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Eastside Distillery Review

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Eastside Distillery Review

Eastside Distillery exterior

Joshua Liberles
Eastside Distilling is among Portland's leaders in the city's micro-distillery movement. And with public interest, distribution and availability in local bars and restaurants all increasing, momentum is supporting these businesses' quest to do to the booze industry what microbrewers did in the ’80s and ’90s -- namely, revolutionize the industry with small-batch, craft products. Although several of Portland's micro-distilleries have been around for longer, Eastside Distilling has carved out a notable niche since Bill Adams and Lenny Gotter founded it in 2009. Below Deck Rum came first, and has since spawned a Coffee Rum and a Ginger Rum. Other offerings include Portland Potato Vodka, Burnside Bourbon, Cherry Bomb Whiskey and Holiday Liqueurs such as Egg Nog Advocaat, Peppermint Bark and Spiced Liqueur. Eastside Distilling is a member of Distillery Row -- a group of micro-distilleries in Southeast Portland that has banded together to create a regional hub to benefit each participant. Be sure to read more about the members of Distillery Row, as well as a round-up of some of the other top distillers in Portland.

Taste Tests

1. Rums
Below Deck Silver Rum is the unadulterated rum that's made with molasses instead of sugar. Daiquiris and mojitos never had it so good.

The Coffee and Ginger Rums are both naturally flavored and, while the tastes are strong, they don't come across as over-the-top or synthetic. The coffee flavoring is a direct infusion of cold-pressed beans from nearby Portland Roasters, rather than an afterthought addition. As Eastside's Kirsten Zamoida pointed out to me in the tasting: "Compare that to Kahlua which has corn syrup and artificial coffee flavor."

The Coffee Rum tastes rich and delicious -- and contains a significant caffeine punch to accompany the alcohol's downer. The Ginger Rum is on the mild side as ginger alcohols go, but it has a pleasing bite. It would make an excellent hot toddy or an apertif that puts the ginger to work for digestion. Eastside also recommends pairing it with sushi -- something I'm anxious to try myself. Both the coffee and ginger rums are great straight up, or put them to work in creative cocktails.

2. Vodka
Keeping with a common theme for Portland micro-distillers, the Portland Potato Vodka relies on locally grown ingredients, with Oregon and Idaho Russet potatoes serving as the principal building block. The 80 proof spuds-based drink is what you want in a vodka -- it's smooth and clean. And unlike grain-based vodkas, it's also gluten free.

3. Bourbons
Eastside now offers two bourbons -- the regular fixture four-year-old Burnside Bourbon and a Double Barrel Bourbon. True to requirements necessary for a bourbon designation, the bourbons are made from at least 51 percent corn. The other 49 percent is where much of the variation between bourbons comes in -- and Eastside uses a blend of wheat, rye and malted barley.

The two bourbons are identical intially, and are aged in American Oak bourbon barrels. The Double is then re-barreled in white oak from Oregon, and after aging for just 60 additional days the difference in taste is dramatic. The Burnside Bourbon is bolder, with a sweet a peppery finish and more of a burn -- the slogan is "put some sideburns on your face," afterall -- while the Double Barrel is much smoother throughout and a bit sweeter. Because of that smoothness, more of the subtle flavors and spices are able to shine through.

Both are excellent, with the Burnside Bourbon perfect as a winter warmer, and the Double Barrel great as a slow sipper.

4. Cherry Bomb Whiskey
Late-harvest cherries from Salem, Oregon, are pureed along with orange peel to provide up front sweetness, while the whiskey back brings the punch. The Cherry Bomb is a great starting place for a Manhattan or an Old Fashion, and Eastside recommends mixing it with more cutting flavors like citrus or ginger beer.

The cherry pulp in the bottle reveals the all-natural process that brought this creation to light, and like many micro-distillery creations, sets the Cherry Bomb apart from mass-produced, often articially flavored liquors.

5. Holiday Liqueurs

Make your winter festive with a Spiced Liqueur built atop the Silver Rum that flaunts cinammon up front, with chocolate, allspice, vanilla and mace following it up; a creamy Egg Nog Liqueur with milk and eggs (and no need for refrigeration thanks to the Silver Rum -- just keep it corked); and a delicious Peppermint Bark Liqueur made with pure peppermint, pure cocoa powder and Silver Rum.

The Tasting Room

The lineup at Eastside Distillery

Joshua Liberles

Tastings cost $5 (or purchase a Distillery Row Passport to taste at all of the affiliated micro-distillers plus some bonuses for $20) and include four samples of your choice. Pro tip: if you're willing to share, go with a friend and your eight samples will cover all of the offerings.

At the end of your tastes, Eastside will offer you one of the two cocktails du jour. Our recent visit featured an horchata (a Mexican spiced rice-based drink) made with coffee rum and a hot cider made with spiced rum. Both were excellent.

One of the most impressive traits that the majority of the burgeoning Portland micro-distillers share is the relatively inexpensive price tag on their products. Costs are competitive with more mainstream, mid-level bottles, and you have the opportunity to meet the folks crafting your drinks, learn about the process and support a local business along the way. Eastside's bottles would make excellent additions to your home bar, or very cool gifts that won't break the bank. Burnside Bourbon retails for $27.95, the rums range from $15.59 to $19.95, Portland Potato Vodka is $22.95, and the Cherry Bomb Whiskey is $23.95 for a 375mL bottle or $33.95 for a 750mL bottle.

Eastside Distilling Essentials

  • Eastside Distilling is located at 1512 SE 7th Avenue.

  • Website: eastsidedistilling.com; Distillery Row Eastside Website: distilleryrowpdx.com/eastside-distilling

  • Phone: 503-926-7060

  • Average tab per taster: $5/tasting, or purchase a Distillery Row Passport for $20

  • Tasting room hours: Sunday - Thursday, Noon - 5:00 p.m.; Friday, Noon - 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Distillery tours at the top of every hour Friday through Sunday and group tours by appointment
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