Portland, OR, where I live, now has two distillery pubs. Bill Owens, of the American Distilling Institute (www.distilling.com), estimates that distillery restaurants are fairly rare in the world. Out of about 66 US distilleries, only seven seem to be distillery pubs (DE, ID-2, MI, MA and OR-2; see sidebar). There is also at least one abroad, in Helsinki.
There’s a future in whiskey for microbrewers willing to take the chance.
The Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery in Boise may be the oldest distillery pub in America, with Scot Harper at the helm producing vodka, gin and rum. They are setting up a second distillery pub in nearby Eagle, which may be on line by the time this is published.
Oregon’s first distillery pub, and one of the earliest in this country, sits as an outbuilding at the north end of the McMenamins Edgefield campus, in Troutdale, a suburb east of Portland. The town also includes a brewery, two other pubs, plus a fine restaurant, bed-and-breakfast lodge, golf course, winery, theater and plenty of parking.
Lee Medhoff is chief honcho here. He runs the dripping spigot of their beautiful copper, 65-gallon, steam-jacketed pot still, direct from Arnold Holstein in Germany at its border with Switzerland, one of the world’s foremost still makers. It cost $35,000 late in 1997 when it was first installed to begin distilling in March of 1998. Medhoff is McMenamin’s second distiller.
Medhoff’s output is wide ranging, despite the time-consuming process of distillation. His best-selling product is Edgefield Pear Brandy, which goes fresh out of the still after a ferment as wine. There’s also a Dutch style (genever) Edgefield Gin, once distilled grain alcohol flavored with a cold infusion of juniper berries, bitter orange peel, coriander and paradise seed, before a final run through the still. The fine Edgefield Brandy is a blend of Edgefield’s own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. The brandy is aged in French oak and finished out for four months in American oak.
Medhoff’s best product (in my view) is the splendid Edgefield Hedgehog Whiskey, a three-year-old, 100 percent, double-distilled single malt made from a 620-gallon (20-barrel), single-step infusion mash generated by the Edgefield Brewery and fermented at the distillery. He doesn’t boil, strain, or add hops to the all-pale-malt mash. It is cooled in a wort chiller, brought to the distillery at an original extract of 14.6 Plato, and fermented with a Champagne yeast, to an end extract of 1.5 Plato, with about 7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Edgefield’s standard distillation procedure is typical of the industry. They cut the early distillate (the fusil oils and aldehydes–“heads”), and discard the end notes (“tails”–below 5 proof, 2.5 percent ABV) for the second run. As a former brewer, he favors a hot estery ferment. He told me that whatever he had done to make a good drinkable beer he would “throw out the window” when distilling. He’s tried several yeasts, including a special and expensive “distiller’s yeast,” before settling on the Champagne yeast. The object is to squeeze as much alcohol out of the “wash” as possible. The still is boiler-fired by electricity. It takes only 20 to 25 minutes to get up to the boiling point, with an output yield of about 1/20th of the input.
All the distillery’s products are sold “in house.” Each McMenamin establishment is “hard liquor”; production is really small, and there really isn’t enough to market through Oregon’s state-operated liquor stores. Fortunately, Oregon’s liquor laws are really conducive to distillery operation.
The building encompasses the production facility and the “distillery pub.” It is a compact smoking pub with a cigar menu and a modest pub-food menu. McMenamin’s beers are on tap, plus their wines. The distillery’s product line is available in the other facilities at Edgefield (many non-smoking), as well as all other McMenamins in Oregon and Washington. Let me assure the reader: the Hogshead is worth a trip to Oregon.