This story begins nearly 200 years ago when Ewing Young, mountain man, pathfinder, trapper and Oregon’s first distiller, carved a trail from his home in Tennessee through the Midwest to New Mexico and then the Oregon Territory between 1831 and 1837 at his death. His spirit lives on today at the Ewing Young Distillery located four miles west of Newberg on Highway 240, where Young is buried under a giant, 172-year-old oak tree.
Distillery owners Bev and Doug Root escaped corporate life to develop their Ewing Young brand nearly a decade ago, opening the tasting room in September 2018. Through a series of sourced, blended spirits inspired by the Ewing Young’s westward exploration, the smooth-sipping whiskies tell the history of the man without whom Oregon might not have become a state.
Doug’s brother purchased the farm that hosted Ewing Young, Oregon’s first distiller, without realizing it was a historical site until sometime later. After the brothers found this out, Doug investigated further and discovered Young’s headstone under the massive oak tree. From there on out, he and Bev became entranced with the story.
Inspired by Young’s legend, there was no holding the couple back — they spent uncountable hours researching his history. Then Bev went to distillation school in Louisville, Kentucky, and then the adventure really began. The couple began tracing the route Young took on his way West and that’s when they began finding numerous familial connections of their own along his trail, locating distant relatives everywhere from Tennessee and Indiana to Missouri and New Mexico on into Oregon. These links seemed to give the Roots a sense of destiny to their journey. As a part of Ewing Young Distillery’s branding, they trademarked the phrase “metaphysics in a bottle,” a tagline coined from uncovering these unexpected connections.
At various stopping places along the trail, the Roots also found craft distillers. Currently, they’ve sourced spirits from two distilleries they found along the way, but more from the Ewing Young trail are planned for the future.
“We won’t take just any barrel of whiskey,” Doug says. “We’re looking for distillers with outstanding product.”
Bev and nephew Tucker Mortensen, distiller and blender for Ewing Young, have spent time blending whiskey from the trail distilleries, bottling three different blends of whiskey and a single bottling of vodka.
“It’s what ends up in the bottle that is most important,” Bev says. “Having a quality product and also one that embodies the story we are telling with the Ewing Young brand.”
A visit to the tasting room provides the full Ewing Young and Roots’ story and shares how, through exclusively blending and aging whiskeys, the Newberg distillery is also on the path to distilling their own spirits in a small, 53-gallon single column still.
“We are going to distill our own whiskey this year but we will always be blending spirits from other distillers along the trail,” Bev says. “That’s a part of our brand story. We’re very passionate about our history and that is a part of the experience of coming to the tasting room.”
Priority right now is on the blending and barrel-aging process: Bev and Tucker have found using Oregon white oak and French oak barrels is key to their process. “I think it’s the way we finish these blends that makes the difference,” Bev adds.
At the tasting room, there are four rounds to a tasting flight: an Idaho Russet potato vodka, a rye mash whiskey, a barley and caramel malt whiskey and the Oregon Heritage Oak bourbon.
A spirit to note is the velvety smooth barley and caramel malt whiskey. Put to rest in used bourbon barrels in 2014 and finished in Oregon and French oak, this 99.5 proof limited edition single malt is a favorite among those visiting the tasting room. The spirit is distilled from 85 percent malted barley and 15 percent caramelized malted barley, bringing a subtle yet mosaicked flavor, including cinnamon, vanilla and caramel.
“All of our brown spirits are from Indiana, but there was a limited amount of the caramelized-barley spirits,” Bev says. “When its gone, its gone.”
Visit the tasting room to hear the story of Ewing Young and birth of Oregon. Then take home a bottle of Ewing Young spirits to taste it yourself. You’ll find the metaphysical connections have never been stronger, or smoother.