Playing with the Queen of Hearts
Science Meets Art at Oregon Spirit Distillers
Brad Irwin has always been a gambler, a player of games. Former owner of Gambit Games in Bend, Oregon, Irwin let the spirit move him one fine day, and he began the process of launching a new label in town: Oregon Spirit Distillers. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Irwin started a boutique distillery here in Bend—home of seven craft breweries within walking distance of each other. He and 15 of his pals, the Bend Spirit Club, had been meeting once a month to study and educate their palates on the finer aspects of vodka, bourbon and other fine spirits. Given his entrepreneurship and connoisseur-ness, it wasn’t a huge leap for him to roll the dice on a distillery. “Besides,” he says, ”anyone can make beer.”
Today Oregon Spirit Distillers specializes in vodka that blends effortlessly into any cocktail and also can be enjoyed neat or on ice as a sipping spirit. Their tasting room is open on Saturdays from 11-4 or by appointment and can accommodate groups of 6-10 people. In additional to free tastings, Irwin will give you a tour of the facility on Bend’s east side.
One of the proudest pieces of machinery in the distillery is a 400-liter still that arrived in Bend via boat from Germany. The still heats the raw alcohol, derived from Pendelton wheat, to 73 degrees Celsius, alcohol’s vaporization point. From there the vapor returns in various stages to its liquid form, ready for fine tuning. While the exact process of turning wheat into vodka escapes me, the sublime taste of the final product does not.
Look for new releases of marionberry liqueur and absinthe later this year. In the mean time, Oregon Spirit Distillers Vodka can be found in a very unique bottle.
When it came time for design and packaging, Irwin chose to display a playing card inside the bottle. ”I love seeing light through spirit,” he says, adding, “The Queen of Hearts must be lucky.”
Photography by Brenda Barnes