It’s all together fitting that Steven Day chose the name Branch Point for his Dayton, Oregon, distillery. Day is a devoted neurologist — an MD out of Portland’s Providence and St. Vincent Hospitals — working on finding solutions for Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological medical issues.
A complex mathematical concept of a multi-valued function, the branch point for Day was “simply taking the unexpected path,” he explains. In this case, that was plying his other craft — the distillation of Branch Point Oregon whiskey. From two beautiful copper stills, the doctor turns out three whiskeys: TRIT, Single Pot Still and Oregon Wheat Whiskey.
WHISKEY BY WAY OF BEER
Day came to whiskey through beer, homebrewing evolving into distilling because of his preference of whiskey over beer. His pathway to becoming a distiller took him to Scotland where he toured many of the distilleries there, learning as much as he could about the process. He attended a couple of distillery classes and spent time interning at educational incubator and distillery Dry Fly in Spokane, Washington, before purchasing the plot of land where Branch Point stands today, just off Highway 99 West across the street from Stoller Winery in Dayton.
“I learned hands-on and then jumped in both feet, blindfolded,” he says.
Before life in Oregon, Day, and his wife, Debra, a CPA who handles the business side of the distillery, escaped from the harsh winters of the Midwest for the splendor of the Willamette Valley. Today they boast their spirits are the product of Oregon products grown not too far from the distillery. The double distillation in the Louisville-produced stills is akin to the process from which Scotch is made.
“With the exception of the malted barley, which comes from a provider in Vancouver, Washington, all the grains are grown by local farmers,” Day says.
The science of distilling is certainly not lost on Day, whose medical training gave him a superb background in organic chemistry. Once he mastered the process, a daunting task as he jumped in, he’s been able to concentrate on the creative side of distilling.
“I certainly enjoy the intellectual side of making whiskey, but the creative application of the process — producing a flavorful whiskey using this traditional process — is also a joy to me,” he says. “At the end of the day I can say, ‘I made that.’”
Branch Point’s bestseller is the TRIT whiskey. Produced from a rye-wheat hybrid wheat — triticale — it produces a mellow rye flavor profile. The Oregon Wheat whiskey uses a soft white winter wheat, another grain grown in the area, while the Single Pot Still is a non-blended whiskey. Day notes the term “non-blended” is an Irish concept that means the distillation is produced with a combination of malted and unmalted barley. His is a product of 75-percent unmalted local barley.
Branch Point was licensed in 2016 and, last fall, introduced its first bottled product at the tasting room. Day has found the rhythm to the production and is looking forward to production of some one-off barrels in the future.
As he expresses it, sometimes the unexpected path is the most rewarding. His whiskeys seem to prove the point.