Interview: Tom from New Deal Distillery
Several of my favorite spirits and liqueurs come from New Deal Distillery.
It's also one of the very first distilleries that started Portland's Distillery Row in the early 2000's. I was invited to visit a few months back and received a tour and tasting from Lance, the operations manager at New Deal. It's definitely a special place and they have some really exciting new products coming out in the next few months.
I'll let New Deal's founder, Tom Burkleaux, explain further. Check out the interview below...
What does a normal day look like for you?
I wish there was such thing as a normal day! The best days are when we’ve finished creating a new spirit and it's tasting good. When we were barrel tasting and knew our Distiller’s Reserve Wheat Whiskey was ready– that was a good day! Other days, I do paperwork or even mop while dreaming up slogans. Those are good in their own way.
Tell us a bit about the origins of New Deal.
New Deal was a crazy idea back in 2001. I was talking with friends about our love for spirits and we were wondering why there weren't local distilleries (I used to joke all vodka brands were European names or vague geographic features). Our thought was why can’t we do it? It just seemed so obvious this was going to happen, and it seemed like a good adventure to build a company inspired by all the other craft industries.
We didn’t even know what it was going to be called, but we knew we wanted in. At the time of licensing in 2004 there were only 10 to 20 small distilleries in the United States.
What's your relationship with other distilleries in Portland?
Since day 1, when Clear Creek was the only other distillery in Portland besides ourselves, it’s been a good community. Lynn and Rachel of Clear Creek helped us out on a number of occasions in the early days. By the time other distilleries started showing up in the neighborhood in 2007, we naturally adapted the philosophy of the craft brewers and continued to help each other out.
Almost immediately we talked about the idea of a Distillery Row, which took a number of years to become a formal entity. But much of my learning has been just talking and sharing ideas with my colleagues. I’ve had many fruitful (and fun) discussions with Lee of Bull Run, and I’ve learned a lot from Christian at House Spirits. And I love my other colleagues on Distillery Row.
What's something you feel sets New Deal apart from other distilleries?
I think we’re the largest local distillery that hasn’t been fueled by outside investor money. And we take a lot of pride in making quality spirits and giving back to our community. But I see many of my neighbors with similar values.
New Deal has a pretty impressive line-up! What are your top 3 favorite bottles and why?
The one I had last night, the one I have now, and the one I’ll have later… ok, but seriously, right now I’m very happy with our upcoming Distiller’s Reserve release of three different whiskeys over the next two months. This is a wheat whiskey, followed by a rye and a bourbon. Each is aged over 3 years and whiskey represents all the effort, time and care required to mash, ferment, distill, and age, (and wait...) to make a quality product. When you’ve produced a true local whiskey you know how much work goes into that. But even our original, Portland Vodka, is still a favorite. We do the extra distilling that not everyone does, because I think that’s how you make the best product. Maybe people don’t notice, but it matters to me.
Do you have a favorite cocktail?
The manhattan done right is still my favorite cocktail (though I still have a nostalgic fondness for a good martini). I prefer it a little sweeter so the classic 2 – 1 – 2 ration of Whiskey, Vermouth and bitters works for me.
Like most classic cocktails, good ingredients, good technique, and good balance make the drink.
Where can people find New Deal products?
All of our spirits are available for sale in our tasting room at 900 SE Salmon, which includes our Distiller’s Workshop Series of extremely small batch (usually single-barrel) releases that we only sell at the distillery due to such limited availability. Unfortunately distilleries in Oregon cannot ship products directly to consumers, but we are in a few states outside of Oregon and a list of each state and a few places to buy our spirits online can be found on our website.
We also distribute most of our spirits through the OLCC to many local liquor stores, as well as restaurants, cocktail lounges, and watering holes, near and far! (Make sure you grab some New Deal Ginger Liqueur next time you’re in Singapore!)