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.
Rogue Rum and All That Stuff
Portland’s other distillery pub is the Rogue Public House in northwest Portland. It has a small brewery, seldom used, and a custom-built pot still. This latter was fabricated at the company’s headquarters in Newport, OR, and shipped to Portland early last year. That lovely electric-powered, copper-coated, stainless steel beauty sits in plain view on what was once a small orchestra loft over the main bar in the pub. That spigot is operated by Martin Ricci, whose energies have been concentrated on the production of Rogue Rum. That’s right–Rogue Rum. What a great name for a rum. Ricci learned the distilling arts at the Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery in Boise.
Ricci doesn’t use molasses to formulate his rum; rather, he uses Hawaiian certified cane sugar. That is more refined than molasses and yields a drier, but sweet, light finish. The “wash,” from hot water and sugar, is fermented with Champagne yeast in two 180-gallon British grundy tanks. He manages about one batch a month. It is a “white” rum, but Ricci hopes to build up enough stock to age some—to produce aged dark rum–in the future. There’s a lot of rum in our Pacific Northwest history, and it’s time we got back to it.
Oregon Single Malt Whiskey
Stephen McCarthy’s Clear Creek Distillery in uptown Portland is not a distillery pub, but McCarthy is making a whiskey in conjunction with Portland’s Widmer Brewing Co. He was doing very well with his pear brandy (from his own central Oregon orchard) and had branched out to do apple and plum brandies as well as Grappa and Marc (www.clearcreekdistillery.com). He wanted to do a malt whisky, even though he has no facilities for running a whisky wash. He contacted Kurt Widmer of Widmer Brewing to collaborate on a malt whisky. Widmer, too, had lusted after the idea of a malt whisky. Stephen McCarthy is a fountain of knowledge about distilled spirits and the perfect partner for such a venture. He and Widmer decided to use imported Scottish peat malt in the best Scottish tradition.
The beer is tanker-trucked across town. After distillation, the young whisky is matured in five-gallon glass carboys before aging in Oregon oak coopered in Napa, CA. The aging process is clearly the most expensive part of this whole venture.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey was first released in October 1997 at three years old, to mixed reviews. The current product, a blend of three-, four- and five-year-old stock, is really quite nice and sells for $40 at the distillery. This Oregon Malt has a future and is also worth a trip to Oregon. There’s an opportunity in whiskey for microbrewers willing to take the chance.
Whether or not an American brewery can operate a distillery is usually a matter of state law. California allows that, but with some stipulations. Oregon won’t allow a brewery to have a distillery in the same building; but it’s OK for a brewpub to have one (thanks to the McMenamin brothers). Whatever the state, it seems that local county and municipal laws have a tremendous influence over what will or will not be appropriate for the distiller to perform. And as Bill Owens has pointed out, it’s a long and tedious process to get licensed. But the wide world of distillation awaits those who take the chance.