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Clear Creek Distillery: Artisan Spirit Pioneers

Clear Creek Distillery: Artisan Spirit Pioneers

You don’t have to be a card-carrying cocktail geek to know that buzzwords like "artisan" and "craft" are the bread and butter of today’s spirits lexicon. But considering Clear Creek Distillery’s Steven McCarthy has been in the business of making artisanal eaux-de-vie for more than 26 years, it’s safe to say he didn’t start using the term to describe his business for the on-trend factor.

"Depending on how you count it, we were one of the first artisan, craft distillers in the country," remarks the proprietor of the much-lauded Portland, Ore.-based distillery.

The venture was inspired by a desire to find the best use for the pears and apples from his family’s orchard, particularly in lean or difficult years where there was a need to make the most of the available fruit. After experiencing and studying traditional brandy-making techniques in Europe, McCarthy had the idea to combine Old World craftsmanship with his available resources in order to create an exceptional local spirit.

Williams pear and apple brandy were first off the still, Kirschwasser (cherry) and grappa followed, and Clear Creek eventually expanded their line to an incredible repertoire of products that today includes an array of eaux-de-vie, liqueurs, grappas, pot-distilled brandy, and even a single malt whiskey.

However, it’s clear that the making of genuine, quality eau-de-vie is still the heart and soul of this operation. "Really, our whole marketing strategy was to find the two or three thousand people in Oregon who wanted real eau-de-vie, and focus on selling to them," McCarthy explains. That unwavering dedication to authenticity is a tactic that appears to have worked, ultimately leading the distillery far beyond their home state market. Now, more than two decades later, Clear Creek’s American-bred Poire Williams is even imported and distributed in France, where the making of the spirit originated and McCarthy himself learned the craft. Talk about coming full circle.

So what exactly is eau-de-vie, and, more importantly, how are you supposed to drink the stuff? For the uninitiated, "eau-de-vie" (which literally translates to "water of life") is a very dry, typically colorless type of brandy distilled from crushed, fermented fruit. Generally clocking in at around 80-proof, eaux are most commonly enjoyed as a digestif — a powerful and aromatic post-meal tipple that is though to aid in digestion.

"These should be sipped after dinner, served in a small white wine glass or snifter, if that’s all you have, and maybe slightly chilled," explains McCarthy.

Considering the interesting selection of eaux-de-vie Clear Creek products — blue plum, raspberry, eveb Douglas fir ("tastes like spring forest in Oregon") — it’s not surprising that cocktail-minded folks are tempted to experiment with them in a mixed drink or two. Just don’t expect the distillery to tell you what those cocktails should be. As McCarthy is quick to stress, he doesn’t tell people what to make with his products, or have branded cocktail recipes they promote to restaurants and mixologists. Rather, the distillery emphasizes a strong education program at the tasting room and store, inviting industry professionals and visitors alike to sample the spirits, learn about how they’re made, and form their own opinion.

While McCarthy is confident about his product ("I don’t try to sell it for what it isn’t"), and rightfully so, it’s the consumer’s opinion that really helps define how he measures success. "Of course you want to make some money," he says, "but the single most important thing for us is getting our product in the best stores and restaurants — having these knowledgeable professionals, sommeliers, and mixologists taste our products and want to serve it because they think it’s the best."

— Danya Henninger, The Drink Nation

More From The Drink Nation:

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President Obama Brings White House Beer on Campaign Trail

American Distilling Institute 6th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits and Awards is just returning from the 9th Annual Craft Distilling Conference in Louisville, Kentucky where American Distilling Institute 6th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits took place. Hundreds of craft distillers from across the country came to learn, share, network and taste each other’s spirits with a focus on whiskey and rum.

The photo of the table you’re looking at above represents a number of the craft distillers who attended and we’ll be publishing more from the conference here soon.

Here are the winners of the 6th Annual Judging of Artisan American Spirits. recommends you check these out and also support craft distillers based near you!

Bubble Cup Award — Distillery of the Year

Peach Street Distillers, Palisade, Colorado

Best of Class

Artisan Distilled Whiskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Grainiac 9 Grain Bourbon

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery – Jepson Old Stock Brandy

Turkey Shore Distilleries – Old Ipswich Tavern Style Rum

Smooth Ambler Spirits Co – Old Scout Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Huber’s Starlight Distillery – Brandy

______________________________ ______________________________ _

Copper Fox Distillery – Wasmund’s Rye Spirit

Deerhammer Distilling Company – Whitewater Whiskey

Tennessee Distilling Company – Collier and McKeel Charcoal Mellowed White Dog

Dark Horse Distillery – Long Shot White Whiskey

High West Distillery – High West Silver Whiskey – OMG Pure Rye

Finger Lakes Distillery – White Pike Whiskey

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Limestone Branch Distillery – T.J. Pottinger Moon*Shine

Asheville Distilling Company – Troy & Sons Moonshine

Colorado Gold Distillery – Colorado’s Own Corn Whiskey

Dark Corner Distillery – Moonshine Corn Whiskey

Balcones Distillery – Balcones True Blue

Kings County Distillery – Kings County Moonshine

Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery – Corn Whiskey

Pinchgut Hollow Distillery – Corn Shine

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Grainiac 9 Grain Bourbon

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Nashville Bourbon

Tuthilltown Spirits – Hudson Whiskey Four Grain Bourbon

Kings County Distillery – Kings County Bourbon

Tuthilltown Spirits – Hudson Baby Bourbon


Silver Medal, Best of Category

Colorado Gold Distillery – Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Ballast Point Spirits – Devil’s Share Whiskey

Peach Street Distillers – Colorado Straight Bourbon


Gold Medal, Best of Category

Golden Distillery – Samish Bay Single Malt Whiskey

Golden Distillery – Samish Bay Whiskey Reserve

Rogue Ales & Spirits – Oregon Single Malt Whiskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Pils American Malt Whiskey

New Holland Artisan Spirits – Double Down Barley

Rogue Ales & Spirits – Dead Guy Whiskey

Darek Bell, Owner of Corsair Artisan Distillery, with one of the many ADI Awards Corsair along with's Tom Fischer


Gold Medal, Best of Category

Ballast Point Spirits – Devil’s Share Whiskey

istillery – Hogshead Whiskey

New Holland Artisan Spirits – Zeppelin Bend


Silver Medal, Best of Category

Breuckelen Distilling – 77 Whiskey

1512 Spirits – Aged Rye Whiskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Ryemageddon


Gold Medal, Best of Category

Balcones Distillery – 𔃱’ Texas Single Malt

1512 Spirits – Signature Poitin

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Oatmeal Stout Whiskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – PreProhibition American Malt Whiskey

Florida Farm Distillers – Palm Ridge Reserve

Koval Distillery – Lion’s Pride, 47th Ward Whiskey

Old Sugar Distillery – Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey

Glacier Distilling Company – Wheatfish Whiskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Quinoa & Barley Whiskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Triticale & Barley Whiskey

