OB spoke to Hollie Stephenson about her vision for the distillery and visitors center, and how she’s settling into Portland.
Earlier this month, Aviation Gin announced it had appointed Hollie Stephenson as director of the new Aviation Gin Distillery and visitor center, which the company expects will open to the public later in 2022. The new Northwest Portland distillery is slated to offer tours, cocktail flights and tastings.
Previously, Stephenson served in a variety of roles in the beer industry, most recently as Guinness’ head brewer at the company’s only North American site. In that role, she focused on the production of Guinness Blonde, on the company’s experimental brewery, and on research and development for large-scale Guinness beers. In 2019 she was named Imbibe magazine’s Beer Person of the Year.
Oregon Business asked Stephenson a few questions about her new role via email.
Before you came to Aviation, you worked for breweries, most recently Guinness. How does the distillery world differ from the brewing world? What is similar?
There are certainly differences between beer and spirits worlds experientially. For example, connecting with beer in a brewery taproom is a big piece of beer culture and is very different than what the law typically allows for distillery tasting rooms, although every state varies. On the spirits side, a lot of the excitement is driven by what really good bars, restaurants, and bartenders are adding to how people experience your product.
From a process standpoint, things are very different in terms of the craft that goes into recipe and new-product creation. However, many of the processes are similar in that you are moving, heating and cooling vapors and liquid in a closed system with similar equipment, instrumentation and utilities.
Overall, though, I think brewers and distillers share similar values and goals as makers, which is to make a high-quality product that gives you satisfaction when you see consumers enjoying it.
What drew you to Aviation?
Guinness and Aviation are part of the same company of brands, Diageo. I joined Guinness to help build the breweries and visitor center at Guinness’ North American home in Baltimore, Md. The Aviation project drew me in because I like building new things and setting up systems. In Portland we are running a bottling line, quickly approaching the commissioning of the distillery and looking forward to opening the tasting room this summer. I like being at the intersection of manufacturing and the consumer experience.
What's your vision for the distillery's direction? Is there a timeline for the opening of the visitor center?
My immediate sights are set on filling the capacity of our bottling line and optimizing our process as we grow Aviation American Gin distribution. Also, we want to be good neighbors as part of the vibrant distilling community in Portland. I think we are creating a space that will appeal to visitors to Portland and to locals, and will hopefully add to the overall traffic to other brewery and distillery tasting rooms nearby. The center is opening this summer.
What do you do when you're not working? And mixing business with pleasure a bit: Do you have a favorite gin cocktail?
I’m still new to Portland, so when I’m not working, I’m usually exploring new places for food and drink in the city or exploring new trails with my wife and two dogs. Also going to Thorns, Trail Blazers and Timbers games.
As for my favorite gin cocktail, there are countless that I enjoy — like Bee’s Knees, Aviation, Negroni, Singapore Sling, Ramos Gin Fizz — but when I’m mixing at home, it is hard to beat a solid gin and tonic or gin martini.
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