The warehouse space at 909 SE 9th is turning into a verdant fantasyland. The Green Dragon occupies much of the building, blowing the tantalizing, smoky smell of pulled pork into the street. And now a green fairy has also come to fill the space with boozy magic.
The fairy in question is Trillium Absinthe Superiere, the latest release from small-batch distillery Integrity Spirits, which also produces 12 Bridges Gin and Lovejoy Vodka. Currently, Trillium is dominating Integrity's production. The bottling room is consistently busy, the smell of sealing wax and anise heavy in the air. A small crew of workers moves quietly, filling bottle after bottle, double-checking each one before sending it off for distribution.
Stores have had trouble keeping Trillium on their shelves. Even at nearly $60 a bottle, the allure of a local absinthe is just too much for the state's boozehounds to resist. There is something about this storied drink, fabled to turn men into depraved geniuses, living only for another small sip of the intoxicating and inspiring liquor, that makes having it produced in your own backyard all the more special.
Kieran Sienkiewicz, the 38-year-old master distiller for Integrity Spirits, was himself lured by the lore of absinthe. "I wanted to do absinthe first; that was my priority," he explains. "Being a distiller, I thought, what better liquid can I make?"
Unfortunately, it wasn't legal for him to make absinthe until recently. When the laws changed, he and his financial backers took the leap and the response has been overwhelming. Sienkiewicz has even been receiving requests for Trillium from out of state, but he is committed to crafting his small-batch hooch for Oregon.
"This is my art, what goes into that bottle. And if it's not perfect, if it's not gorgeous, then it doesn't go in that bottle."
Sienkiewicz is what you might call a populist. He's an advocate for the common drinker—the one who doesn't want to go through all the trouble of mixing a cocktail after work to have a pleasurable alcoholic decompression. His philosophy is that booze should be ready right out of the bottle.
"If you find yourself on a camping trip and you don't have a mixer, you should still be able to drink it," he explains.
Tasting his absinthe and his 12 Bridges Gin, the instant gratification philosophy is immediately apparent. Most European absinthe is very bitter and drinking it requires the famous sugar cube and ice water ritual. But Trillium can be quaffed with ice, adding water to taste, which turns the liquid a milky white. The initial flavor is a strong hint of licorice from star anise, but there is also a subtle sweetness and just a wisp of low bitterness.
"We've taken to calling it fairy milk," Sienkiewicz jokes. "It's hard to say how many fairies I have to find to make it. Their teats aren't that large."
The 12 Bridges Gin requires neither fairy teats nor mixers. In the glass, it lacks the strong astringent smell of many gins, and on the palate, it has tones of citrus and cucumber along with big juniper notes. It would make a fine martini, stirred with ice, accompanied only by a dismissive glance at the unopened bottle of vermouth.
Integrity's three stills do fine work producing enough spirits for the state's epicurean drunkards, but there is still more to come. Barrels have been procured for the production of small batch whisky, which could roll out in the next decade, and Sienkiewicz is looking forward to working on aged blue agave liquor.
In addition, work is being done to turn a portion of the distillery into an absinthe bar where curious drinkers can sample the product before purchasing. The bar will be complete with all the necessary paraphernalia, and food will be provided by the neighboring Green Dragon. There are even plans currently in development to serve an absinthe sorbet.
Thus, the fantasyland on SE 9th continues to grow. It's only a matter of timebefore the green unicorns arrive.