Koval Distillery – Lion’s Pride Millet Whiskey

Middle West Spirits – OYO Whiskey


Silver Medal, Best of Category

Balcones Distillery – Brimstone

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Oak Smoked Wheat Whiskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Cherrywood Smoke

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Triple Smoke

Square One Brewery & Distillery – JJ Neukomm Malt whiskey


Gold Medal, Best of Category

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Citra Whiskey

Spirits of St. Louis – Hopskey

Corsair Artisan Distillery – Elderflower Bohemian Whiskey


Corsair Artisan Distillery – Old Punk

Artisan Merchant Bottled Whiskey

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Smooth Ambler Spirits Co – Old Scout Bourbon Whiskey

Bull Run Distillery – Temperance Trader Bourbon

Great Lakes Distillery, LLC – Kinnickinnic Whiskey

______________________________ ______________________________ _

Silver Medal, Best of Category

Clear Creek Distillery – Eau de Vie of Blue Plum (Slivovitz)

Westford Hill Distillers, LLC – Kirsch Eau de Vie

Peach Street Distillers – Jack and Jenny Peach Eau de Vie

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Peach Street Distillers – Peach Brandy

Peach Street Distillers – Pear Brandy

Harvest Spirits LLC – Rare Pear Brandy

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Westford Hill Distillers, LLC – New World Aged Apple Brandy

Clear Creek Distillery – 8 year. Eau de Vie de Pomme (apple)

Colorado Gold Distillery – Colorado Gold Brandy

Carolina Distillery LLC – Carriage House Apple Brandy

Huber’s Starlight Distillery – Apple Brandy

Huber’s Starlight Distillery – Apple Jack

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Clear Creek Distillery – Grappa Muscat

Clear Creek Distillery – Grappa Nebbiolo

Flag Hill Distillery – Graham’s Grappa

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery – Jepson Old Stock Brandy

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery – Jepson Signature Reserve Brandy

Dakota Spirits Distillery – Bickering Brothers Neutral Brandy

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Sidetrack Distillery – Raspberry Liqueur

Clear Creek Distillery – Liqueur of Oregon Cranberries

Huber’s Starlight Distillery – Black Raspberry Infusion

Huber’s Starlight Distillery – Raspberry Infusion

Clear Creek Distillery – Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir

Bloomery Plantation Distillery – Cello Cremma Lemma

Clear Creek Distillery – Liqueur of Oregon Cassis (Creme de Cassis)

Harvest Spirits LLC – Core Black Raspberry

Apollo Fine Spirits – Queen Esther Sweet Fire Liqueur

Silver Medal, Best of Category

Ballast Point Spirits – Three Sheets White Rum

New Deal Distillery – Distiller’s Workshop Rum

Dancing Pines Distillery, LLC. – Dancing Pines Rum

Bull Run Distillery – Pacific Rum

Turkey Shore Distilleries – Old Ipswich White Cap Rum

Gold Medal, Best of Category

Turkey Shore Distilleries – Old Ipswich Tavern Style Rum

Desert Diamond Distillery – Gold Miner Spirits Barrel Reserve Rum

Ryan and Wood Distillery – Folly Cove Rum

Dancing Pines Distillery, LLC. — Cask Barrel Aged Rum

Rogue Ales & Spirits – Dark Rum

New Deal Distillery – Distiller’s Workshop Rum, Amber

Old Sugar Distillery – Cane and Abe Freshwater Rum

Silver Medal, Best of Category

Barrel House Distilling Co. – Oak Rum

Privateer Rum – Privateer True American Rum

Silver Medal, Best of Category

Dogfish Head – Brown Honey Rum

Duncan’s Idea Mill, LLC – Dunc’s Mill – Elderflower

Silver Medal, Best of Category

Dancing Pines Distillery, LLC. – Spice Flavored Rum

Artisan Merchant Bottled Rum

New Holland Artisan Spirits – Huron Rum

Firefly Distillery – Sea Island, Java

Firefly Distillery – Sea Island, Spice

Spirit of Texas – Pecan Street Rum

Special thanks to American Distilling Institute (ADI), ADI President Bill Owens, Andrew Faulkner Judging Director and Staff Photographer at ADI, Leah Hutchinson ADI Conference and Advertising Director, Amber Hasselbring, Assistant to the President at ADI, Huber’s Starlight Distillery at Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards in Borden, IN for hosting us, and all the distillers and friends we met along the way!

Clear Creek Distillery celebrates 30 fruitful years: The Cocktail Hour

Clear Creek Distillery makes bottles of brandy with pears in them! How do they do it?

Pears at McCurdy Farms in Parkdale, outside of Hood River, will be turned into pear brandy at Clear Creek Distillery in Portland.

It takes more than 20 pounds of fruit to make a bottle of Clear Creek's signature pear brandy, the product that launched the Portland distillery. About to celebrate its 30th birthday this month, Clear Creek still sells more of that brandy than anything else.

That's a lot of pears that make it each fall from the Hood River Valley to the Northwest Industrial District distillery, where the fruit is fermented into a mash and fed into a German-made pot still before it winds up in a bottle. If you want to splurge, you can get that bottle with a pear grown inside, as if by magic.

"Our pear brandy is still our best and most popular spirit," says brand steward Rachel Inman. "Nothing beats the nose of those perfectly ripe Bartlett pears that is captured during the distillation process."

That's true, but Clear Creek Distillery has significantly expanded its line of products to include other fruit brandies, spirits and liqueurs focused around Northwest produce. And pretty soon, those bottles will have a whole new look to celebrate 30 years.

Inspired by the bounty of his family's orchard and European-style liqueurs and brandies, Stephen McCarthy founded the company in 1986. He traveled to France to see how the best in the world made their eaux de vie, in particular Poire Williams. The natural similarity between the Williams pear and the Bartlett sparked his inaugural pear brandy. Over the years, the product line and acclaim has grown. In 2014, McCarthy decided to retire and sold the company to Oregon-based Hood River distillers. The team at Clear Creek has stayed largely in place since.


An eau de vie is a clear brandy made from fermenting and distilling fruit. It takes a lot of fruit to make, is comparable in proof to spirits and has a dry finish. In addition to high-end cocktails, try sipping it neat or chilled as a digestif. By contrast, some cheap fruit-flavored versions you see on the bottom shelves of your local liquor store are basic grape brandy that's been flavored, sometimes artificially. Liqueurs can be made with a brandy or neutral spirit base then flavored and sweetened as desired.

Consumer education and changing tastes have expanded the audience for Clear Creek's line. "Thirty years ago, most people had very little experience with pure fruit brandies made in the European tradition," Inman says. "Over the years, their popularity has grown, and the recent explosion of interest in artisan products has brought a new generation of enthusiasts."

