It’s no secret that Oregon ranks high in the world of craft beer and wine. But in recent years, it’s also gotten a taste for craft spirits. On Oregon’s North Coast, you’ll find two distilleries making big strides in the burgeoning field and expanding the beverage scene in the region’s storied cities.
“In the Northwest, we value the craft culture when it comes to beer and wine,” says Larry Cary, owner of Pilot House Spirits (formerly North Coast Distilling). “And over time, I believe small craft distilleries like mine will help redefine what is considered good in the mind of the consumer — just like the winemakers and breweries that came before us.”
Cary opened his first tasting room in Astoria (at 1270 Duane St.) in 2014, and he recently opened a second in Seaside (10B N. Holladay Drive). Crafting spirits started as a hobby, but has quickly turned into a profession as Cary finds a growing demand for his diverse line of small-batch spirits, including vodka, gin, whisky, coffee liquor and even absinthe.
“I have received an overwhelmingly positive response from customers to all of my spirits,” Cary says, but his gin and whiskey have been the clear winners. “My Painted Lady gin is usually the big seller each week,” he says. “And my whiskey is also really popular. It’s an American light-style whiskey.” You can sample all manner of spirits at both tasting rooms, operating Thursday and Friday (3-6 p.m.), Saturday (1-6 p.m.) and Sunday (12-4 p.m.).
Like Cary, Mike Selberg’s passion for craft spirits became the genesis for Cannon Beach Distillery (255 N. Hemlock St.). Selberg didn’t enter the business with delusions of grandeur; he first crafted spirits as a hobby before opening his tasting room in the summer of 2012, which operates daily from noon to 6 p.m. (closed Wednesday).
“I didn’t really get into this industry with a business model for making a ton of money,” admits Selberg. “I just thought it was fun that people wanted to buy my product. The quality of my product is what I figured would make or break us.”
He was right. Having made such a name for himself, he frequently sells out. “When we do a whiskey release, people will wait a couple of hours for a bottle,” says Selberg. And while whiskey may be one of the locals’ favorites, he also crafts gin, amber rum and agave spirit — his personal take on tequila.
Selberg’s neighbors in Cannon Beach aren’t the only ones noticing his skill. In 2014, his amber rum took top honors from the American Distilling Institute. “It’s the longest running and largest competition for craft spirits,” says Selberg of the national competition aimed at promoting American distilleries. “Our amber rum won the best craft rum, which includes any style or age of rum.”
“I’m just trying to make the best quality product I can, no matter what spirit I’m making,” says Selberg, summing up his business philosophy in a sentence — a sentiment that also seems to describe the burgeoning spirits scene up and down Oregon’s North Coast. It’s a dedication to craft you need to taste for yourself.