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We've Got Spirits, Yes We Do!

Are locally made liquors leading you to sip more slowly — or mix with more interest?

Oregon has been happily obsessed with homegrown beer and wine for decades now. Portland alone has more breweries than any other city in the country, and it seems like every other day a national magazine or newspaper is taking its readers on a lush winery tour of the Willamette Valley. But even with all of the pinot and IPA attention, it’s the hard stuff — the distilled spirits — that have really taken off here (culturally, commercially, creatively) in the last few years.

Sales of spirits grew nine percent last year, and while a lot of that was Jack Daniels (with 412,000 bottles sold 2006), a growing percentage of the liquor that Oregonians drank — neat, on the rocks, or muddled with cucumber — was made here. Thirty-seven distillers around the state now take grapes, pears, malted barley and cereal grains, and make brandies, eaux de vie, whiskeys, gin. To hear some of them describe it, we’re in the early years of a booze revolution that follows naturally — inevitably? — from the homegrown and handcrafted food ethos that’s taken root in the Northwest over the last two decades.

We’ll be talking with two distillers on Friday, a Young Turk and a spirited veteran, about where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Christian Krogstad, of House Spirits, jumped onto the scene with an “ultra-premium” vodka, added a popular gin, and recently released an anise and caraway-infused aquavit. In only four years Krogstad and partner Lee Medoff’s creations have been embraced by critics and mixologists around the country.

Steve McCarthy, of Clear Creek Distillery, has been manning the still for 23 years. Starting with Bartlett pear eaux de vie and slowly branching out to everything from single-malt whiskey to Douglas fir brandy, he’s built a small empire of small batch liquor.

Have you been swept up with spirits? Are local liquors leading you to sip more slowly — or mix with more interest? Would you be distilling yourself if it weren’t for pesky laws? What would you make?




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