THERE'VE BEEN some changes on Distillery Row. Of biggest concern to fans of this league of merry distillers—aside from their newly acquired nonprofit status—is the emergence of two new distilleries, Deco and Stone Barn Brandyworks. Both are a boon to boozehounds across the state, producing new and unique spirits. So, pull up a barstool and say hello to the new kids.
Have Some Decorum
As he sits in his bonded space in the confines of New Deal Distillery, Lenny Gotter, one of the founders and distillers of Deco, folds his arms and smiles.
"I'm either a genius or no one's going to get me," he says.
The reason for this declaration is his spicy, highly mixable ginger rum.
In 2007, while visiting Belize, Gotter (who also works as a professional photographer) discovered there was such a thing as "good" silver rum. Previously, he'd only known Bacardi, which he describes as tasting of "bug repellent."
Around that time, he'd also begun playing with infusions. Soon the bell of inspiration was rung. Why not make flavored rum? Of course, he'd need rum to flavor, which meant he'd need to learn how to make it.
In 2008, Gotter and an engineer partner applied for a federal license, moved in with New Deal, and promptly failed at making rum.
"In the first batches nothing worked," Gotter says. "We'd spend a whole day doing a five-gallon batch and six ounces would come out."
Still, Gotter and his partner were undeterred. "We wanted to learn on our own," he explains. "When you fail at something you have a better understanding of how it all comes together."
What's come together is silver rum with a sweetness that isn't too cloying, and a good deal of booziness that airs out on the back end. Not bad at 80 proof.
Better is the ginger rum, which has a great deal of zesty ginger spice made even better by the silver rum's touch of sweetness. The flavor really works here and tastes quite natural. It's a spirit that can easily work in a complex cocktail, but popping it into some root beer works just as well, creating a kind of hard sarsaparilla.
With his two rums on local liquor store shelves, Gotter is now developing a coffee-flavored version to be released next month.
"It's about making something simple, and making it good," says Gotter.
So far he's succeeded.
"I like the peacefulness here. I like the light," says Sebastian Degens, as he looks around his tidy, tiny distillery. He's one half of the husband/wife team behind nano-distillery Stone Barn Brandyworks, which began bottling roughly four months ago.
The inclusion of Stone Barn stretches Distillery Row to a hard-to-reach nook just south of SE Powell. It also adds seven new products to the nonprofit's rainbow of boozy goodness.
The Degenses are fans of fruit and grain, and work to capture the essence of their ingredients in an array of styles from brandy to whiskey—all in crazy-small runs.
"The idea of being able to have a cornucopia of produce of all kinds, distill the essence down, and save it, is wonderful," explains Degens. "You can have springtime on your shelf."
The amazing part is, considering time and effort, Sebastian and Erika Degens are doing just that, while working full-time gigs, and keeping their price-point affordable.
A perfect example of the Stone Barn magic is their strawberry liqueur, made from tiny Hood strawberries harvested at the peak of their brief season.
The expression of the little gems in the bottle is pure summer. On the nose it's strawberry jam, but on the palate the flavor is big and airy without overwhelming sweetness. At $25 a bottle, it's totally worth having in your bar for those dreary winter months when you'll need to relive warmer seasons.
This quality is also found in Stone Barn's soon-to-be-available apricot liqueur, and their pear, apple, and coffee brandies. But lest they be labeled makers of soft booze, Stone Barn also produces some incredibly dangerous high-proof concoctions.
Consider their un-oaked rye whiskey, weighing in at 40 percent alcohol, offering dynamic rye spice that is incredibly drinkable with just a touch of alcoholic fire.
While it's not yet legal to do so, Stone Barn hopes someday they'll be able to offer a CSA for liquor—community-supported alcohol, if you will.
Until that time, their products can be found at their distillery (3315 SE 19th, Ste. B)—a place worth finding now before it becomes headquarters for the Stone Barn cult, which is almost guaranteed to develop in coming years.