With scenic views of Portland from Skyline Tavern, Lee Medoff, and co-founders of Bull Run Distilling Co., incubated a plan to put Oregon whiskey on the map. Nearly seven years later, spirits influencer Medoff has taken major strides to educate consumers of the defining characteristics of Oregon whiskey through the distillery’s Oregon Whiskey Hour. But Medoff’s impact in the industry dates back prior to creating a unique whiskey tasting meet-up, and even before the first bottling of Bull Run Straight Bourbon.
Providing a buzz is one thing, and furthering the post-Prohibition legislative agenda is another, both heavily influential to the Pacific Northwest’s abundant spirits selection. Medoff has accomplished the latter, while helping found the Oregon Distillers Guild in 2007 and taking up the post as the organization’s first president. “The plan was to focus on marketing, OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission], legislative issues and a general fraternal exchange of ideas and assistance,” Medoff explains of the early years. “I would say the initial success was in getting more regional and national notice for Oregon distilling.”
His background in creating stimulating elixirs has varied in the 19 years since he began legally and professionally distilling in 1998. Medoff had stints as a winemaker in Beaujolais, France, brewed at McMenamins’ Fulton Pub and Edgefield in Oregon, then moved to Seattle to open a string of McMenamins’ Washington brewpubs. While at McMenamins, he met Christian Krogstad, who would be his future partner at House Spirits Distillery, which the duo founded in 2004. Medoff and team launched two of the company’s best-known products, Medoyeff vodka and Aviation gin.
Having been intrigued by whiskey and barrel finishing early on, he left House Spirits to open Bull Run in 2010. “I came to the realization that whiskey, especially a local Oregon malt whiskey, might just have some legs,” Medoff says. “The opportunity to produce more malt whiskey at House wasn’t practical, and started me thinking about opening a whiskey-only distillery, which was the genesis of Bull Run.”
Since Medoff first had his sights set on creating a pure malt Oregon whiskey, he and his team have produced a portfolio that reflects the state’s distinct seasons, climate and available ingredients. It was a bold but essential move in a country devoted to whiskey with similarities to Kentucky bourbon. Knowing it would take more than a whiskey indicative of the region, Bull Run launched Oregon Whiskey Hour this year to educate consumers on the newness of regional whiskey. Medoff’s approachable and warm demeanor when it comes to chatting about whiskey aides in his mission to further cultivate this golden age of the spirit in Oregon that we’re experiencing. A portfolio of both traditional and unexpected whiskies helps quite a bit, too.
This article originally ran in the 2017 fall print issue. For the full story and more like it, click here.