Eaux de vie are the heart of Clear Creek's lineup. The flavors include pear, apple, cherry (kirschwasser), framboise and mirabelle plum. If you like your liquor on the sweeter side, try the line of fruit liqueurs, among them cherry, cranberry, marionberry and cassis, the black currant liqueur. The distillery also offers its own single-malt whiskey and a handful of grappas. Perhaps most unusual among the products is the Douglas Fir eau de vie, developed over 10 years to capture complex, floral flavors of the Northwest. It's become a favorite of local bartenders. "People are often reluctant to try it, and it's great to see them pleasantly surprised by the spirit," Inman says.

Bartender praise

"Clear Creek Distillery was instrumental in putting Oregon's distilling scene on the map," says Daniel Osborne of Bull in China, a local drinkware maker and cocktail consultant company. "There is so much integrity in each bottle and barrel, not to mention the quality for mixing cocktails or sipping neat." For Becca June, bar manager at Altabira City Tavern, Clear Creek has always been her go-to for local distillers: "They produce outstanding products that are easy to mix and can also stand on their own. I like their flavor profiles and what they bring to cocktails. Their apple brandy is my favorite."

For its 30th birthday, expect a new look on shelves, starting around May 1. "The new packaging and branding will tie all of our products together," Inman says. "Our line has grown so much over the years, with very different labels. With the new labels, there won't be any confusion that they're made by us. The new labels will still be in line with our historic look."

Indy's Premier Bourbon Celebration

  • Friday, March 6, 2020
  • 6:30 PM 10:00 PM 18:30 22:00
  • Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center (map)
  • Google CalendarICS

Enjoy all the exhibits at the History Center while sampling renowned spirits and learning more about the fine art of distilling. Exclusive bourbon packages are available during our silent and live auctions.

Top 10 Craft Distilleries Across the Country

These highly-regarded, award-winning, innovative, artisanal and luxe spirits are doing small batches right.

St. George Spirits Alameda, California

St. George is stretching the boundaries of traditional styles of gin, very successfully. More than 30 years ago, a young German man named Jorg Rupf fell in love with the Bay Area’s food culture and the quality of fruit growing in California, and subsequently founded St. George Spirits in 1982. He began making eau de vie (a clear, colorless fruit brandy) from pears, raspberries, cherries, and even kiwi fruit before there was a craft distillation movement in the U.S. to speak of. A lot of early gin distillers here kept to a London Dry style, which is very juniper-forward, but as the editor of notes, now distillers are creating modern gins that are a lot more diverse. “Citrus peel is one of the botanicals that has come to the forefront, and local herbs and spices are becoming popular with people who want to make gin with a bit of hometown pride. St. George Terroir Gin is a great example of that, it tastes like the California coast.”

Koval Distillery Chicago, Illinois

The first distillery in Chicago since well before Prohibition, Koval was founded by a dynamic husband and wife duo who are changing the way America distills. Dr. Robert Birnecker and Dr. Sonat Birnecker-Hart have won countless awards for their dry gins, 100 percent Midwestern grown organic rye whiskey, millet-based bourbon, and more. The power couple also prioritizes education, hosting a selection of cocktail classes and whiskey workshops at their North Ravenswood Ave location. Talent seems to run in the family—their distinctive laser-cut labels have also received a lot of attention, designed by Sonat’s sister and her firm Dando Projects.

Seven Stills San Francisco, California

Tim and Clint of Seven Stills Distillery started out by coming at everything backwards—no one was pushing whiskey from the beer angle, but a huge craft beer segment in the San Francisco Bay Area along with their extensive beer knowledge provided a nice segue into making whiskey from extremely high-quality craft brew. Now their robust road map of spirits includes “a still for every hill” in San Francisco using a different artist to design each bottle (Chocasmoke is made from a chocolate-oatmeal stout in honor of Twin Peaks, and Fluxuate is distilled from a coffee porter to celebrate a rapidly-changing, post-Gold Rush Rincon Hill), to add to their collection of small-batch, seasonal bitters like Meyer lemon, prickly pear, and cranberry.

Clear Creek Portland, Oregon

For the past three decades, Clear Creek Distillery has been honoring the intimate marriage between farming and distilling, utilizing the world-class fruit from the farms around their Portland, Oregon home base. Well known for its eau de vie (a clear, colorless fruit brandy), Clear Creek’s diverse portfolio of more than 25 products rivals the best of their European counterparts, and is anchored by the flagship Williams Pear Brandy, which has been named one of the top spirits in the world.

House Spirits Distillery Portland, Oregon

Beloved and very well respected in the industry, House Spirits Distillery is making whiskeys that have been listed among the best in their categories. Their Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey matures in new American oak barrels for at least two years, allowing Oregon’s dry, hot summers and wet, cold winters to contribute to its rich, smooth flavor. Accompanied by Aviation American Gin, Krogstad Aquavit, and Volstead Vodka, almost everything in their line of spirits is ideal for mixing a cocktail. Their new distillery and tasting room on Portland’s famous distillery row opened to the public in November 2015, and hosts regular classes on making whiskey, cocktails, and bitters.

Kings County Distillery Brooklyn, New York

The founders of Kings County Distillery quite literally wrote the book on making whiskey a thome. Their Guide to Urban Moonshining is a look at America’s indigenous spirt, from the whiskey made by the early colonists and sprawling distilleries of Kentucky to the adventurous, modern-day craft distillers across almost every state. This is all quite fitting, as they run NewYork City’s oldest operating whiskey distillery, the first since Prohibition, located in the iconic Brooklyn Navy Yard and just steps from the legendary site of the Brooklyn Whiskey Wars of the 1860s. Their moonshine, bourbon, peated bourbon, and barrel strength bourbon have all won numerous awards, along with their recent accolade of being named Distillery of the Year in 2016 from the American Distilling Institute.

Corsair Distillery Nashville, Tennessee

Corsair founders Darek and Andrew are Nashville natives who have been collaborating since high school. They began by home brewing beer and wine in Darek’s garage, but soon decided that whiskey would be “much more satisfying.” Their adventurous, innovative, and big-flavored craft whiskeys—including a quinoa whiskey, a handful of rye whiskeys, some malt whiskeys, and more—consistently receive high marks among respectable critics, along with countless international spirit awards. Ones to try: Triple Smoke Malt Whiskey and Wry Moon Unaged Rye Whiskey.

Few Spirits Evanston, Illinois

Named after suffragette and temperance advocate Frances Elizabeth Willard (FEW), Few Spirits is a true grass-to-grain distillery, sourcing all of their grain (corn, wheat, rye, and barley) from no more than 150 miles away. It is also the first (legal) alcohol-production facility of any kind in Evanston, a city that banned alcohol sales for four decades beyond the end of Prohibition. Their bottles show up everywhere among the craft spirit community, and their rye whiskey has received acclaim as Whisky Advocate’s 2013 Craft Whiskey of the Year, as a gold medal winner in the 2014 World Whisky Awards, and was rated one of the top five whiskies in the world by the Beverage Tasting Institute.

