If you’re looking for diversity in your spirits, look no further than the Oregon Coast. From Astoria all the way to Charleston, near the state’s southern border, five distilleries (and seven tasting rooms) punctuate highway 101, with each distiller bringing a different passion to a variety of delectable liquors. Add these stops to your next trip along the coast.
Pilot House Distilling
Opened in 2013, Pilot House Distilling — headquartered in Astoria and featuring a tasting room in Seaside — is known for its A-O (for Astoria, Oregon) Bourbon and A-O Whiskey, which is aged over four years in Oregon oak barrels. The popular spirit is currently sold out next batch is ready.
In addition to its whiskey, Pilot House also offers a traditional London dry-style gin and its Painted Lady Gin, as well as four flavors of vodka: Bar Pilot Traditional Vodka, Bar Pilot Lemon Ginger Vodka, Bar Pilot Cucumber Vodka, and Pilot Jalapeño Lime Vodka.
It’s 5 Artisan Distillery
Just down the road from Pilot House in Seaside, the It’s 5 Artisan Distillery tasting room sells whisky produced by owner Colin Levi in his facility in Cashmere, Washington. He too takes pride in sourcing ingredients locally. A visit to the tasting room in Seaside gives aficionados the opportunity to taste a wide variety of spirits from whiskey and bourbon, to liquors and favorites like gin and vodka.
Cannon Beach Distillery
Not far from Seaside is Cannon Beach Distillery, where the passion for the distillation process and a quality product shines through. Here, owner Mike Selberg brings his ardor to life in a number of spirits, available for tasting or by the bottle.
Selberg uses a custom designed and built copper Vendome still to produce his spirits and takes pride that all his distillations are 100-percent produced from scratch using Oregon products wherever possible. “Obviously, agave is not found in Oregon,” he quipped when speaking of the two agave labels he produces. He also offers three rums and a pair of gins, as well 17 whiskey releases since opening his operation in July of 2012.
“Those whiskies have all sold out by the bottle, though some are available for sipping at our tasting room,” he said. “We hope to have our next distillation available in July, but it likely will sell out in two or three days.”
With a degree in natural science from the University of Puget Sound, Selberg said after fooling around with home brewing and helping a friend with bathtub gin, he began looking into distillation.
“Honestly, it was more attractive to me than making wine, and I really fell in love with the process,” he said.
Selberg has found his artistic outlet in the production of his spirits, which is evidenced in the labels available at the distillery. For example, the Il Keyote Spirits from Agave (made from organic Blue Weber Agave), which also takes a Selberg turn for the best from the traditional tequila-making process.
Distilled and matured more like brandy, according to Selberg, Il Keyote is aged in toasted American oak barrels for a quintessential flavor needing no lime or salt. “The sky is really the limit when it comes to developing the artistry of flavors and tastes in spirits,” he said.
For a decade or so the Rogue Distillery has been hand-crafting a variety of spirits made from ingredients grown on the Rogue farms in the Tygh Valley and in Independence, Oregon. Currently, distiller Brian Pribyl is producing four whiskies and a pair of gins.
A graduate of Oregon State University’s Fermentation Science program, Pribyl brings a decade of experience in real-world distilleries to the Rogue whiskies and gins he produces in Newport. After graduating and starting his career as the assistant distiller at Rogue, Pribyl spent time in Tennessee at a craft distillery producing bourbon and brandy and then went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he helped start a craft distillery before returning to Newport.
Rogue produces two gins: spruce Gin and Pinot Spruce Gin; as well as four whiskies: Oregon Rye Malt, Oregon Single Malt, Dead Guy, and the newly released Rolling Thunder Stouted Whiskey, which Pribyl notes is one of the first produced via cross pollination between the ale side of the company, its cooperage and the distillery.
One of the few organizations that makes its own barrels, this gives Rogue an added level of control in the process of making ales and whiskeys. The Rolling Thunder Stouted Whiskey, for example, begins its life as Dead Guy Ale and is distilled from that wash. It is then aged for a year in barrels that are specially toasted and charred. After a year in the barrels, it’s transferred for storage to stainless steel tanks.
The barrels are then taken to the brewery where they are used for aging Rolling Thunder Imperial Stout. After about a year of aging, the stout and the barrels are returned back to the distillery and the Rolling Thunder Whiskey is transferred back into the barrels for three to four years of aging until it reaches a specific flavor profile.
South of Newport in Bandon, Stillwagon Distillery produces the most number of rums in Oregon with 18 and counting, not to mention a single-malt bourbon and vodka. Here, owner and chief distiller Richard Stillwagon is focused on producing spirits that are almost 100-percent sustainable.
Stillwagon’s road to distilling was a long one that led to the creation of a single-column still originally intended for distilling water. However, when Stillwagon learned that the distillation of spirits took less energy, the idea for Stillwagon Distillery was born. “I really came to distillation and producing spirits kind of by accident,” Stillwagon said.
Stillwagon’s market research indicated rum was one of the smaller shelves in the liquor store, and while sugar isn’t a local product, molasses — which is the original base product of rum — is.
“No one is making what we are,” he said, but Stillwagon’s true mission may be his passion for producing spirits in a totally sustainable environment.
At Stillwagon Distillery, nothing is wasted in the distillation process. “We want to work with Mother Nature, not against her,” Stillwagon said. “Ultimately, we want to produce great products, but we also want to ensure that we leave behind a better world than found.”