When it comes to travel (especially to Portland), there is no better question than “which bar or restaurant should I check out next?” That’s why we wanted to sit down with someone who could answer that question with gusto. Karen Locke has been writing tips for best food and drink spots in Portland only a month after moving to the west coast from Minneapolis in 2011. She has a delightful fondness for all things culinary and sips (she just wrote a book); we got to sit down with her to talk all things good spirits.
After writing about food and drink in Portland for quite a few years—primarily wine, beer, and cocktails—I noticed people were talking about cocktails, but people weren’t necessarily talking about the spirits in the cocktails or where they were produced. Additionally, it seemed like a missed opportunity to not be writing about the more than 12 distillery tasting rooms that were open at the time. No one had produced a written history of distilling in Portland yet!
For travelers on a real time crunch there’s always House Spirits Distillery tasting room at the airport. There you can try tasters of straight booze or sip mini cocktails. If still in Portland, I recommend New Deal Distillery. It’s centrally located in Distillery Row. Visitors will find vodka, gin, whiskey, and even a Pacific Northwest interpretation of traditional European herbal liqueur: Cascadia American Bitter Liqueur.
Distillery Row is an initiative to promote distilling in inner SE Portland. There are eight independent distilleries producing over 20 unique liquors. The distilleries keep common hours, and promote the distilling movement through events and “cocktail crawls” where visitors can try different variations of the same cocktail at all distilleries. Along with distillers in the NW Distiller’s District, Distillery Row producers are included in the Portland Distillery Passport, a booklet and mobile app that bundles tasting fees into one price.
To get the most out of a distillery visit, my number one rule is to be open minded. Some people know they dislike gin but there’s also a good chance that a distillery in Portland is making a style of gin that can help change that dissatisfaction, but only with an open mind and a willingness to taste. Ask questions, too! The distillery tasting room employees and distillers are knowledgeable and there to answer your questions.
Outside of Portland, I’m really excited about what’s going on in Minneapolis, where I lived prior to Portland. The amount of distilleries that have opened up since I moved away is substantial. Craft distillers in Minneapolis can sell their products on the premises where they produce them, for on-site consumption. The result of this law change is really stunning tasting rooms and cocktail lounges with innovative drink menus. On a recent trip back I was impressed by Norseman Distillery, Tattersall Distilling, and Twin Spirits Distillery.
You can pay individually for your tastings at the distilleries ($5-$10), or grab the digital Portland Distillery Passport for $20 and your tasting fees are waived at 11 distilleries.
Distillery tasting rooms in Portland differ from brewpubs in that they don’t offer food. One advantage is that you can really concentrate on the spirits. In addition to flights and mini cocktails, the distilleries often throw parties and events like Distillery Row Birthday Beach Bash, cocktail classes, and hands-on whiskey making courses.
I have a ridiculous amount of food recommendations in Portland! For both classic cocktails with local spirits AND a menu indicative of the Pacific Northwest check out Trifecta Tavern.
I frequented distillery tasting rooms in Portland while writing the book, but there’s still so many new products that have come out since I finished the project. I’d love to swing by Thomas & Sons again soon. They have perfected tea-based spirits in mini cocktails on site. I’ve tried the spirits of a lot of distilleries in Oregon but there are a few I’d love to visit soon such as Oregon Spirit Distillers in Bend and Trail Distilling right outside of Portland in Oregon City.
Karen Locke is the author of High-Proof PDX, a guidebook to distillery tasting in Portland (forthcoming September 2017). However, you can pre-order it now here.
Brittany is a member of the Communications Team at Sun Country Airlines. Her favorite things about Sun Country are the close-knit family vibe and the passion behind the people, as if the employees and customers grew up loving the “airline next door.” Her favorite destination? The whimsical forests and rain of Seattle’s coast.