There were no natural options.” - Intro to Wild Roots’ About section
WIld Roots makes five-time distilled, five-time filtered vodkas infused with fruit grown right here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and other parts of the PNW. They’ve got infusions of red raspberry, marionberry, apple & cinnamon, pear, cranberry (duh), and cherry. While I may question their aggressive web design, I do not question their distillation process. Of course, I’ve never made vodka, only drank it.
“What? I don’t drink gin. Gin tastes like shit. This is good.” -Me, the first time I drank Aria Gin
Okay, gin doesn’t taste like shit, but I’ve never been a huge fan, other than in a gin and tonic. Aria changed that for me. Joe and I first experienced Aria together when we realized we were trapped in the podcast studio for an indefinite amount of time. One of our buddies that works at the studio had a barely-drank bottle of Aria Gin sitting on a shelf. Being fans of alcohol, we said “fuck it” and poured ourselves glasses. A few days later I set out to buy us a bottle of our own for the podcast.
Aria makes one spirit and one spirit only: English-style dry gin. It was created “...By a seventeen-year professional bartender, for bartenders, with cocktails in mind.” But this liquor stands perfectly well on its own. Made from a mixture of organic juniper, coriander, angelica root, orange and lemon peels, cassia bark, cardamom, grains of paradise, orris root, and cubeb berry, the gin has an incredibly balanced flavor, perfect for any concoction.
For more of Portland’s great distilleries, check out Portland's Distillery Row.