Oregon distilleries pitch using state money to promote their products worldwide

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
April 25, 2023 10:53 p.m.

Oregon’s distilleries, the makers of the state’s whiskey, gin, vodka and rum, are asking for lawmakers’ help to establish their own independent board to promote their products.

Kelly Woodcock, with Westward Whiskey of Portland, travels the world selling craft whiskey made in Oregon.


“I am often met with people that know the great Oregon wine tradition,” she wrote in written testimony to state lawmakers this week. “But that’s where the knowledge stops.”

Oregon’s distilleries are asking for legislative approval to establish an independent Oregon Spirits Board to promote hard liquor made in Oregon to other states and internationally.

“We think of ourselves as being where the wine industry was 20 years ago,” Woodcock testified. “With the help of a spirits board, I get excited about what we can bring to the state in the next two decades.”

Mixed drinks named "Peanut Butter Jelly Thyme," left, and a "Best Cup of Coffee in a Manhattan" which both contain whiskey.

Mixed drinks named "Peanut Butter Jelly Thyme," left, and a "Best Cup of Coffee in a Manhattan" which both contain whiskey.

Julio Cortez / AP

The idea is to model the Oregon Spirits Board after the existing Oregon Wine Board. The supportive distillers are suggesting using an existing .50-cent-per-bottle tax that is currently slapped on every bottle of liquor in the state. They would like to reroute that money to promote and grow their industry. The money currently goes to state and local governments and usually tops $2 million a year. Bottles of liquor made outside the state would continue to have the .50 cent surcharge and that money would still go toward the general fund. The wine board is financially supported by both a tax on wine grapes grown in the state and the sale of Oregon wines within state lines.

Not everyone likes the idea.

Tony Morse, policy and advocacy director with Oregon Recovers, noted that Oregon ranks fifth nationally in alcohol addiction and excessive alcohol use is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the state.

“We don’t use state resources to promote smoking,” he said “and we shouldn’t use them to promote alcoholic beverages.”

If the measure passes, the plan would be to set up the new board on the first of January 2025. The industry would participate in listening sessions throughout the state to figure out the best approach to set up the board and what it should focus on. The measure, which passed the House Economic Development and Business Committee with bipartisan support, would also require the Oregon Spirits Board to produce a report to the Legislature every two years detailing the economic impacts of the industry.

House Bill 2976A is currently being considered in the House Committee on Revenue.