Into the Soul: Brad Irwin & Oregon Spirit Distillers

If the sources for the raw materials in Oregon Spirit Distillers’ spirits were points on a map, much of the state would be lit up.

“Oregon produces great grain,” says owner Brad Irwin, 45. The Bend distiller’s wheat and barley come from the Madras-Culver agricultural area, and its rye is grown just a couple hours east in Burns. The fruit in the company’s Black Mariah Marionberry Cordial is grown in the Willamette Valley, and the wormwood in the Wild Card Absinthe hails from just north of Ashland. The staff handpicks local juniper berries for their Merrylegs Genever Gin.

Irwin was a bartender before he found his calling in the intricate art and science of crafting spirits. He officially launched his business in 2009 and now operates out of a 4,000-square-foot space on Bend’s northeast side with his wife, Kathy, the CFO, and five additional staffers.

Each of Oregon Spirit Distillers’ five liquors undergoes three steps during production: mashing, where grains are milled into hot water and starch is converted to sugar; fermentation, where yeast converts sugar into alcohol and creates a 10 percent mash; and distillation, where the alcohol from the mash is distilled and collected at 160 proof. Water is then added to blend the spirit to the appropriate proof. The C.W. Irwin Bourbon is barreled in American Oak for two to five years.

Irwin ordered Loraine, the affectionately named 400-liter copper still from Ulrich Kothe of Germany, one of only four companies in the world that manufactures units of this size. “Loraine produces a beautiful and consistent product,” says Irwin. “If given proper attention, she’s rarely cranky.”

For a company devoted to producing spirits, the working environment at Oregon Spirit Distillers can be markedly intense. “We lift 600 pounds of grain,” Irwin says. “We move barrels that are 80 pounds empty and 500 pounds full.” On bottling days, “we can build a 1,000 bottle pallet in about four hours.”

Already, both C.W. Irwin Bourbon and Merrylegs Genever Gin have been awarded gold medals in tasting competitions. Next up, says Irwin, “We are excited to expand to markets outside of the state; this will allow us to deliver wonderful Oregon agriculture to new parts of the country.” The company also has plans to release both a wheat and rye whiskey within the next two years. Learn more about Oregon Spirit Distillers at oregonspiritdistillers.com

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