Death's Door Spirits Middleton, Wisconsin

What was once a robust potato farming region, Washington Island, Wisconsin fell prey to vertical integration in the potato industry in the early 1970s. More than 30 years later, two brothers started growing wheat on the island and soon Death’s Door Spirits was born, focusing from the beginning on how to support local and sustainable agriculture on the island. Death’s Door pioneered white whisky, which became very popular as a cocktail ingredient, featuring an 80:20 ratio of Washington Island Wheat to malted barley from Chilton, Wisconsin. Other Death’s Door family members include a London Dry style gin, a double-distilled vodka, and Wondermint Schnapps Liqueur—the first and only artisan craft peppermint schnapps in the world.

Montanya Distillers Crested Butte, Colorado

Montanya Distillers are best known as purveyors of high-altitude craft rum, distilled in the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. Not surprisingly, their ingredients list reads as an ode to America’s inspiring outdoor beauty: Non-GMO sugar cane from family farmers in Louisiana who grow and mill for them water from one of the purest spring and snowmelt charged aquifers in the USA and they even heat their building from the alembic copper pot stills. Award-winning Montanya Platino and Oro rums are joined by a limited-release Exclusiva rum that is aged for 30 months in American white oak barrels and then finished in French oak barrels that previously held Sutcliffe Vineyards’ Port.

Blake Bailey Takes On a Bottle of Clear Creek Distillery Blue Plum Brandy

AMONG THE PLEASANT and not-so-pleasant things Ernest Hemingway remembers in “A Moveable Feast”—about his youth in Paris during the 1920s—were his visits to 27 rue de Fleurus, where Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas, would give him cakes and eaux de vie. I can’t hope to improve on his evocation of the latter, which, he writes, “tasted like the fruits they came from, converted into a controlled fire on your tongue that warmed you and loosened it.” How fitting, how exactly right, that the civilized French should call these elixirs “water of life.”

Eastern Europeans are especially fond of slivovitz, an eau de vie made from damson plums, so delicious and heady that even the temperate Ashkenazim quaff it at weddings and the Passover Seder (when grain liquors are forbidden and a fine kosher sliv is often, for the secular-minded, the high point of a long-winded evening). In Serbia the stuff is so popular that people are advised to build houses near the best places to grow plum trees.

Slivovitz is versatile: Some drink it warm, others cold still others use it to make a sorbet or a potent version of a Jewish cold remedy, the guggle-muggle. The main question, to my mind, is whether to drink it as an apéritif or digestif. As a practical matter I prefer waiting until after I’ve eaten, lest I’m rendered incapable of reaching the table.

I credit my sainted German mother, Marlies, for whatever culture I possess in matters of the palate. Among the many amenities of her home—a charming cottage in the sticks of rural Norman, Okla.—is the bottle of slivovitz in the freezer that unfailingly awaits my every visit. At one time she favored the powerful (100 proof) Serbian Navip, in its comely round bottle, but as a cranky Serb website informs me, the liquor has been discontinued. (Navip, it says, “egsists [sic] no longer…swallowed by bad privatization.”) At any rate Mom likes her slivovitz powerful and round-bottled. The beauty part, chez Marlies, are the particular pewter shot glasses she breaks out for this holy post-prandial ritual. Pour in the icy fluid, and the pewter becomes like a frozen flagpole one shouldn’t touch with the tongue. The libation itself remains cold and fiery both, while we sip and reminisce.

At first blush I imagine my mother would take a dim view of the Clear Creek Distillery slivovitz (aka Blue Plum Brandy) that my editor at The Wall Street Journal sent my way. It’s only 80 proof, for one thing, and the elongated if elegant bottle would fit awkwardly in her freezer. But the real deal breaker for a thrifty German would be the fancy price, about $50 on average for the 750-ml bottle.

On Wine: Lettie Teague

Message in a Bottle

Steve McCarthy, owner of this artisan distillery in Portland, Ore., offers no apologies. As he explains, their product is made only from whole fresh fruit, locally grown, and distilled in small pot stills: “The result is very good, and very costly.” Indeed, the reputation of their slivovitz—never mind their even more vaunted poire, made from pears grown on the family orchard in nearby Parkdale—almost oppressively precedes itself. Since 2004 it’s won the gold medal almost every year at the U.S. Slivovitz Competition, where a glass of Clear Creek is kept at hand for every judge by way of a “reference standard” while they attempt to compare the 40 or so lesser entries.

So, yes, it’s delicious. When I stuff my nose into a chilly shot glass and huff that lovely crystalline liqueur, I’m reminded of a scene in Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge,” where the dandyish Elliott Templeton allows himself (despite frail health) to swoon over a glass of Zubrovka: “Like listening to music by moonlight,” he rhapsodizes. I feel the same way about this Oregonian nectar, though I must say I don’t find it quite as mellow as it’s cracked up to be, despite the relatively mild alcohol content. Not that I mind these faint notes of turpentine and diesel fuel—rather like the insinuation of a minor chord in an otherwise sprightly Wagner motif.

Thus I reflect that all great pleasure comes with a price, and I’m probably better off just having the one glass. Let us remember, after all, the sequel to that scene in “The Razor’s Edge”: Tempted by Elliott’s effusions, poor Sophie MacDonald absconds with a bottle of Zubrovka and is last seen—I’m thinking now of the 1946 movie adaptation—tragically plastered in the Rue de Lappe. “Like lishning to mushig by moonlie,” she leers, or so Anne Baxter delivers the line. From there it’s only a matter of time before she’s found with her throat cut.

But let’s end on a more cheerful note. Often when I think of the pleasures of drink, and eau de vie in particular, I think of my old theology teacher Mr. Osborn (let’s call him). Picture a slightly less louche Gaston Godin from “Lolita”: “a flabby, dough-faced, melancholy bachelor” with “phenomenally stout legs.” At our Catholic school in Oklahoma City, the portly Osborn cut an oddly cosmopolitan figure. At school his uniform of navy blazer and gray flannel trousers rarely changed, though he had an impressive collection of printed silk bow ties and affected horn-rims and a pipe that was rarely lit.

He used to give me whiskey out of a porcelain tea pot when I’d come after school for my biweekly “independent study” class. Insofar as he was sexual, he was probably gay. Once, when we were discussing Aquinas, he vouchsafed that he was, yes, a 40-year-old virgin. “But why?” I asked. He cupped his pudgy hands and held them up to my face: “It’s a little something I can offer Our Blessed Lord,” he said.

A figure of some pathos, then, or so it seemed, but later I saw a jauntier side—that is, after I graduated and would occasionally visit him at the big old house where he lived with his mother (whom I never saw). After a lunch or dinner of many courses, Mr. Osborn would remove the plates and somberly choose a few bottles of eau de vie from the cupboard. I got my first taste of slivovitz in his company, but I was especially enchanted by the poire with its enormous pear right there in the bottle.

Every month or two, he explained, he made a special trip to Dallas to procure his more exotic liquors and other delectables—“the only things that make this benighted place” (Oklahoma) “bearable.” This, I gathered, was simply the truth in Mr. Osborn’s case, but at least the eau de vie and whatnot did, in fact, seem to do the trick. Once, after lunch, we walked tipsily in the afternoon sunlight to a cigar store in Shepherd Mall. Waddling along in his Panama hat, beaming dreamily in the heat, Mr. Osborn seemed at peace with this little world he’d made for himself.

Blake Bailey

— Blake Bailey is the author, most recently, of “The Splendid Things We Planned.” He is working on a biography of Philip Roth.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Clear Creek Distillery

Advertising itself as “orchard to glass,” Clear Creek specializes in authentic, fruit-based spirits. Sourcing their produce from the Mount Hood countryside and the broader Pacific Northwest, this distillery has brought European-style brandy and liqueur to the opposite side of the globe. From Pear Brandy to Loganberry Liqueur, Clear Creek has European staples alongside American inventions. If you like fruit and you like liquor, check out Clear Creek.

Gold Rush! West Coast Distillers

America&rsquos West has long been known for its pioneering spirit, from the gold prospectors who arrived seeking fortune to the dot-commers who helped push the digital frontiers.

The distillers of the West embody this pioneering spirit, too. Each of the five distillers profiled on the following pages have blazed trails in their own way, whether that means being among the first to distill local fruit into high-end eau-de-vie (Steve McCarthy of Clear Creek Distillery), developing a new spirit category (Ryan Magarian, with his &ldquoNew Western Dry&rdquo Aviation Gin) or cutting through a tangled thicket of regulatory red tape (Kent Fleischmann and Don Poffenroth of Dry Fly Distilling), clearing the way for other would-be distillers in Washington State.

Another defining quality all five share: Each produces Western terroir-rich spirits worthy of national recognition.

Charbay Distillers

(Napa Valley, CA)

Marko Karakasevic is a Master Distiller&mdashthat&rsquos with a capital M, capital D. The designation has been passed down through the family business for 13 generations, from Europe to the St. Helena-based Charbay Distillery, which his parents, Miles and Susan, started in 1983, first making wines and brandy.
&ldquoMy family has been distilling since 1751,&rdquo Karakasevic says proudly.

&ldquoThe definition of Master Distiller in my family is that one must source, distill and bring to market a spirit equal to or better than something produced by your teacher&mdashin this case, my dad.&rdquo

His spirit: Doubled & Twisted Whiskey, released in late 2009. Karakasevic, who had brewed beer since high school, used fruity, malty California IPA beer as the base, barrel-aged the spirit for a single day (to appease the legal definition of &ldquolight whiskey&rdquo), then aged it for four years in stainless-steel tanks.
&ldquoWhen I finally released it,&rdquo Karakasevic says, &ldquomy dad said, &lsquoCongratulations, you&rsquore a Master Distiller.&rsquo And we smoked cigars. It took me 26 years.&rdquo

Charbay is also known for its artisanal infused vodkas, like Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange, as well as brandies and more. But whiskey remains near to Karakasevic&rsquos heart, and increasingly he&rsquos working on &ldquobarrel programs&rdquo with customers like New York bars Ward III and Employees Only, creating bespoke small-batch whiskies.

Is there anything that he has not yet tried? &ldquoGin,&rdquo says Karakasevic, a new father. &ldquoBut I&rsquoll leave that up to the 14th generation.&rdquo

Charbay Napa Valley Iced Tea

2 ounces Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka
1 teaspoon Chambord
4 ounces iced tea (regular or mango flavored)
Lemon wedge, for garnish

Fill a 12-ounce Collins glass with ice. Add the vodka and Chambord, and top with the iced tea. Stir until well blended, and garnish with a lemon wedge.

Dry Fly Distilling

Four-year-old Dry Fly Distilling, which makes vodka, gin, a delectable 100% wheat whiskey and a newly released Bourbon, was the first distiller in the state of Washington.

That accomplishment didn&rsquot come easy to co-owners Kent Fleischmann and Don Poffenroth. The two met on a &ldquofly-fishing boondoggle&rdquo during their former jobs as marketing executives. Celebrating the day&rsquos catch, they broke into a bottle of &ldquowhat was the world&rsquos greatest vodka back then,&rdquo Fleischmann says. They declared the vodka &ldquohorrible,&rdquo and said&mdashjokingly&mdashthat they could probably make a better vodka.

&ldquoThen Don, who is more scientific than I am, said, &lsquoWe could do this,&rsquo&rdquo recalls Fleischmann.

While they continued at their marketing jobs, the pair spent the next two years studying how to produce the spirit, invested &ldquoa small fortune&rdquo into the business and made the vodka.

However, a new challenge emerged. Washington, a control state, didn&rsquot allow producers to sell their spirit from the distillery. It was legal to open a distillery, they discovered, but not to sell their wares at the facility. Luckily, &ldquowe like challenges,&rdquo says Fleischmann, and so they set out to get the laws changed.

&ldquoWe dusted off our high school government books, got a lobbyist&rsquos help and got a bill drafted.&rdquo The Craft Distillers Bill passed unanimously, effectively creating a new industry for the state.

The vodka subsequently came to market, and in 2009, Dry Fly Vodka scored a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition and beat over 200 spirits to win Best in Show.

&ldquoThat was our goal, to prove we could do better,&rdquo Fleischmann says. &ldquoAnd we proved that we could.&rdquo

Blueberry Caipiroska

2 ounces Dry Fly Vodka
1 lime wedge
¾ ounce simple syrup
¼ ounce blueberry liqueur
3 blueberries, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the vodka and the lime. Add the simple syrup and ice, and shake until well blended. Pour into a chilled rocks glass and drizzle with the blueberry liqueur. Garnish with three blueberries and lime wedge.

Clear Creek Distillery

If there&rsquos one product for which Clear Creek is known, it&rsquos the Williams (Bartlett) pear brandy, especially the &ldquopear-in-the-bottle&rdquo version. Remember the ship-in-a-bottle that may have puzzled you as a kid? Similarly, there&rsquos a simple explanation for how Clear Creek fits that fully grown pear within the slender-necked bottle.

&ldquoWe actually grow the pear inside of the bottle in the orchards,&rdquo reveals Clear Creek owner Steve McCarthy, &ldquoand then fill the bottle with eau-de-vie.&rdquo Although this is common practice in Alsace, one of the European regions from which McCarthy pulls inspiration, it&rsquos a more unusual sight to see an Oregon pear tree in summertime sprouting bottles where the still-ripening pears should be.

