Discover Distillery Row: Portland's Craft Spirits Neighborhood
Originally written for Tales of the Cocktail, October 2017
Portland, Oregon is a city that just keeps moving up in the world. It's become known for an ever-growing and unique food scene, fantastic coffee and local roasters, and more cool bars and craft breweries than one single article could cover. You might not normally associate Portlandia with craft spirits…but you should. Not only is the City of Roses home to many incredible and well-known distilleries, but the bulk of them happen to be in the same neighborhood.
The Lower East Side Industrial District in Portland is mostly comprised of warehouses and old industrial buildings. Thanks to cheap rent and room to grow, several small distilleries started setting up shop in the area in the mid-2000’s. Now, there are eight different craft distilleries all within a close distance of each other in what is commonly called “Distillery Row.”
The best part is, rather than being fierce competitors, they’re all good friends, organizing collaborative events and cocktail crawls throughout the year. There's definitely a sense of camaraderie rather than competition, as each distillery thrives as part of the larger community.
Below, a brief look at each distillery and and their unique contributions to Portland’s ever-growing craft spirits neighborhood:
New Deal Distillery
At the time New Deal opened their doors in 2004, there were only 10 craft distilleries in the whole nation (Portland today has much more than that!) New Deal was instrumental in making Distillery Row what it is today and truly helped foster the collaborative atmosphere between distilleries. Founder Tom Burkleaux still leads the business and continues to add to New Deal’s impressive line-up of spirits and liqueurs (pictured right).
House Spirits Distillery
Another one of Distillery Row’s early pioneers, House Spirits is now a big name in craft distilling. Bartenders and enthusiasts around the world recognize Aviation Gin, which was originally created by House Spirits and is still produced and bottled there, despite them no longer owning the brand. This cool and modern distillery is led by Christian Krogstad and is currently cranking out an incredible and truly all-local product called Westward American Single Malt Whiskey.
Eastside started as a small and scrappy venture in 2008 but has grown to be a major player in the industry. They have a lot to offer in their spirit portfolio, from various rums to several uniquely aged whiskies. Melissa Heim is their vice president, as well as master distiller, and is a key component to their recent success as a brand.
Vinn Distillery is a fairly small operation founded in 2009 by ex-restaurant owner Phan Ly. Phan began his business by distilling a rice-based, Chinese spirit called baijiu. Vinn’s spirit selection now includes a blackberry liqueur, vodka, and whiskey — all are made from rice and are completely gluten-free.
Stone Barn Brandyworks
Owned and operated by husband and wife team Sebastian and Erika Degens since 2009, Stone Barn Brandyworks crafts unique brandies, liqueurs, and whiskey using fresh local fruit and grains. If you think brandy is just the stuff your grandma drinks after dinner, you’ll have your mind blown by the spirits Stone Barn produces.
Rolling River Spirits
Another true family-run operation, Rolling River began in 2012 with Rick and Joan Rickard at the helm, along with their son, Tim Rickard. Largely inspired by their Scandinavian heritage, Rolling River produces many unique spirits, most notably their various offerings of Aquavit. If you make it to their tasting room, be sure to notice their bar that resembles the side of a viking ship.
Wild Roots Vodka
Founder Chris Joseph saw a hole in the saturated market of artificially flavored vodkas and decided to do something about it when he opened his business in 2014. Wild Roots produces seven vodkas, six of which are infused with different local fruits. Over a pound of fruit is used in the production of each bottle with no artificial ingredients added, providing a truly authentic and local taste.
Thomas & Sons Distillery
A sister company of Brew Dr. Kombucha and Townshend’s Tea, Thomas & Sons distills their spirits using different blends of fermented tea. They offer a diverse line-up, ranging from a botanical gin and white rose spirit to their own Amaro and Fernet. They’re the new kids on the block, having joined the row in 2015, but you’d never know it by their diverse and artisanal spirit offerings.
The next time you’re in the Portland area, be sure to pick up a Distillery Row passport, which will get you a sample at each of the distillery's tasting rooms. And, the odds are pretty good you'll be able to meet some of the founders and hear more of their stories firsthand.