They're calling it a "revolution" in Portland, and it's not really surprising why.
For the first time since prohibition, several distilleries have opened, producing more than 20 unique, handcrafted, locally-made spirits. The distillers have banded together to create "Distillery Row" so that you can wander the short distances between to sample them all.
You'll find Distillery Row in a southeastern corner of central Portland, where small warehouses and light industrial buildings have been filled with hip new independent producers of not only spirits, but other delicious goods such as beer, tea and chocolate.
Over the weekend the distilleries open their doors to the public. Making this happy discovery on a Sunday afternoon, we were able to wander through half a dozen of Portland's favourite distillers, whose staff gladly ply us with information and spirits while we part with a small amount of cash for samples.
Wedged in between a train line and the Willamette River is House Spirits, first cab off the rank, and a pioneer in the craft distillery movement. They produce vodka, whiskey and aquavit, plus a line of limited release spirits such as the easy-drinking Creme de Cacao and a coffee liqueur they've concocted with local legends Stumptown Coffee. Pick four of their spirits you want to sample and for $12 a mini-cocktail flight will be procured. The bottles here run small – 375ml – and at the grand old price of $20 makes it tempting to buy a few for back home.
A 10-minute stroll will have you arrive at Rolling River Spirits, a destination we chose thanks to the enthusiastic Oregonians at House Spirits who have sung its praises. Family-owned and operated, one of its distillers Joan Rickard wo-mans the tasting counter today. I'm enamoured by the habanero vodka which has all the flavour of a hot pepper without the burn, which I regretfully buy only as a 375ml bottle (damn Australia's teensy duty-free allowance). A full size bottle will set you back a mere $34.
Across the road, New Deal Distillery was recommended to us via the staff at House Spirits for their "life-changing ginger liqueur", so it had a lot to live up to. A much bigger operation than Rolling River, customers take a perch at a upturned keg and sample their spirits in specially made cocktails that show off the flavours. The four cocktails we're served are among the best we've had in Portland; their gin is so good you could drink it straight. The "Hot monkey vodka" is the magic ingredient in their Bloody Marys and I would have taken a bottle of the bittersweet Mud Puddle Bitter Chocolate Vodka home if they hadn't already sold out. Instead, I opt for the ginger liqueur which didn't disappoint.
At this point, 15 miniature cocktails and/or shots of spirits later, we're hazily making our way over to our final distillery Wild Roots.. Here they produce six sublime fruit infused vodkas. The beauty of these deliciously-balanced, sweet-and tart vodka flavours, is that if you are as talentless at making cocktails as I am, then these no brainer, just-add-soda concoctions are a dream come true. Wild Roots use Oregon's berries – which I'm told are the best tasting in the world – in their all-natural vodka, and Marionberry is an obvious choice as it's unique to Oregon. The speed with which I get through a bottle is an indication they may be indeed correct. The bottles are sold on site for a mere $24, which is criminally cheap compared with the prices we'd pay for something of a similar calibre in Australia.
You can visit up to 11 distillers in Portland. Buy a Distillery Row passport for $20, which entitles you to free tastings over its 11 distilleries, plus you get a $5 credit at each distillery towards purchases. You can buy passports from any participating distillery, or you can get them online.
AC Portland is a brand new Marriott hotel in the heart of Downtown; marriott.com.au
Jupiter Hotel is a hip renovated mid-century hotel within walking distance of Distillery Row, with one of Portland's best live music venues; jupiterhotel.com
The writer travelled as a guest of Travel Portland and Travel Oregon