Distilleries of Portland

You can be forgiven for thinking that Portland Oregon is the distillery capital of the country.  Our neighbor/hat to the north Washington has significantly more even just inside the Seattle city limits but their distribution around town makes any kind of reasonable tour more difficult.  The density and number of distilleries who have landed in downtown PDX makes it one of the most interesting places to sample distilled spirits around.

The Portland Distillery Row in the SE industrial district has continued to grow since my last post about them and even more since my last attempt at a distillery crawl.  Most notably the other side of the river has gotten into the act and formed the Northwest Distiller’s District.  Nominally just the 3 distilleries off of NW 23rd between Quimby and Vaughn it has since expanded somewhat to include Indio Spirits’ new tasting room in the Pearl district.  One hopes that Glaser in the Pearl will get the hint and jump on board as well but who knows what the future will bring.

All of this (except Glaser) is covered in the Portland Distillery Passport which is now produced and managed by Proof PDX, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with PROOF the Washington Distillers Guild convention. (The Oregon Distiller’s guild convention is called TOAST).  The passport is still $20 which is a fantastic deal for all of the stuff that it now includes.  One caveat that I haven’t had to test yet is they want to limit you to 6 visits per day.  The passport covers 11 distilleries and from what I can see doesn’t actually expire.  There is a web version of the passport for the same price, but it only lasts for a year. I couldn’t figure out what it was going to do before it tried to charge me and I was more comfortable with an app than a website log in so I passed and went with a physical copy that you can get at any location.

On the west side

On the East Side:

Portland Distillery Crawl: Mk II

Distillery RowPortland’s Distillery scene is expanding and exploding.  A recent article about local distilling pegged the number of distilleries at just over 27 between Forest Grove and Troutdale.  This is a staggering number and even more so when you consider that I can think of at least 1 they missed.  In the state of Oregon at large there are 35+ that fall under craft distilling and likely several more that aren’t on the radar beyond a street sign.

In my original Post I outlined some basic stops for a good distillery crawl.  Since then at least 2 new locations have opened on distillery row and some new west side locations have become worth the trip out to the suburbs.

 

 

East Side:

There are two outliers on the Distillery row.  Wild Roots distilling is on NE 6th and Couch, this is easily 15 blocks from the next stop on the row.  Stone Barn Brandy works is on SE 19th and Sandy, 24 blocks from their next most southerly neighbor.  While Wild roots is new they have only two products listed, Stone Barn however has over a dozen at various times and is well worth the trip.  If you have to cut one or the other out for time I would suggest starting at stone barn and then parking near House Spirits and walking the rest of the row.

Some new eateries have sprung up in the last few years as well.  Next door to Bunk Bar is the Boke Bowl a relatively new asian food place that has some wonderful noodles, steam buns and drinks.

On 12th and Hawthorne is one of the best food truck pods in Portland.  Despite recent shakeups and the  threat of their lot being turned into mixed use apartments they have endured and signed a new lease, visit now for crepes, mexican food, whiffy pies and BBQ.  Plus across the street is Lardo.

Around the corner from Stone Barn is 50 Licks Ice cream where you can get a taste of Portland’s hand dipped ice cream culture AND cocktails in the same building.

West Side:

Less of a crawl and more of a road trip, but there are a number of places worth hitting up on the west side.  In the downtown area there are still the steadfast likes of Clear Creak and Bull Run Distilling, each close enough to hit in quick succession.

Far out in the depths of Tigard is Indio Spirits, with 11+ products on their menu and one of the older distilleries in the area they are well worth finding.  Their flights are small but have larger samples so bring friends and share to get a better idea of the full line.

Even further out in yet another unassuming business part you will find Bootleg Botanicals, Big Bottom Distilling, Tualatin Valley Distilling and Vertigo Brewing.  Located just off Cornelius Pass Road near Cornell, many are not open for tastings every day.  Their out of the way nature means zero foot traffic, so some like Big Bottom are only open on Saturday or by appointment.  Be sure to plan accordingly, check schedules and likely call ahead.  Knowing how distillers hours run they could forget to open entirely if they aren’t sure anyone is coming.

Planning the Perfect Crawl

Driving: First and foremost I cannot stress enough the need for a designated driver.  Not all of these places are close enough together to walk and given the versatility of Oregon weather you do not want to rely on your feet to get you everywhere.

Packages: Second, check out PDX Distillery Row.  At $20 it is by far the best value in the city for tasting what the various distilleries have to offer.  The passport is good all year which removes some of the immediacy in trying to hit all 7 locations in one day.

Dates are important, some of these places are not open 7 days a week.  Some aren’t even open 2 days a week so planning for any given day is important.  I recommend Saturday as a prime day, most places are open the longest on the weekends.

Time, some of these places have only 1 or 2 offerings.  Some have over a dozen.  The amount of time you and your group can take sampling at any one is going to vary greatly depending on the length of time you spend sipping and how long you spend listening to the patter about the drink itself.  In general tasting rooms are going to be open from around 11am to 6pm.  It is possible to hit up to 7 locations in one day if you get started early and have an experienced guide, otherwise plan to hit the places that most interest you first on the chance that you will run out of time to do them later.

Food.  Eat before, and make sure you eat something relatively filling.  There are any number of great places to catch lunch before you head out.  The Green Dragon on SE 9th has Rogue Brewing’s great selection of sandwhiches, Oven and Shaker does a great Brunch, hunt around it’s a great chance to find some out of the way Portland Food.

FOOD!  Take a snack break after your first 3-4 stops.  You’ve likely just downed the equivalent of 8-9 oz of random shots.  Time to take a quick breather and reload before you hit the next couple.  Grab some pie, or debris fries.  Take a half hour to work some of that stuff and get the better part of the botanicals away from your digestive tract.

