Bull Run Distilling
From the May/June 2011 issue of Northwest Palate
By the time you read this, one of the largest artisan distilleries in the Northwest should be open for business. “We’re just waiting for license approval,” says distiller Lee Medoff, who with partner Patrick Bernards have created Bull Run Distilling in Portland, Oregon.
The name pays tribute to one of the most important ingredients in their product plans: the crystalline water of the Bull Run Watershed in Oregon’s Cascade Range.
“We will be focusing on primarily rum and whiskey,” Medoff says, “and in sufficiently large volume to achieve wide distribution and strong market penetration.” Bull Run has installed two 800-gallon stills capable of producing roughly ten barrels of whiskey a week. That’s not Jim Beam-size production, but it is much larger than most artisan producers. Two key products will be a white rum, aged for around two months in barrel and scheduled for a spring release, and a dark rum with a year’s worth of barrel ageing that should be available in the fall.
“Our crown jewel is Oregon straight whiskey,” says Lee, “and our big vision is to create and define a regional style for Oregon whiskey.” Drawing on his brewing background, Medoff will be producing his three-year-old whiskey from 100% two-row malted barley to reflect the same kind of big, rich flavors Oregon brewers have produced in their craft beers.
“Our goal is not to have a me-too whiskey,” says Bernards, “but to create an Oregon original whiskey that helps define what a Northwest-style whiskey can be.”
And even though they will be a large-volume producer, they won’t sacrifice true small-batch creativity. Under the Temperance Hall name, Bull Run will offer various small-run products as well as a planned aquavit, amaros, and other sweet and bitter liqueurs sold only on premise. Bull Run also intends to offer “found spirits.” When they come across particularly interesting and high-quality spirit batches from others that they can purchase and bottle—much as a wine négociant does—they will offer them to their customers.
Which brings up one final point of distinction for Bull Run. With a distillery and tasting room on the edge of Portland’s tony Northwest shopping and dining district, they hope to attract more visitors than the typical artisan distillery. Already, before they can officially open, curious people are knocking on their door to find out more about this new venture. “We want to become a destination distillery,” says Bernards, “where people can come to taste and learn about spirits, and make distilleries more a part of the city’s fabric.”