Many have tried to distill Portland’s essence, but few, other than perhaps Gus Van Sant, have done it well. Distillery Row, a collection of tasting rooms in the southeast area of the city, is another happy exception.
After the early 2000s boomlet in craft distilling nationwide, Portland producers banded together in 2010 to create a nonprofit to market their tasting rooms. Housed in vacant warehouses and similarly cinematic post-industrial buildings, the distilleries helped to reinvigorate the neighborhood. As a result of the distillers’ community-oriented approach, all of the participating tasting rooms can be visited with the purchase of a $20 “passport,” rather than paying the individual fees at each location. It’s easily the most fun you can have on a row — compare with Skid, Desolation, or Cannery! Plus, you just might learn something along the way.
New Deal Distillery: One of Portland’s OG craft distillers, the 14-year-old New Deal was once the smallest distillery in America. Now it’s the center of Rose City’s distillery movement, with the tasting room amenities to match. Learn whiskey-making, purchase your passport (New Deal initiated the program and was the first distillery on Distillery Row), or just stop by to sample the goods made with local ingredients like rye from Bob’s Red Mill and Water Avenue coffee. Location.
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Eastside Distilling: Eastside’s tasting room is open the latest in the evening of any on the row, giving it a convivial atmosphere. The same spirit (badum) goes into the spirits it creates, which range from Oregon-oaked bourbon to a yes-it’s-real habanero potato vodka. Oregon’s answer to the blackberry, the marionberry, appears in a whiskey here, though like Eastside’s seasonal options, it may not be to everyone’s taste. Location.
Rolling River Spirits: A family-owned and -operated distillery, Rolling River turns out whiskeys, aquavits, and even a coffee liqueur made with beans from local roaster Coava from its stills. The owners are often on hand at the tasting room to… distill their process for novice spirit tasters. The space gets a bit snug at peak times. Location.
Wild Roots Vodka: Wild Roots creates vodkas infused with local fruit. Its proprietary process, done without preservatives, leads to vodka infusions made with Washington State apples, cherries and Oregon’s ubiquitous marionberry. The tasting room is light, bright and dog-friendly; between the canines and the diminutive cocktails served with each vodka tasting flight, it’s a joyous way to spend an afternoon. Location.
Thomas and Sons: The distillery spinoff of Townshend’s Tea, another Portland establishment, Thomas and Sons distills its spirits from fermented tea and sugar. Its Pacific Northwest Fernet is particularly tasty, if you’re into that category of spirit (e.g., ones that taste like dirt). Both the distillery and the tasting room are on-site. Location.
Thirsty for More
If you’ve got time for additional distillery stops, we recommend these spots.
Vinn Distillery: It’s worth popping in here, especially if anyone in your tasting party has a gluten allergy. The spirits, made from rice, are crafted in a traditional style by the owners, the Ly family. If you’re on the hunt for baiju in Portland, this is your spot. Location.
Stone Barns Brandyworks: Brandy’s a fine girl and also is the name of the game at this distillery. It makes grappa, slivovitz, and rye when fruit isn’t in season. Sampling the spirits here most closely approximates the experience of drinking with your grandpa from the old country, in the best possible way. Location.
House Spirits Distillery: House Spirits was so kind as to have opened a tasting room at Portland Airport, which makes a stop here nice but inessential. Save the sampling for when you really need a drink — before a long flight. Location.