McCarthy has been making spirits for 26 years. His family had cultivated apple orchards for many years before that, but it was when he was traveling through Europe that he realized: Just as the French make Cognac from grapes and eaux-de-vie from any number of fruits, he could use local produce and make it into something wonderful.

&ldquoFor 15 years or so, the artisan distilling industry was four guys,&rdquo he says. &ldquoThat&rsquos changing for the better. Some good ones are coming along.&rdquo
The pear brandy was the first product, made using stills found in Germany.

Now, he makes 28 products, including a wide range of eaux-devie, grappas and brandy, all made with local fruit. But his &ldquogreatest product,&rdquo he says, is not the pear-in-the bottle, but McCarthy&rsquos Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, inspired after sampling peaty Lagavulin 16-year-old during a trip to Scotland.

Hopscotch & Berry

Created by Kelley Swenson of June in Portland, Oregon, for Clear Creek Distillery.

1½ ounce McCarthy&rsquos Oregon
Single Malt Whiskey
½ ounce Clear Creek Eau de
Vie Framboise
½ ounce Punt e Mes or Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 raspberry, for garnish

In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine the whiskey, eau-de-vie, vermouth and bitters. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a raspberry.

St. George Spirits

Lance Winters, master distiller at St. George Spirits, is an energetic and commanding presence. So it&rsquos hard to imagine him as a spirits acolyte, learning at the feet of a master. Yet that&rsquos the story. His mentor was Jorg Rupf (now retired), who founded St. George Spirits nearly 30 years ago. The company operates out of a former Navy hangar near San Francisco.

Although Rupf began by making fruit brandies, as his family had done in Europe, the company really made its name a decade ago when it began the Hangar One Vodka line, which was among the first to produce artisan flavored vodkas. (The brand was purchased by Proximo Spirits in 2010.) St. George has developed a reputation as an incubator of innovative new spirits, ranging from St. George Absinthe Verte to Firelit Coffee Liqueur.

Winters, a former Navy nuclear engineer who started brewing beer while in the service, describes his apprenticeship under Rupf as a &ldquovery Mr. Miyagi-Karate Kid relationship.&rdquo Rupf taught a young, impatient Winters how to select raw materials, as well as distillation craft and aging techniques.

As a brewer, Winters has a soft spot for the nutty, complex St. George Single Malt. But his latest and greatest project is launching a line of three new gins, including the Douglas fir and bay laurel-spiked Terroir, an aromatic ode to local hiking spot Mount Tam. &ldquoIt&rsquos like drinking a martini out in the woods,&rdquo he says.
Why not launch one gin, instead of three? Winters says, &ldquoWe like to do things the hard way here.&rdquo

The Lucky Tiger

Courtesy of St. George&rsquos Chris Jordan and Sascha Wen

1½ ounce Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka
½ ounce Qi Black Tea Liqueur
½ ounce Hangar One Citron Buddha&rsquos Hand Vodka
½ ounce 1883 de Philibert Routin Passion Fruit Syrup
2&ndash3 dashes Angostura bitters

In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine vodkas, tea liqueur, passion fruit syrup and bitters. Stir well, then strain into a coupe glass.

House Spirits

(Portland, Oregon)

Rolling up on its seventh anniversary, House Spirits describes itself as &ldquothe first bartender-distiller partnership in history.&rdquo

The bartender is Ryan Magarian, partner in House Spirits and cofounder of its flagship product, Aviation Gin, a &ldquoNew Western Dry&rdquo gin beloved by aviation cocktail devotees. Meanwhile, the distiller is House Spirits founding partner Christian Krogstad his name is on the Krogstad Aquavit, a robust American incarnation of the Scandinavian spirit flavored with an array of herbs and spices.

Their differing viewpoints are evident in the vernacular each uses to talk about spirits. For example, Krogstad leans toward scientific language, calmly explaining at length the efforts to create a clean, balanced botanical profile for Aviation, dialing down the juniper quotient and avoiding &ldquoflavor defects&rdquo in the finished spirit.

Meanwhile, Magarian favors more colorful turns of phrase, declaring the gin &ldquoa botanical democracy.&rdquo

Yet, both remember when &ldquodistillers were wary of bartenders,&rdquo Magarian says. As recently as a few years ago, many &ldquococktails were burying, rather than enhancing, spirits.&rdquo

And both agree that their distillation and drink-making aesthetics incorporate &ldquoa sense of minimalism,&rdquo Krogstad says. &ldquoUsing a few good ingredients and putting them together well&rdquo as opposed to concocting needlessly complicated cocktail recipes or &ldquooverprocessed&rdquo spirits. So what's next? Among other things, a barrel-aged golden aquavit and a limited-release batch of coffee liqueur made with rum and locally roasted Guatemalan coffee beans.

Viking Quest

Courtesy of Tim Davey, Beaker & Flask, Portland, Oregon

1 ounce Krogstad Aquavit
1 ounce Barolo Chinato
1 ounce Campari
1 orange slice, for garnish

In a pint mixing glass, add the aquavit, Barolo Chinato and Campari. Stir well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange slice.

More Noteworthy West Coast Distillers

Here&rsquos a short list of pioneering distillers worth a look.

Germain-Robin (CA) Though known for a wide range of spirits, its domestic brandy in particular has found fans.
Modern Spirits (CA) Devoted to an organic approach, Modern Spirits also distills under the TRU label, and produces mixologist-inspired Barkeep Bitters.
New Deal Distillers (OR) Creates locally sourced organic liquors under the Loft label.
Oola (WA) This one-year-old distillery is located within Seattle&rsquos city limits.
Pacific Distillery (WA) Among other products, known for making historically accurate Pacifique absinthe and Voyager gin.
Sound Spirits (WA) Producer of Ebb & Flow vodka and gin whiskey in the works.
Sub Rosa Spirits (OR) Bartenders love its culinary-inspired vodkas, in flavors like tarragon and saffron.

5. Autumn

Young's own ode to pear spirits is a stirred drink that combines pear brandy, applejack, sherry, maple syrup and apple bitters. The cocktail is versatile, and he suggests it could be warmed and served as a toddy, with a wedge of lemon alongside.

32 Independent Craft Distillers You Need To Know Right Now

It’s Craft Beer & Spirits Week at Food Republic, which has us taking a close look at the small producers of fine potables. We can’t go long with all of these producers, like we previously did with Atsby vermouth and Tito’s Vodka . But we wanted to call out some of our favorite American craft spirits makers — as decided on by the Food Republic editors and regular spirits writers — for the next time you are sitting at the bar, or standing in your favorite neighborhood bottle shop, in need of some inspiration.

By Alia Akkam, Richard Martin and Matt Rodbard

Atelier Vie
Jedd Haas founded his New Orleans craft distillery to “address the need for a greater variety of locally produced distilled spirits.” The company first earned notice with Toulouse Red, a red absinthe that is pot distilled with herbs and infused with additional herbs to create the lush red color. More recently, Atelier Vie earned a gold medal from the American Craft Distillers Association for its Euphrosine Gin #9.

