Craft Whiskey on the North Coast
There’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of whiskey by the fireplace — cozy and warm from the inside out. On the Oregon Coast, a must-visit for whiskey lovers is Cannon Beach Distillery’s new mid-town tasting room on South Hemlock Street — just two miles from their original tasting room downtown at North Hemlock Street, which also still welcomes visitors.
Here in the new spacious, cheery space at South Hemlock— which doubles as production space — owner/distiller Mike Selberg pours his passion into experimenting with different barley mixes and complex flavor profiles in his small-batch releases.
“You can sit down, take your time, choose your own experience,” says Selberg, who launched the distillery in 2012. “If you really want to get into the nitty gritty of the spirits, the new tasting room is the place to do it.”
A native Oregonian, Selberg studied biology and chemistry and is self-taught in distilling. He loves to get into the nitty gritty.
He’ll release his first light whiskey in late October or early November 2017 (sign up on his mailing list to get a heads up; bottles sell out within hours). The whiskey is distilled from all Oregon-grown barley and aged in a charred, repurposed Bordeaux barrel.
“A light whiskey is higher purity when it comes off the still, which gives it a lighter character,” he says. “We use a Pacific Northwest pale ale malted barley grain, which has a bit more flavor to it. We’re keeping the spirit itself really simple — the French oak provides a completely different flavor profile.
If you miss the bottle release, don’t worry. Selberg is working on upgrades to the new tasting room to add a whiskey bar, which he aims to open in early 2018.
Once it’s open, visitors will be able to get full pours of his whiskeys (rather than five half-ounce samples) as well as other craft distillers from here and across the United States — “anybody making theirs entirely from scratch in the United States,” he says.
If you’re not an aficionado, there’s still a lot to taste at Cannon Beach Distillery — like the gins, vodkas and agave (like tequila) Selberg also lovingly crafts by hand, ready straight-up or for mixing into the perfect gin and tonic, martini or margarita.
But there’s just something about whiskey, an iconic American spirit rooted in history yet wide-open for innovation. Artisans like Selberg are constantly experimenting with different grains (barley, wheat and rye), flavor profiles (smoky, dry or sweet) and styles (bourbon-inspired, Scotch style, Irish style and more).
“It’s an untapped art, so to speak,” Selberg says. “That’s what’s really fun about it. We can do stuff people haven’t thought of before.”
More Spots for Spirits on the Coast
Craft distilleries — and bars that serve craft spirits — are cropping up all along the coast. Here are a couple of other standouts to add to your tasting tour:
Pilot House Distilling offers tasting rooms in both Seaside and Astoria. Founder Lawrence Cary produces an American light whiskey along with gin, vodka, rum, coffee liqueur, absinthe, agave and aquavit. On a blustery morning, try their Astoria Mary — their canned, pre-mixed bloody Mary, made with Pilot House spicy jalapeno-lime vodka.
Fancy a whiskey cocktail? Head to MacGregor’s Whiskey Bar in downtown Manzanita, three blocks from the beach. Bring a date and sidle up to the bar for an Old-Fashioned, a Manhattan or something more creative with 150 brown liquors to choose from. Aficionados can order a flight to try different Oregon whiskeys or those from around the world.
Story by Jen Anderson
Photo courtesy of Cannon Beach Distillery