In Portland, craft is king. First came wine, then followed beer—it was only a matter of time before spirits had its share of the Willamette Valley limelight. Distillery Row is a proud testament to the fact that locally fashioned bourbons, gins, vodkas and more are not just up-and-coming, but approaching their heyday.
Set in the Rose City’s inner southeast pocket, Distillery Row is a wonderful mash-up of warehouses, woodworking studios, eateries and small-batch producers. It is delightfully anti-modern, a tightly knit neighborhood stressing niche trades and deft folks to see them through. Much of today’s talent is being poured into stills and mash tuns throughout the approximate eight-block stretch.
Distillery Row got its start in 2004 with pioneering producers House Spirits and New Deal. The former has made its outstanding Aviation Gin a local household name while the latter offers a handful of lauded vodkas and liqueurs. Today, the Row includes seven labels, with more in the works. Producers are separated by mere blocks and set on relatively quaint streets, making the whole stretch extremely pedestrian and bike-friendly. Better still, there are a handful of great restaurants ready to play safety net after a day of drinking.
Look into the Distillery Row Passport, biking and walking maps before heading out to the Row. To make it easy on you, we’ve put together a loose itinerary that will leave any imbiber satisfied:
Stop One: Vinn Distillery
Start at Vinn Distillery, which specializes in rice-based spirits. There’s a lightness and finesse to its entire lineup, making it an ideal palate warm-up. Vinn focuses on family recipes that have trickled down seven generations and counting. The vodka drinks like a sake, charcoal-filtered and calm-distilled. Try the whiskey if available, an oak-aged number that’s the first of its kind in the states. The Baijiu, made from brown rice, is a Chinese staple and allegedly the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world. Drink it neat or have the barkeep pour it into a Bloody Mary.
Stop Two: New Deal Distillery
Just across the street, New Deal boasts gorgeous copper stills and neat stacks of petite oak barrels. Very much a working distillery, New Deal affords visitors both the tasting room and manufacturing experience. Of note is the ginger liqueur, with roughly a pound of ginger shoved into every bottle, and Mud Puddle, a liqueur made from bittersweet chocolate.
Stop Three: Rolling River Spirits
There’s a Scandinavian touch to Rolling River, established in 2012 by the Rickard family. The three-person operation offers a surprisingly soft and flavourful vodka and a lovely aquavit made with dill, fennel, caraway and juniper. Master distiller Tim Rickard has a few tasting room-only tempters, including a mild and somewhat vegetal orange pepper vodka and a sugarcane and wheat based spirit hit with coffee from local roasters, Coava.
Stop Four: House Spirits Distillery
Once set in a warehouse on 7th Avenue in Southeast Portland, House Spirits now occupies a comfy space a few blocks away in the historic Ford Building on Division. The century-old former car assembly building hosts a number of micro businesses. On top of a stellar limited edition series, House crafts go-to spirits like the Aviation gin, Krogstad aquavit and Westward whiskey. In addition to knowledgeable service, House features one of the slickest labels and cleanest overall aesthetics. It’s now located a short walk from a sobering meal at Double Dragon, Edelweiss or Richmond Bar.
For a lay of the spirit land outside of Distillery Row, read Sip Northwest’s take on a tour through Oregon’s top spirit-producing regions here.
Written by Mark Stock, Courtesy of Sip Northwest