Balcones Distilling
Whisky from Waco? Yup, and this fast-emerging brand’s range of single malts is attracting more and more fans as word spreads far beyond the Lone Star State. The company’s Texas Single Malt Whisky recently beat back even Scottish competitors to win Whisky Wizards’ 2014 World Whisky of the Year. Distiller Chip Tate has a hit on his hands, it seems.

Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits
San Diego’s Ballast Point started out brewing beer, but their efforts making spirits have attracted even more notice. Their colorful line includes Fugu Vodka, Old Grove Gin, Three Sheets Rum and a limited-edition single malt whiskey that won bronze in the American Craft Distillers Association’s 2014 craft spirits awards.

Bone Spirits
The Texas craft spirits scene is thriving (thanks, Tito’s Handmade Vodka) and this Smithville distillery attests to its creativity. Smiths, a triple-distilled vodka, is made from local grains and purified water Moody June Gin is lush with hand-picked botanicals and Fitch’s Goat Corn Whiskey and Moonshine celebrate fresh-milled corn.

Breckenridge Distillery
Breckenridge may be known as one of Colorado’s winter sport meccas, but this distillery is fast becoming an après-ski favorite. Visitors can get in on the action at the 4,000-square-foot space, watching staff mash, ferment and distill products like high-rye bourbon and vodka made from snowmelt water.

Brooklyn Gin
This small-batch producer makes a beautiful gin with hand-cracked juniper berries and fresh citrus peels, which allows for a distinct lavender finish. Though the name hints at an urban pedigree, the pot stills are located 50 miles north of New York City at the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery.

Cacao Prieto
Single-origin chocolate bars and pistachio and apricot bonbons are among the products made by Cacao Prieto. But the Red Hook, Brooklyn–based company from Daniel Prieto Preston, scion of a family who has farmed organic cacao in the Dominican Republic for more than a century, doubles as a distillery. There is Don Rafael Cacao rum and Don Estaban Cacao liqueur, but the star is Widow Jane Straight bourbon whiskey. Made with limestone-rich water from the Widow Jane mine in Rosendale, New York, it’s rife with spice and caramel.

Caledonia Spirits
Caledonia Spirits is found on the banks of the Lamoille River, in the charming farming town of Hardwick, Vermont. Here, founder and organic beekeeper Tom Hardie’s love for nectar spawned the birth of delicate spirits like Barr Hill Gin, made with raw natural honey, and Barr Hill Vodka — which integrates a cold fermented version. The not-so-boozy elderberry-honey cordial makes for a distinctive digestif.

CH Distillery
Opened last fall on Chicago’s burgeoning Randolph restaurant corridor, CH Distillery is a sort of gastro-pub with a pretty major spirits operation attached to it — you can see it right through the big glass dividing wall. The company is an ambitious upstart that already produces a high-quality vodka, two gin variations, limoncello, rum and now a bourbon, all available in sleek-looking bottles or mixed into cocktails at the restaurant. Given the frantic growth of CH’s line since we visited the distillery this past winter, we’re guessing that you’ll be hearing more about these spirits in the year ahead no matter where you live.

Charbay Distillery
This Napa Valley pioneer, run by the Karakasevic family, has been around since 1983 — alembic pot still brandy is how they first found their groove. They make everything from vodka flavored with tree-ripened fruits — the blood orange is a stunner — to rum made with Hawaiian sugarcane and Tahitian vanilla beans. There’s also a scene-stealing whiskey collection that cleverly embraces hops. Try the R5, distilled from Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA.

Steve McCarthy’s Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon creates lively eau de vies.

Clear Creek Distillery
Steve McCarthy had an affinity for European spirits like Poire William eau de vie, and considering the bounty of fruit in his family’s orchard, he decided to open Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon. Recently acquired by Hood River Distillers, Clear Creek is an ode to both fresh Oregonian fruit and Alsatian and Swiss distilling techniques that yield eau de vie in lively flavors like Douglas Fir, Mirabelle plum and a sold-out Framboise. Apple brandy and local Pinot Noir grappa are also part of the mix.

Copper Fox Distillery
Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky, with its honeyed and orange notes, is the star of this Sperryville-Virginia-based distillery which malts its own barley and flavors it with apple and cherry wood smoke. Other gems include a rye whiskey heavy on the smoked malt and a gin that incorporates ever-shifting botanicals from the distillery garden.

Corsair Distillery
Everybody knows that corn, rye, and wheat make some mighty fine whiskey. But at Corsair Artisan Distillery, they don’t limit themselves to just the common grains. Based in Nashville, Corsair was started in 2007 by Darek Bell, along with his wife Amy Lee and childhood friend Andrew Webber. In addition to their regular production runs of award-winning liquors: gin, vanilla bean vodka, red absinthe, Corsair also takes advantage of their small batch stills to create experimental and seasonal concoctions like Citra Double IPA. That’s right: a whiskey made with hops usually found in beer.

Death’s Door Spirits
Twenty-two-square-mile Washington Island sits all lonely out there in the open waters of northern Lake Michigan. In 2005, the brothers and island residents Tom and Ken Koyen started growing organic winter wheat, which was originally intended for flour but ultimately formed the base of a vodka, gin and whiskey company that has a cult fan base, and which also gives back to local sustainability causes.

Delaware Phoenix Distillery
New York’s first absinthe distiller, Cheryl Lins, uses quality herbs and wormwood hand harvested by small family herbalists up in the Western Catskills. Beyond her Walton Waters absinthe, though, Lins also makes a slew of whiskies under the Delaware Phoenix name, including the eau-de-vie-like un-aged Rye Dog.

Few Spirits
The once-dry Chicago suburb of Evanston now flows with booze thanks to lawyer-turned-master distiller Paul Hletko of Few Spirits. Hletko has a way with small-batch spirits, like bourbons aged in charred oak barrels, spicy rye and a citrusy, whiskey-based American gin.

Germain-Robin Distillery
This Mendocino, California distillery is famous for producing one of the finest brandies in the world, with a limited production of 3,000 cases per year. They also make an absinthe that has been a personal project of assistant distiller Crispin Cain for years. Seek it out.

High West Distillery
High West is Utah’s first legal distillery to open since 1870, located in Park City some 7,000 feet above sea level. Whiskey is the name of the game and the pot still a nice selection of aged and un-aged products. Seek out the rye and double rye, as well as a product called Campfire — which is described as “the world’s only, and possibly first, blend of Scotch, bourbon and rye whiskeys.” They also sell a 90-day barrel aged Manhattan, which is worth a trip to the distillery’s general store alone.

