Faith Dionne is at home among the towering Pacific Northwest evergreens, slowly budding plants and hidden berries. Born and raised in Alaska, the founder/owner of Portland’s JAZ Spirits has a multifaceted array of tools and tricks from her journeys through the culinary world. After graduating from the Culinary Arts Institute in New York, Dionne spent time working and living in Atlanta, Colorado and a whole host of spaces in between.
It was when she landed in Portland in 2001 that she found her niche, home and creative motivation for JAZ. After time spent at tenured restaurant Higgins as the pastry chef, opening her own restaurant with her husband and creating an artisan candy bar company called Bees and Beans, the next challenge was developing a fluid expression of a craft product that would align with her growing family.
Not only did her children, Jack and Zoey, lend their initials to the brand, but they also spurred on Dionne’s desire to evolve the idea of what JAZ Spirits could be. At its core, JAZ is a platform for her to highlight the regionally specific ingredients to be forged from the Pacific Northwest.
NUANCES OF THE NORTHWEST
“I’ve spent my career showing ingredients,” Dionne says as I joined her for a forest walk through a misty February morning. “I base my choice of ingredients on the premise that people will be able to pinpoint the flavor profile and nuances of the Willamette Valley.”
Her dedication to the art of storytelling through the culinary arts lends itself perfectly to fusing her deep understanding of foraging into the production of a unique line of craft spirits. The distillations all feature hand-foraged, wild Northwest botanicals, from the honey and juniper of the gins to the spruce tip infused into the vodka and the rich, sweet salal berry for a namesake liqueur.
After our hike, I was able to taste through the spirits with their maker, from the Cold Tree gin and Verstovia spruce tip vodka to the Perpetua salal liqueur. The experience was invitingly informal, cozy and perfect. Sipping the spirits and listening to Dionne detail her vision of JAZ, it was abundantly clear that every decision she made for her spirits was in complete balance with not only her flavor profile but with adhering to a sustainable approach to foraging. Drinking her spirits was like sipping the Pacific Northwest, trying to place the waves of flavors and subtleties from my own memory.
STORYTELLING THROUGH SPIRITS
“It’s not about the booze,” she says. “It’s about using ingredients to paint a picture. I never choose ingredients that can be over-harvested.”
Walking the thin line of spearheading a successful brand, a happy family life and an unwavering dedication to using nature as a partner, Dionne is teaching her own masterclass in life-work balance. Her love for each one of these aspects shines through in the heavily nuanced spirits she produces. Every family hiking trip through Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest or along the Columbia Gorge is a moment Dionne and her husband are able to share with their kids, while lovingly passing on the art of foraging.
In a world of mass-produced booze and quick-to-market spirits, JAZ Spirits is unwavering with its ideology and commitment to balancing success in forging a path much less traveled.