Storage is important, if you’re taking more than 1-2 people with you be aware that you will buy things.  There is too much good stuff for anyone to pass up entirely and after three or four drinks your ability to say no to a good deal somewhat evaporates.  Carting an armfull of bottles around with you from shop to shop is a hassle.  Be sure your transport has space for everything and is handy for when you buy.

Costs:  While distilleries are not required to charge for their samples, most do.  The only one I’ve encountered that was entirely free was Clear creek.  Most others offer a single $5 tasting platter of 4-5 tastes.  Some will do $1 single tastes, others like Eastside have deluxe and premium flights that offer higher end offerings.  If you’re not doing the distillery row passport expect to spend at least $5 per person per location.  You can get this cost waived if you make a purchase in some places but not all.

Distillery Crawl Portland

Ed Note (This info is obviously a little out of date,

This is my own personal route that I travel on my birthday week every year with a select group of friends.

I usually buy the Distillery Row Passport which for $20 covers all the tastings I would normally have to buy as well as some nice around town coupons.

I go on a saturday starting at around 11am.  Depending on the crew and how well we’ve eaten we might start the tour with a stop at the Beaverton Farmers market which is almost right off of 217 and has a fantastic BBQ guy who does a wonderful burnt ends plate.

Stop 1 is Clear Creek Distillery , 2389 NW Wilson St., Portland, OR

A great place to begin any tour, it’s almost all alone on the west side so we hit it first and get it out of the way.  The tastings here are also free so it’s a nice place to stop just about any day they’re open.  Clear creek runs a wide variety of Fruit Liqueurs, grappa, eau de vie and brandy in both pear and apple.  They also release a small batch whiskey called McCarthy’s which usually sells out in about a month after they release it in march.  The part I like is that while you only get 5 samples if you bring friends you can pass them around a bit and get a little of everything.

Stop 2 New Deal Distillery 900 SE Salmon

We cross the river and head to the first of our east bank locations.  New deal makes some good stuff too.  I like their #1 gin, Hot Monkey pepper vodka and ginger Liqueur.  They’re also always doing something new so it’s worth a visit any time.  I pick up my passport here more often than not.  The last time I was there you got a free shot glass as part of your tasting which brought my count of them up to 3.  They’ve moved since the last time I was there, can’t wait to see their new location.

Stop 3 Vinn Distillery 833 SE Main St. Ste 125

Practically right across the street from New deal this tiny hole in the wall is a tasting room for a distillery in wilsonville.  They make a traditional rice Baijiu and rice vodkas.  They weren’t really to my taste, I may stop in again this year to see if they have anything new but I doubt i’ll linger.  Give them a shot, the rice vodka is a nice change for the gluten free crowd.

Stop 4: Bunk Bar 1028 SE Water Ave

A bit of a divergence from the straight line but this is the point in the tour where the drink starts to catch up with breakfast.  Bunk bar is a wonderful little spot where you can get a pork belly cubano, Roasted Poblano Torta or even a PB & J, side of debris fries and even order a decent cocktail.  Their shelves are pretty well stocked, lots of local stuff and even a few things like Maraschino liqueur that you don’t often see.  Their menu drinks are often Beer+ which doesn’t help me much but they all sound interesting at the least.  Grab a sandwich and go or sit and let the last 3 places settle before heading out again.

Stop 5: House Spirits 2025 SE 7th Ave

A bit further out than the next stop would suggest but I have a reason.  House carries a wide array of spirits, everything from gin to aquavit to a white dog whiskey.  Their tasting tends to be a little more varied than some of the other places which specialize a bit more in one kind of spirit or another.  Additionally this is the point where heat, botanicals and liquor start to cause burn out.  Go light here, taste what looks good but don’t get carried away there are still a couple more places ahead.

Stop 6: Eastside Distilling 1512 SE 7th Avenue (at Hawthorne)

Best for last (so to speak).  Eastside has continued to impress me every time I go.  Over the holidays they had egg nog, holiday spice liqueur, and peppermint bark, On top of their line of already very drinkable rums, bourbon and vodka.  Try everything, you won’t be disappointed.  I’m a big fan of their double barrel bourbon and their burnside bourbon as well as the rums.

Stop 7 Pacific Pie Company 1520 SE 7th Ave (Last Stop)

Literally next door to Eastside Distilling is a pie shop.  It’s probably 5-5:30 by now, you’re toasted lightly from the heat, sauced and full of lord knows how many herbs, botanicals and crazy concoctions.  The best thing for you is Pie.  Their menu changes regularly but they offer a majestic line of both sweet and savory pies and pasties.  If you can get it I recommend the strawberry margarita pie or the chocolate bourbon hazelnut.  In addition their bar offers a lovely line of cocktails featuring the best of everything i’ve listed so far.  For $8 you can get anything from a Tom Collins with Aviation Gin to a Bondi using Hot Monkey Vodka.

Alternates for this coming year:  I’ve still got a few months planning to do so i’ve been poking around to see how I might change things up.  The following are options that i’ve seen around town.

Breakfast: Leave much earlier and stop at the Oven and Shaker 1134 NW EVERETT.  They have a brunch menu which starts at 11:30.  Not ideal time wise but a ham plate, gravlax or pizza with duck eggs sounds delightful.  And they have some cocktails there like the French 75 that would make for a nice opener.

Westside additions: Bull Run Distilling 2259 NW Quimby Street

Only about 6 blocks from Clear creek I found out about these guys at a friend’s birthday when someone presented him with a bottle of their Temperance Trader Bourbon

Rogue Distillery 1339 NW Flanders St,

One of the bigger names in the local brewing scene they still make rum, whiskey and gin which might make them worth a try.