Hillrock Estate Distillery
When legendary master distiller Dave Pickerell (best known for his 14 years in Kentucky at Makers Mark) presides over your whiskey, you know it’s going to be good. At this Ancram, New York distillery, home to owner Jeff Baker’s family farm, Pickerell makes a rich Solera-aged bourbon finished off in 20-year-old Oloroso sherry casks. The ambitious Hudson Valley estate also grows its own grains — those rolling fields in the background are filled with barley — and malts on site.

House Spirits Distillery
Former brewer Christian Krogstad founded House Spirits in 2005, opening in Corvallis, Oregon before moving to the heart of what is now considered distillery row in Southeast Portland. Nearly a dozen sprits are available, including the award-winning Aviation Gin, Krogstad Aquavit, a Stumptown coffee liqueur and a number of small-batch whiskeys, including an un-aged product that actually tastes good.

Industry City Distillery
Five friends, who also work together at design firm City Foundry, launched this experimental distillery in August 2012. It’s located in a desolate section of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which is hardly a hotbed for spirits production. But the “vodka” (by name only) the crew turns out is something special. It’s made from beet sugar, which offers more floral notes than your basic vodka.

Jack From Brooklyn
Jack Summers lost his production space in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook during the wrath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But now the proprietor’s back, cranking out his only — and divine — specialty, hibiscus liqueur. An ode to the pervasive Caribbean drink, Sorel melds organic grain alcohol, pure cane sugar, Moroccan hibiscus, Brazilian clove and Indonesian nutmeg and cassia.

Kings County Distillery
Not only do they make a whiskey on the banks of the East River in Brooklyn, Kings County distillers Colin Spoelman and David Haskell wrote a guide to help others along their path, Guide To Urban Moonshining. A taste of their smooth-drinking bourbon suggests that they know of what they write, and a visit to their industrial distillery in Brooklyn’s rustic Navy Yard showcases a determination of spirit. Look for the medicinal bottles at a growing number of retailers carrying craft spirits.

Koval Distillery
The first distillery to open in Chicago since the mid-1800s, Koval launched in 2008 when founders Robert and Sonat Birnecker abandoned their academic careers in the name of historic Austrian distilling methods. Now they spend their days sourcing grains from local farmers, mashing and milling on the premises and making delightfully unusual offerings like single barrel whiskey from millet, rose hip liqueur and organic sunchoke brandy.

Leopold Brothers
The brothers Scott and Todd Leopold run this environmentally sustainable distillery in Denver, Colorado that has grown a cult following with Mile High tipplers and cocktail geeks around the country. Their Silver Tree American Small Batch Vodka is the highest ranked in the country, winning a gold medal at the 2009 San Francisco Spirits Competition. But what we’re really into is a range of fruit whiskies made with apple, peaches and blackberries.

Letherbee Distillers
This small batch distiller broke onto the Chicago scene in 2013 with an “original label gin” and a limited “autumnal” — a smart seasonal move meant to prolong gin’s usefulness into the chillier months (the duo behind the brand suggested swapping in an orange for the usual lime). Now, Letherbee’s also touting an absinth and even a malört, that unusual Swedish concoction that has a weird following in Chicago.

New York Distilling Company
Gin’s the thing at Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based New York Distilling Company, where co-founders Tom Potter and Allen Katz turn out their signature Dorothy Parker American, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength and Chief Gowanus New Netherland renditions. Anticipation is mounting, however, over the arrival of their forthcoming, in-the-midst-of-aging rye. Sample the spirits in the form of cocktails at the Shanty, their adjacent bar that doubles as one of the neighborhood’s most welcoming lairs.

North Shore Distillery
In Lake Bluff, a suburb of Chicago, Derek and Sonja Kassebaum make small-batch gins — the martini-perfect Distiller’s Gin No. 6 as well as the London dry style Distiller’s Gin No. 11 — and vodkas that include a vibrant chamomile-citrus version. There’s an aquavit and absinthe to boot, but the limited-edition releases are the most interesting, including such one-time-only finds as Ceylon Tea or Medjool Date gin.

Philadelphia Distilling
Pennsylvania’s first distillery since Prohibition, Philadelphia Distilling is best known for the flagship brand in its portfolio: Bluecoat, an American dry gin distilled with spicy, organic juniper berries. The company’s Vieux Carré absinthe Supérieure is popular, as are its bold XXX Shine corn whiskey and Penn 1681 Rye Vodka. But their most interesting creation yet is undoubtedly the Bay, their Chesapeake Bay spice-seasoned vodka that’s a compelling savory alternative to the surge of cloying cotton candy flavors on the market.

Ransom Spirits
Tad Seestedt started Ransom Spirits in 1997, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where some of the grains are grown on the farm and are milled, mashed and fermented in small batches. The distillery’s Old Tom Gin, a spot-on recreation of a circa-1800s recipe made in collaboration with David Wondrich, gets the most buzz, but there other treasures like a Gewurztraminer grappa and Henry DuYore’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey aged in French oak barrels.

St. George Spirits
Pioneering Northern California craft distillers St. George Spirits had already been in business 18 years when they launched their groundbreaking vodka, Hangar One. For the product that has taken home numerous awards, they source citrus and flowers from California growers. The company’s range of products also includes whiskey, eaux de vie and three styles of gin, including one made with rye.

Templeton Rye
Templeton Rye is a unique small-batch rye originally created by bootleggers during Prohibition — it was originally distilled in the center of Iowa and was snuck into Chicago on cattle cars. For fans of Boardwalk Empire, this is the stuff Al Capone serves at his brothel. In modern times, the recipe is much the same (made from an old farmhouse still), but with some marketing razzle dazzle and solid distribution (we’ve heard they are sitting on a lot of liquid), they’ve grown into a major player in the ever-growing rye game.

Read these stories from last year’s Craft Beer & Spirits Week on Food Republic:

Drink This Now: The Portland 75

The smell of a Christmas tree in the house is one of my favorite memories growing up I couldn't tell you what presents I got when I was 8, but I know what the house smelled like. Recapturing that particular sense memory is now part of my holiday tradition it's the reason there's a new fir tree in my living room every year. And in the liquor cabinet: Clear Creek Distillery's Douglas Fir Eau de Vie. Somehow this Oregon distillery has bottled the smell of a Christmas tree and made it into drinkable form.

While nice to drink on its own, finding a cocktail to complement the strong, woodsy character of this spirit is tricky. But I hope you'll find the following recipe useful—it's a new twist on the French 75, named for the town where the Douglas Fir Eau de Vie is made.

Fresh lemon, gin, and fruity sparkling rosé make good foils for the eau de vie, complementing the subtle citrus notes found in the fir. A herbaceous gin (such as St. George Botanivore or Heritage Distillery Crisp Gin) works here to create a more complex layering of earthy flavors. If you care to make this at your holiday party this weekend, you can mix up batches of the gin and eau de vie base. Stir 3 servings at a time with ice before pouring the properly diluted mix into individual flutes, then top 'em them off with the chilled sparkling wine.

Watch the video: Clear Creek Pear Brandy review (January 2022).