Has Distilling Become a Millennial Passion Project?
Cherry whiskey, coffee infused rum, gin that doesn’t taste like a liquefied pine tree – these are just some of what craft distilleries are offering the world of spirits.
After helping craft beer get into a rampant start, Millennials are now flocking behind their favorite spirits and craft distilleries. Much like craft beer, the distilling movement has gone artisanal and is looking to make a new mark on the alcohol map.
Portland, Oregon has become one of the meccas for craft distilling; so much so that the middle of the city, almost in view of the Willamette River, has now become affectionately known as “distillery row.” With five of the seven different distilleries all within a few blocks of one another, Stumptown has become somewhat of a destination city for Millennials and spirit connoisseurs alike.
East Side Distilling, House Spirits Distillery, and New Deal Distillery make up a big part of the distilling culture in Portland. They gave MiLLENNiAL a special look into their town, and alcohol culture as a whole.
Starting in 2008, Eastside began making its mark on Portland with the help of its “Below Deck Rum,” a coffee infused rum that boasts “so much coffee flavor that it could only be made in Portland.”
The distillery has made some gigantic steps forward since its 2008 beginnings, and is now putting forward bold flavors like its “Cherry Bomb Whiskey,” a handmade blend of Oregon cherries and aged whiskey. There is also the gold medal awarded “Portland Potato Vodka” to help Eastside’s alcohol line along.
But for owner Lenny Gotter, putting East Side on the map is just as important as creating delicious new alcohol.
As a 15-year distilling artist, Gotter has a “more creative” approach that many of his engineering counterparts don’t typically utilize. “They approach everything from a very science-y background,” Gotter said. “For me, I start with ideas, then I start with the flavors,” he tells MiLLENNiAL.
With an organic approach to new flavor ideas, Gotter has helped to put an extremely unique flavor profile into the alcohol he creates in addition to the industry as a whole. “You can’t fake your way into great ideas.”
House Spirits Distillery
Just a few blocks south on 7th Avenue from East Side, drinkers will find House Spirits Distillery, founded in 2004, four years earlier than its neighbor down the road.
Andrew Tice was named the head distiller of House Spirits in 2011, and has helped to expand production by close to triple from what it was in the past. After getting his start in craft beer, the distilling movement seemed like the perfect next step.
“Craft distilling now looks a lot like what craft beer did 20 years ago,” Tice tells us. What craft beer started doing, is what Tice is now trying to do again in his distillery: experimenting with new ideas and flavors.
The “Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey” is one of the bigger products for House Spirits and is the subject of plenty of experimentation.
With whiskey, there are nearly infinite ways to create different flavor profiles. The barrels that store the whiskey for the aging process can be charred, the length of time inside the barrel can be lowered or extended, and those are just two of the many ways flavor can be altered. Even barrels from the same batch of whiskey can have entirely different profiles.
“Every barrel has it’s own story,” Tice says. Just like the craft beer industry, this kind of flavor experimentation attracts plenty of millennial audiences in their quests for something new. And for Tice, “The thing that excites me most right now, is knowing that we can make some really interesting things that no one else had made before.”
New Deal Distillery
Experimentation and adventure has become two of the most important ideas for the craft alcohol industry. For distilling, these ideas are what have pushed the industry forward in almost a mirror image of what craft beer did to get its start.
New Deal started around the same time as House Spirits in 2004 and with the help of the head of marketing, Kirstin Johansson, and its strong vodka lineup, the distillery has made leaps and bounds to help expand the industry.
With flavors like the “Hot Monkey Pepper-Flavored Vodka” and their “Muddle Puddle Bitter Chocolate Vodka,” New Deal jumped in on the flavored vodka train before the current whiskey boom took place. But to say that they haven’t been keeping up with the whiskey market would be very untrue.
To help get on board with the whiskey movement, New Deal started utilizing whiskey-making classes on its distillery campus for the first time in 2014, and will continue courses into 2015.
The classes are typically very small, but New Deal does offer the opportunity for groups of up to 12 people to take part in the class and learn everything from the differences between bourbons and ryes, to actually seeing the whiskey-making process take place. “It’s really hands-on and you get the full attention of our owner and master distiller so it’s a really special experience,” Johansson says.
Not only does New Deal offer classes to help promote and expand its notability, but the distillery also donates tasting packages of its sprits to local non-profits to show the positive impact of community outreach. According to Johansson, New Deal wants to “continue to make products that are really high-quality, things that we’re proud of, and things that we want to drink ourselves and take home to show to our friends.”
What It Boils Down To
For craft distilling, similar to craft beer, the end product is simply one that its creators enjoy. The idea of making something to please the global alcohol market is not one that is embraced in any sense of the word.
These small creators find their joy in the creative process itself, which allows for more accessibility, less marketing ploys, and more fun to be had by patrons. With the help of the Millennial generation, craft distilling is becoming yet another place to explore new ideas, inspire the creative process, and enjoy a more intimate and personal setting.