Class Up Your Liquor Cabinet! 

A Guide to Oregon's Hoity-Toity Distillers

Who are we to look down on an afternoon spent sucking down a half-rack of Pabst Blue Ribbon? Nevertheless, there are times when you need to wash up, put on a clean shirt and act all dignified and shit. This means occasionally shelling out for a bottle of the good stuff--like the following

Ransom Cellars (Corvallis)--Grappas

Tad Seestedt, the owner and distiller at Ransom Spirits, claims that grappa is a powerful aphrodisiac. "Proven," he says confidently. A sweet and aromatic brandy that's distilled from wine, grappas is a digestive (meaning you drink it after chowing down). Sure, it may cost ten times the price of a draft but, says Seestedt, "it also has ten times the content of alcohol."

How do you know whether you are a grappas drinker? Seestedt says there's no particular type of person who drinks the stuff. "From hardcore boozers to demure lightweights," he says. "From ordinary, average, pickup-driving good-old-boys to super sophisticated sleek sedan-driving social elites." He adds, "You just gotta try it." PB

Order from www.ransomspirits.com or call Tad at (541) 738-1565, $21-36 per 375-ml bottle

Bendistillery (Bend)-- Gin and Vodka

Given that the Bendistillery is located in Bend, Oregon, one would assume it's named after its place of origin. Guess again! It's named after its owner, Jim Bendis.

Bendis started the company in '96 after realizing he lived in the thick of the world's largest juniper forest (juniper berries are the main ingredients crushed to make gin). After that epiphany, what else could he do?

On the heels of Cascade Mountain Gin came Bendistillery standards Desert Juniper Gin and Crater Lake Vodka, its most popular seller. "It's micro-distilled and hand-crafted," boasts Bendis. "We filter it 10 times, when even the finest vodkas only filter four times. We also filter it through charcoal; we actually use crushed lava rock to filter it."

Charcoal? Sounds sketchy. But Bendis swears he's only doing what's natural: "The water in central Oregon is really sweet, and it comes from wells deep in the ground. Rainwater goes through lava rock to get to those wells, so we can copy what nature does to purify vodka."

Whatever. The result is the pure, clean, and smooth vodka--and thus, theoretically worth its spendy price tag. JWS

1-800-331-3005 to purchase, or check your local liquor store; Crater Lake Vodka and Cascade Mountain Gin are $19.95 wholesale

SakeOne (Forest Grove)--sake

Of all the "recreational" beverages, sake, that sweet nectar of Japan, may be the most mysterious. Perhaps strangest is that a brand of sake is brewed in Forest Grove, of all white-bread places.

In charmingly polite broken English, Steve Chung, a staffer at SakeOne, explains why Oregon is ideal: "Sake mainly is made from rice water and koji, a special enzyme. We get very good rice from California and very good water from Oregon; two items very essential to making sake."

The most exciting secret Chung revealed, though, pertained to the relationship between sake and hangovers: The milling process, he explains, removes a chemical called sulfite, an ingredient present in other alcoholic products, like red wine, that makes many people allergic. This is great news, binge drinkers! The absence of sulfite, according to Chung, makes sake "virtually hangover free!"

Asked about the difference between hot and cold sake, Chung explained, "If you have bad sake, boil it, if you have a so-so sake, warm it; if you have good sake, drink cold; when you boil sake you mask all the bad qualities; you can really enjoy the taste, however, when it's cold." JWS

Available at most liquor stores; also order on-line at sakeone.com or by phone, (800) 550-SAKE; $7+ per bottle

Clear Creek Distillery (Portland)--Pear Brandy

Clear Creek Distillery is located in a nondescript building along NW 23rd. But Clear Creek produces some of the best pear brandy in the world, an eau de vie that's available with a nifty pear grown right inside the bottle! Although Rachel Showalter, vice president of the company, says their products are basically "regional moonshines" and Europe is apparently littered with versions of this distilled brandy, it's hardly what you'd find in the average Slovakian bathtub.

According to distiller Barrett Chaix, the quality of ingredients is what makes Clear Creek the Lexus of pear brandy. Bottom-shelf brandies "taste slightly ass," he explains. But Clear Creek squeezes about 30 pounds of premium pears to make just one 750-ml bottle. The pears are so precisely processed there is only a 15-hour window for perfect ripeness. "But if you have dope stuff to begin with," Chaix says, "you have really dope stuff come out." MS

Located at 1430 NW 23rd or call (503) 248-9470; 750-ml with the pear: $79.95, without the pear: $34.95; 375-ml: $21.95, 50-ml: $4

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