Portland craft distillers grow up, evolve

| Print |  Email
Articles - August 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
0810_Distilleries11
Sebastian and Erika Degens bottle a batch of pear brandy, which was distilled from 800 pounds of Hood River pears. The Degans recently received approval to sell their products from their new tasting room, the most recent addition to Distillery Row.
These types of challenges don’t come as a surprise to veteran distiller Stephen McCarthy, who other Portland distillers refer to as “Grandpa McCarthy.” “They’re dealing with thin capitalization and little business experience,” he says. “You’ve got to have deep pockets to make an initial investment and still be smiley. Then you’ve got to be willing to work extremely hard for a long time.”

Twenty-five years after founding Clear Creek Distillery, which produces grappas and eaux de vie from Oregon fruits and herbs on Portland’s west side, McCarthy says his business only became profitable during the last few years, with the past year making a record $1.25 million in net sales.

Because most of Oregon’s distillers aren’t making spirits from scratch, like he does, McCarthy says they’re left to compete with big national brands with huge marketing budgets.

And even the most well-made products backed by a genuine story can be a tough sell, he says. “You have to hammer your way into the marketplace,” McCarthy says. “After 25 years, most of the sales trips I make are extremely productive, but that wasn’t always the case.”

Despite the long road to profitability, some long to follow in McCarthy’s footsteps. “I look at Clear Creek Distillery as the gold standard,” say Portland distiller Sebastian Degens, “but I don’t see them as competition. The market is large and growing and there is an interest in diversity of products.” Degens and his wife, Erika, have become the latest addition to Distillery Row with a new business called Stone Barn Brandyworks. So far the distillery has produced an oak-aged apple brandy, a pear brandy, a pinot noir grappa and brandy-based coffee liqueur.

The couple continues to work day jobs, a conservative approach that will help them continue to pay for a house and college educations for their two kids, as they focus on starting up a small business.

“I’d like to get to a point where our grappa is as distinctive as the pinot noir that it came from, and I don’t think that’s national conglomerate takeover material,” he says. “We’re just happy serving a niche of people who are like-minded and are interested in trying out distinctive distillates.”

Just a few months into business, it’s an easy and admirable aim. But considering the paths taken by other local distillers, Degens may yet learn that cranking out craft liquors comes weighted with complications.


“I don’t talk much about the nuts and bolts of running a distillery,” Stephen McCarthy says. “I had to learn it the hard way.”

STORY BY LUCY BURNINGHAM


 

More Articles

6 key things to know about summer baseball in Oregon

The Latest
Friday, June 05, 2015
basedthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

As temperatures in Oregon creep into the 90s this weekend, Oregonians' thoughts are turning to — summer baseball.


Read more...

Downtime with John Helmick

June 2015
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Live, Work, Play: CEO of Gorilla Capital.


Read more...

Credit Unions Perspective

June 2015
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

A conversation with Gene Pelham, CEO of Rogue Credit Union.


Read more...

5 stats about Oregon fireworks

The Latest
Thursday, June 18, 2015
fireworksthumb001BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Fireworks are a booming industry, even if the pyrotechnics have turned July 4th into a day fire marshals, and many residents, love to hate.


Read more...

Stemming the tide of money in politics

Linda Baker
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
 jeff-lang-2012-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

Jeff Lang and his wife Rae used to dole out campaign checks like candy.  “We were like alcoholics,” Lang says. ”We couldn’t just give a little.”


Read more...

Marijuana law ushers in new business age

The Latest
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
062315panelthumbBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

Oregon’s new marijuana law is expected to lead to a bevy of new business opportunities for the state. And not just for growers. Law firms, HR consultants, energy efficiency companies and many others are expected to benefit from the decriminalization of pot, according to panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast meeting on Tuesday.


Read more...

Oregon businesses face destruction from future earthquake

The Latest
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
htctthumb1BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

An earthquake would completely destroy many Oregon businesses, highlighting the urgent need for the private and public sectors to collaborate on shoring up disaster preparedness, said panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast summit today.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS