Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The End of Brandy Peak

Founded in 1993, Brandy Peak Distillery was the second oldest operating distillery in Oregon. Located near Brookings, the distillery has been producing excellent brandy, grappa and liqueurs, and provided inspiration for many other craft distillers in the state.

After 24 of operating the distillery, owner David Nowlin has decided to retire. He's willing to lease the distillery to anyone who would like to continue the operation, but its off-the-beaten-path location has discouraged any potential takers. Selling the equipment does not seem a viable option either, as the wood-burning stills do not appear to be transportable.

The wood burning stills at Brandy Peak
The distillery shipped its last lot of blackberry liqueur to the OLCC last month (October 2017), and there are bottles available of a 20 year old brandy, for which one must contact the Nowlins via the information on their website. This is labeled a "Marc Brandy" which means it was made from pommace, the semi-liquid by-product of wine production. Marc is the French equivalent of grappa, and these are normally bottled unaged. An aged one is therefore unusual; one aged 20 years even more so. The price is $90.

So bid a fond adieu to Brandy Peak; they will be missed.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The OSU Distilled Spirits Program

Those who've read Distilled in Oregon may recall that Molly Troupe, a distiller at Oregon Spirit Distillers in Bend, has a masters degree in brewing and distilling. Ms. Troupe received her degree at Heriot-Watts University in Edinburgh, Scotland. That's a long distance to go to get a degree in the subject, and although there are a couple of distilling programs here in the USA (University of California at Davis and Michigan State University), I can't help but feel that such a program offered closer to home would be a great resource for those in the Pacific NW interested in the subject.

Apparently someone at Oregon State University had the same thought, because in 2015 the university announced the creation of a distilling program as an option within the Fermentation Sciences program. The first step was to get someone to architect the program, and OSU hired Paul Hughes, one of the faculty at Heriot-Watts, to fill that role. Dr. Hughes arrived in the autumn of 2015 and has been developing the curriculum and assembling a lab.

I visited OSU in late April of 2017, interviewing Dr. Hughes and touring the facility. At present Hughes is the only faculty member in the program, but another may be added in the next year or two. The program is receiving strong support from the state government (as in funding), which wants to encourage the distilling industry in Oregon, the rationale being that fermentation and distilling multiply the value of locally produced commodities.

So far only two courses have been offered - one on the general subject of distilled spirits and one on Scotch whisky production - with about 20 students enrolled in each. Hughes expects to have a full 90 hour program ready by the autumn of 2018, and it's his ultimate goal to make the OSU distilling program the "go to" choice, not just in the United States but worldwide.

The curriculum will include not only the basics of distillation but advanced technologies as well, such as new distilling techniques (Hughes described the innovative still developed at Bunker Distillery in Washington; see, methods to reduce energy consumption (such as solar power) and methods to enhance the aging of whiskeys, brandies and rum. Students will have access to the lab, which offers five small stills of various configurations, and can experiment with these to see how the different configurations affect the final product (a standard gin recipe is used to provide a baseline spirit).

Hughes took me to the lab, which is about 600 square feet and is jammed with equipment. The five stills take center stage, and all have names.
From left to right, Abigail (who I believe had a prior career at a dairy farm), Serena, Annabelle, Conchita and Amy.
After visiting the distilling lab, Dr. Hughes took me to the Food Science and Technology lab, a very large room with a partial second floor (a gallery sort of thing), and infused with many interesting aromas.
OSU Food Science and Technology lab. Jam, cheese, wine, beer and more.
The distilling program's largest still - "Giselle" - is currently tucked into a corner of the second floor. Donated by King Estate Winery (which, I'm guessing, was planning on getting into distilling but had second thoughts) this still was constructed by Northwest Copper Works in Portland. The still is not yet operational; numerous modifications need to be made to comply with both federal and university regulations.
Paul Hughes and "Giselle"
Speaking of regulations, the OSU distilling program will also include in its curriculum an overview of federal and Oregon laws governing the production and sale of distilled spirits.

Since arriving in late 2015, Hughes has visited about 35 Oregon distilleries. An element of Hughes's program is to develop internship programs with operational Oregon distilleries; House Spirits in Portland is the first partner in this effort.

All in all, I was impressed with Dr. Hughes. He's accomplished a lot in the 18 months since arriving at OSU, and I think it's a good bet that he'll achieve his ambitious goals. Anyone planning a career in spirits distillation would do well to take a look at the OSU program.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Eugene's First Distillery

Chapter 2 of Distilled in Oregon includes an account of Eugene City Distilling Company, Oregon's third commercial whiskey distillery. The entry gives 1856 as its founding date and locates it along the millrace that looped through what was then the northeast corner of the city. I based these statements on an article published in the Dec 8, 2001 edition of the Register-Guard, "Millrace played important role in Eugene's History." Author Bill Bishop provided a timeline for the history of the millrace, which included the following entry:
1856: Eugene City Distilling Co. becomes the major industry,  paying more taxes than any other while producing 70 gallons of whiskey per day at a time when the city's population numbered about 200. 
The reference to taxes was undoubtedly based on the brief description of the distillery in A. G. Walling's 1884 book, History of Lane County (the passage is reproduced in Distilled in Oregon). Walling gives the distillery's location as being "situated on the bank of the river in the northeast portion of the town." This would put it toward the terminal end of the millrace, where several flumes exited the mill pond, each damned to provide kinetic energy to the mills.

Neither the Walling book nor the Bishop article give any information about the owner, provide a  reason for the distillery's closing, a date for that event, or any information about the whiskey itself. I looked at IRS tax rolls for the late 1860s and early 1870s and saw no collections from the company subsequent to 1870, so it seemed reasonable to assume that it closed in 1870 or 1871. The latter year coincided with the arrival of the rail line from Portland, and it was my belief that the improved availability of bourbon (by far the most popular spirit in Oregon at the time) rendered the Eugene distillery's whiskey uncompetitive. It also seemed reasonable to assume it was made from wheat, given that was the case with most whiskey made in Oregon during the nineteenth century.

I wasn't happy about not knowing the identity of the distillery owner, or its supposed location on the millrace (a distillery does not require much in the way of kinetic energy, and property along the flumes was probably priced at a premium), but there wasn't time to revisit the topic before the publisher's submission deadline.

In February I resumed research on the Eugene distillery, starting with the 1860 census rolls for Eugene. I found no one listing their occupation as distiller (or brewer, for that matter). A follow-up review of census data for all of Lane County was equally unsuccessful.

Examination of IRS tax rolls for the mid 1860s revealed collections from Louis Behrens, "Brewer and distiller," for both beer and whiskey (one entry from early 1868 shows $64 collected for 32 gallons of whiskey).

I was already familiar with Behrens, having seen his advertisements in most issues of the Eugene Guard from the late 1860s...none of which mention whiskey.

Nevertheless, the IRS tax rolls clearly indicate that Behrens was making whiskey. There are no distilled liquor tax collections from Behrens recorded later than 1868, and none for "Eugene City Distilling Company" prior to 1869, so it's a pretty sure bet that registered Eugene City Distilling Company late in 1868.

Checking the COMMERCIAL AND MANUFACTURING INDUSTRIES section of History of Lane County, I found the following entry:
EUGENE CITY BREWERY. This enterprise is at present owned by Mr. Vogl, and is located on Ninth street. It was originally started by L. Burns, on the site that it now occupies, in 1866 - it subsequently passing into the hands of Henry Hagerman, who, on account of injuries received, disposed of it to a Mr. Miller. In 1881 it was purchased by the present proprietor. It has a capacity of five hundred barrels a year.
"L. Burns" would have to be Louis Behrens (a check of the 1860, 1870 and 1880 census found no one named "Burns" in Eugene). The brewery's starting date of 1866 is ten years later than the date cited by Bill Bishop in 2001, but is certainly correct; the 1860 census finds "Lewis Behrens" (b. Germany 1818) living in Oregon City, along with wife Joanna (b. Sweden 1827) and their children Victor (1854), Charlotte (1856) and Eveline (1858), all of whom were born in Oregon.

Additionally, there is this blurb in the September 21, 1867 issue of the Guard, the wording of which strongly suggests that the opening of Behrens' brewery was fairly recent:
THANKS - We are under obligations to Victor Behrens for a bucket of splendid Lager this week.  The Eugene City Brewery is now making as good Ale and Lager as any other Brewery in the State, and there is no longer any excuse for patronizing Corvallis.  Encourage home enterprise and industry.
"Corvallis" referring to Joseph Hunt's Corvallis Brewing Company which, until Behrens' operation, was the closest brewery to Eugene (the newspaper's comment about patronage is a case of "biting the hand that feeds you" because Hunt ran an advertisement in nearly every issue of the Guard).

Combining the Walling book's location for the distillery - "situated on the bank of the river" (page 403) - with that given for the brewery - "located on Ninth street" (page 440), would put it about three blocks east of the millrace, but still within the industrial district.

As mentioned earlier, Behrens never mentions whiskey in any of his advertisements; it may be that he was selling all he could make to local saloons and simply didn't need to advertise it.

So from what was Behrens making his whiskey? Given that he probably learned brewing before leaving Germany, the grain in his beer was probably all malted barley, and the simplest approach would have been to use the same mash for the whiskey. Concurrent high-volume production of beer and whiskey would have required separate fermentation tanks if the two products used different mash bills, and I doubt Behrens went to that much trouble (admittedly this is just speculation).

If I'm right then Behrens' whiskey was rather like a very young unpeated single malt Scotch. Perhaps the closest modern analog was the original release of Rogue Oregon Single Malt, which was only 90 days old. The current release is two years old and, at 80 proof, is probably a lot mellower than the whiskey made at the Eugene City Distillery, which was probably barreled for only a few months and sold at 100 proof.

Moving forward in time and checking information sources, I find, in the 1870 census, an additional child in the Behrens household: Louis, born in 1861. He was not a "Junior" because his father's middle initial was B and the younger Louis' middle initial was O.

The elder Louis Behrens died in November of 1871, so the sale to Henry Hagerman would have been by Joanna. It may be that distilling (and possibly brewing as well) had ceased sometime before that; the Behrens' final advertisement ran from August 21, 1869 through August 20, 1970, and no new ad followed that.

 It's interesting that Joanna is listed first, and Louis as just an agent, and suggests that his involvement with the operation had been scaled back.

Henry Hagerman and his partner August Werner acquired the business in 1873. There is no report that they did any distilling. It was sold to Mathias Miller in 1875, and to Michael Vogel in either 1880 or 1881.

The Lane County Historical Society has a photograph of the brewery/distillery building.

Courtesy of Lane County Historical Society, GN1948.
The following text is printed on the back:
City Brewery, Eugene. Built in 1859 by Louie Burns on the corner of 9th and Olive. Sold to Henry Hagerman, who was scalded to death in the mash tank. Sold again to Matias Miller, who was drug to death by a cow. So it was sold to Joe Vogel and his father Michael Vogel in 1880. In 1890 it was sold again to the Union Ice & Storage & Brewery Co. The only ice & storage plant between Albany & Roseburg. Mr. Joe Vogel remaining as engineer. In 1893 H. Weinhard became owner, Mr Vogel retaining the house and corner lot. About 1900 Weinhard built and operated the Spfld plant selling this to Mr. Stanly who erected the present building. This picture taken in 1883. The men are Louie Burns; Joe Andres; Joe Vogel.
This information is a little disturbing for a number of reasons (and not just the rather bizarre deaths of Hagerman and Miller). First, if the building was constructed in 1859, it couldn't have been built by Louis Behrens, because he did not arrive in Eugene until after 1860. And because the senior Louis Behrens died in 1871, the "Louie Burns" in the photograph would have to be the younger Louis Behrens. If that's the case, then the photograph could not have been taken in 1883 because the younger Louis Behrens was killed in an accident on May 15, 1881. The photograph would have to been taken in late 1880 or early 1881. Finally, there is now yet another location given for the facility; Ninth and Olive would place it four blocks west of the millrace, and seven blocks west of the river.

Again moving forward in time, the next description of the operation is found in the April 25, 1949 edition of the Register-Guard ("Pioneer-Day Millrace Was Valuable to Industry"):
Meanwhile businesses had been booming all along the race. In 1856, Louis Behrens built a brewery, the Eugene City Distilling Co. Thirteen years later it was the chief Industry in the city, producing 70 gallons of whiskey daily, and paying more taxes than any other single firm. The Eugene Ice and Storage Co. is now located where Behrens plied his trade, having been there since 1891, when the conversion to an ice factory and cold storage plant was made, Henry Weinhard, Portland brewer, bought the plant in 1892.
This is the first appearance of the 1856 date and it's certainly an error, perhaps only a typo. Unfortunately it propagated forward to the 2001 Bishop article and ultimately to Distilled in Oregon; hopefully this article will put an end to it once and for all.

The next description I've found of the Behrens operation is in Gary and Gloria Meier's Brewed in the Pacific Northwest (1991). This gives Ninth (now Broadway) and Olive as the location of the brewery and provides another photograph of the building, taken from a greater distance and slightly different angle (unfortunately the Meier's book lacks footnoted references or image attributions, so their sources are unknown). The Meier's book also mentions that while the Vogels were operating it, it was known as the Union Cold Storage, Ice & Brewing Co. They give the date for its acquisition by Henry Weinhard as 1890. Weinhard shut down the brewing and operated the facility as Weinhard's Beer and Ice Depot.

Additional research reveals the building was sold in 1900, after which it was known as the Eugene Ice and Storage Company (Weinhard having built a new facility in Springfield). In 1909 the new owner constructed a new building on Ferry Street, a location which would have been adjacent to the millrace. Apparently the building on 9th and Olive did not find new owners; it was demolished in 1914.

I believe that a combination of strict interpretation of "along the millrace" and the shift in location for the Eugene Ice and Storage Company is responsible for the persistent belief that Behrens' original brewery/distillery was located on the millrace. Located at Ninth and Olive, it was on the west side of the industrial district that developed along the millrace, but was in fact several blocks west of the millrace itself.

Finally, I'd like to address the oft-repeated statement that Behrens' distillery was the city's "chief industry." There were other firms, such as a sawmill and a furniture factory, that  must have employed more people, and probably generated more revenue as well. The distillery was first only in its payment of taxes, and this only because the federal excise tax was so high. It's my view that primacy on this single metric is insufficient to label it the city's "chief industry."

In sum, I'm pretty certain the following is true:

Louis Behrens, a German born brewer, migrated with his family from Oregon City to Eugene in 1865 or early 1866. He purchased a building (possible construction date 1859) at Ninth and Olive and converted in into a brewery. Operating under the name Eugene City Brewery he began selling beer in 1866 or early 1867, and began distilling barley malt whiskey sometime in 1867. In late 1868 or early 1869 he registered the name Eugene City Distilling Company. Peak whiskey production year was 1869; production was lower in 1870. It seems likely that Behrens' health began to fail in 1869; the company ceased advertising in August of 1870 and probably ceased production of whiskey and even beer about that same time. Behrens died on November 8, 1871. Widow Joanna sold the brewery/distillery building in 1873, with the new (and all subsequent) owners operating it solely as a brewery and/or ice making and storage facility.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Eugene's Newest Distillery

"Buy local" is a pervasive ethic here in Oregon. There are a lot of good reasons to do it, but to fully achieve the goal, a product must not only be made and sold locally, but must be produced from local raw materials as well.

Those who have read Distilled in Oregon know that many Oregon "distillers" in fact source their whiskey from Midwest Grain Products in Indiana and their neutral spirits (used for producing vodka and gin) from any number of large Midwest ethanol producers (e.g., Archer Daniels Midland). You don't need all of your fingers to count the number of Oregon distilleries which produce everything they bottle from local ingredients. Even those who subscribe to the buy local principle have had to make exceptions. With no local source of peat-smoked barley malt, Clear Creek must import it from Scotland to produce McCarthy's Single Malt whiskey, and any distiller who wants to make rum has to bring in raw material from out-of-state, because sugar cane does not grow in the Pacific Northwest.

Thinking Tree Spirits (DSP-OR-20036) is a welcome addition to the short list of producers striving to achieve the goal of all locally-sourced materials. The grain used to make their vodka, gin and whiskey comes from Camas Country Mill and although the molasses they use for their rum must necessarily originate in a warmer climate, they purchase it from a local supplier, GloryBee Foods

The distillery is the creation of three partners, Kaylon McAllister and Emily and Bryan Jensen. McAllister and the Jensens were introduced to each other by a mutual friend in early 2014, and having a common interest in distilling, soon formed a partnership. They spent the balance of the year developing a business plan and most of 2015 doing community surveys. They acquired a number of local investors, many of whom contributed time and equipment. In early 2016 they set about renovating a 100-year-old building, and opened their doors to the public late in the year.

Located at 88 Jackson Street, in the shadow of Ninkasi Brewing, the building features an attractive tasting room the centerpiece of which being the "Thinking Tree" itself, a sculpture created by a local artist. The bar stools are interesting, having cast-iron seats modeled on 19th century farm equipment. The building also manifests another example of the partners' commitment to sustainability - the tasting room is kept warm by recycling the heat generated by the stills.

Most of the building's floor space is devoted to fermenting, distilling and barrel storage. There is a large pot still which appears have about a two hundred gallon capacity (I forgot to ask) as well as a column still (required to produce neutral spirit). The pot still is unusual in being equipped with a "doubler" (aka "thumper" because of the sound they make), a device which performs a simple second distillation (most of the big stills used by Kentucky Bourbon producers are equipped with these).
Kaylon McAllister with the Thinking Tree stills.
The production room includes a sturdy rack for the barrels used to age bourbon and rum. Barrels are of 30 and 52 gallon capacity.
Barrel storage at Thinking Tree. The small still is a Prohibition era unit, which McAllister acquired from an older relative.
At present, the only spirit available from Thinking Tree is "Mainstage" vodka, whose $32 price is right in line with other all-Oregon vodkas such as Stein's. Future products include a vapor-infused gin ("Genius"), a rum, and a bourbon (to be aged three years). A grape brandy is also reported to be in the works, but neither McAllister nor Emily Jensen mentioned this to me.

Thinking Tree Spirits appears to off to a good start, and I'm hoping it will be a successful enterprise, one that encourages other Oregon distillers to emulate their commitment to authenticity and sustainability. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

My Interview with Steve McCarthy

An essential part of preparing chapter 9 of Distilled in Oregon was an interview with the founder of Clear Creek Distillery, Steve McCarthy, who retired in 2014 after selling the distillery to Hood River Distillers. The interview took place on May 21, 2016, at McCarthy's home in northwest Portland.

The first part of the interview covered biographical details - McCarthy's birth in Seattle in 1943, the family's move to Myrtle Creek, Oregon, in 1950, graduation from Reed College in Portland in 1966 and NYU law school in 1969, law practice for two years, director of OSPIRG for two years and of TRIMET for four, after which he joined his father's company, Michael's of  Oregon.

I'd been furiously scribbling notes, and about the time we began discussing the beginning of the distilling enterprise, I decided to use my iPhone to record the balance of the interview.

Stursa: Mind if I record this?
McCarthy: Go ahead. So I started work on and I was running the distillery, which was growing very rapidly…and we did a lot of inventions. We had our own in-house R and D department. We were very lucky…we had some very capable people and we were growing fast. That creates a lot of work…
Stursa: Yes.
McCarthy: …and a lot of risk.
Stursa: Can I ask a question here? We’re at a pertinent point for this one.
McCarthy: Sure.
Stursa: I’ve read a lot of articles over the years, about you and Clear Creek, and some interviews with you, and some of the information is contradictory. Most state that you were in Europe and that’s where you were exposed to eau de vie and that’s where you acquired a taste for it. Is that true?
McCarthy: Yes.
Stursa: Now I’ve seen one article that states that you were there studying winemaking.
McCarthy: No. While attending university I made a lot of trips to Europe. The first trip was in 1961 and I went to a French university for six months…mostly did a lot of cross-country skiing and mountain climbing, with the Grenoble University mountain club. And those kids, my fellow students, grew up around Grenoble, which was eau de vie country. It’s not recognized widely but all those little farmers, they used everything. If they had some leftover pears they’d ferment them and distill them. So these kids, we’d climb mountains together, and they’d always have a little bottle of schnapps or eau de vie, so I had a little bit of it then, and I was not crazy about it but I was very interested in the idea of taking pears, leftovers that you couldn’t otherwise really sell but were sound fruit, and making something out of them. So every subsequent trip to Europe…between 1960 and 1984 I probably had ten or a dozen trips to Europe…
Stursa: Some of these trips were pleasure and some were related to the gun accessory business?
McCarthy: Yes. I build a good market in Europe for what we made.
Stursa: What, specifically, did you make?
McCarthy: Well, we had a couple of hundred products and we made everything ourselves. We had a plant in Boise with 140 people and a plant in Portland with 60 people, including the office, sales people and the like. We made a quick-detachable sling swivel. That was our big product. You know what that is?
Stursa: Yes.
McCarthy: Most people don’t.
Stursa: I come from a hunting family.
McCarthy: Well, there are a lot of hunting families and I got to know them pretty well and it was a wonderful experience. I loved that company and the distributors and retailers and the ultimate consumers. It was a great lesson in how much fun you can have in business in this country. So anyway, I was on a three track program, running and growing the [gun accessory] company, getting ready to sell the company, and researching and getting ready to setup and running a distillery. When I first started doing the research there was no one doing artisan small-scale distilling, and I ran into Jörg Rupf about 1983, and he was from Alsace, so he grew up with it over there. Also a renegade lawyer, but from Germany. Went to law school in Freiburg, I think. Engaging, smart guy. Wanted to bring eau de vie to America. I approached him and basically what I said was, “I’m a very competitive guy and everything you tell me about how to make eau de vie is going to end up as a factor in the marketplace, so how about I pay you $75,000,” this was in 1983 or ‘84 when $75,000 was a lot of money, “to teach me the rudiments of how to make seven different kinds of eau de vie, and that way we’ll be square. You’ll be compensated, and I’ll just tell you that I’ll be in this thing for keeps. Maybe there’s room in the industry for two of us and maybe there isn’t. So it’s up to you. If you don’t want it, if you don’t want my $75,000, just tell me and I’ll go somewhere else.” He leapt at the chance, because he’d been distilling for a couple of years and it hadn’t gone particularly well, financially or, frankly, from my point of view, quality wise either…his stuff was a little on the rugged side. So he agreed to do it. We ordered a still. It arrived broken.
Stursa: Yes, Rachel told me about that.
McCarthy: So we had to tread water for a year. We got the next still in early summer of ’85. I had bought a building around 1980, partly to be a studio for my wife – she’s a painter and since we sold the building and distillery, that’s her new studio, that little building right out the window there. So we had a big empty building except for her studio and I wanted to build a distillery and I had no idea what I was doing. I got a couple of good contractors, small scale HVAC, plumbing, and construction. We fiddled with that still all summer long…got it put back together, because it came in pieces with no instructions, not even a diagram, because the guys that made it, in Germany, had never sold one…
McCarthy: If he gets to be a pest I’ll put him downstairs.
Kitty: MEOWWW.
McCarthy: Kitty – scram!
Stursa: Probably smells my cats.
McCarthy: Everyone in this company – I later found this out because I went over to buy still number two at the factory – said that everybody who had ever bought one from him already had one.
McCarthy: It had been passed down in their family, or their uncle had one or their kids had worked at one, so they didn’t need anyone to tell them how to put it together, let alone how to run it. So we…Kitty…I hope he doesn’t knock that off on the floor
Stursa: I’ve got it.
McCarthy: So we put it together, and in those days we took a Polaroid shot, transferred it to a piece of paper and faxed it to Germany. That was the technology of the time. We’d ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” and they’d say, “Well, you’ve got this piece of pipe here inverted, should be the other way around.” So somewhere of the late summer of ’85 I bought a bunch of chardonnay from somebody just to get started, to have something to distill. Then we…and Jörg was helping me at this point…working off his $75,000…and we got it running, we got some pears out of one of our orchards in Parkdale…Hood River Valley…
Stursa: Out of who’s orchards?
McCarthy: One of ours.
Stursa: So you owned orchard property?
McCarthy: The family owned a lot of orchards.
Stursa: When you say ‘family’ do you mean your parents?
McCarthy: My mom and dad and three brothers.
Stursa: Okay.
McCarthy: So were winging it on all this stuff. We got the pears…it was an interesting fall…it got cold early and then warmed back up again, so it’s just purely by accident ripening on the tree or in the bin worked.
Stursa: This was in 1985?
McCarthy: Yes. We got just a small quantity of pears. Crushed them, using a little crusher, a small one. Rachel might have shown it to you, it’s too small for real commercial use but it was a great backup, and I bought a much bigger one a few years later. So we got a good crushed pear that had been properly ripened, we fermented it, and I didn’t try to re-invent the wheel on the yeast, I just called one of the big yeast companies and said, “send me a fruit fermentation yeast type,” and they did, and it worked perfectly okay. I just figured at that point in the process of building the company all of my mistake would cancel out any differences in yeast quality, unless you got something weird, like baker’s yeast or something, but the yeast companies know how to ferment fruit, non-grape fruit, pears, plums, they know all that stuff. Then we distilled it, we had that one still…we learned all the hard stuff, you had to put in all the floor drains and plumb it six ways from Sunday, and there were four fail-safe devices on it to make sure it would never blow up, some of them required electricity, some of them didn’t, the default position on the gas jets was closed, so if the power went out your pilots were going to go out on you…sort of like a solenoid, it would drop a plug into the line…very safe…had almost no problems with it. So that was still number one, it was a relatively small still, 270 liters, and David Lett, the founding father of…
Stursa: Eyrie winery.
McCarthy: Yeah, right. Wonderful guy, close friend. I called him, I said, “David, we’re going to make some eau de vie of pear tomorrow. You want to come up and watch?” So he came up and tasted it, practically the first run we made and he said, ”This is amazing…congratulations.” Getting a little pat on the back from someone from David in that era…because everyone else thought I was nuts…that was a real nice thing. So we were doing all this stuff and I was still running the other company and trying to sell the other company, so I was busy. Had a lot of energy then. Just going flat out…and I loved it. We were working with the old BATF then and they were amazingly helpful, partly because there were no small distillers. The Oregon guys, the Washington guys, there were no small stills, and they, I sort of made friends with them and they had more important fish to fry. I didn’t get away with anything that I shouldn’t, but they didn’t make it difficult. Same thing with the OLCC, I think the OLCC didn’t take me seriously, which worked my way. Instead of saying, “Wait, this guy’s going to change the whole industry, stand back, watch out,” they said, “Oh sure, go ahead.” There were a couple of unusually good people at the OLCC then. A guy named Bob Dancer, who was one of the top two or three people, was very open minded, smart guy. But the long and short of it is, at least for the first half of the season in ’85, summer and fall, we didn’t have much to do because we ran out of pears. We made some grappa – David brought me a couple of garbage cans full of…
Stursa: Pomace.
McCarthy: Pomace, yeah. He had a varietal Muscat, Muscat Ottonel, which turned out…I didn’t know what I was doing so I dumped some yeast into these plastic garbage cans and then let it ferment and then put it into the stills and distilled it, just sort of feeling my way, and it may have been the best grappa I made in all the thirty one years. It was this wonderful, fragrant Muscat Ottonel grape. And then, I think, we did something with apples…and then blue plums.
Stursa: I’ve got a question here that I’m going to rephrase because you’ve already partially answered it. Again, I’ve seen articles about how your family was producing pears and often times there were surpluses and they weren’t getting very good prices, so was one of your motivations was to do something with your family’s pear crop…
McCarthy: Yes.
Stursa: …and I was going to ask: was that your primary goal, to produce only pear eau de vie from your family’s pear crop. You’ve stated that you asked Jörg Rupf to teach you how to make seven different kinds of eau de vie, so you were already looking beyond just the pear?
McCarthy: Yeah, I knew already just instinctively that you could never build a market with one product. I learned that from the gun industry. A good distributor isn’t going to take on a one product line…and he isn’t going to take on a two hundred product line…so I was sort of the Goldilocks product line with seven items and a couple of sizes by the time I got to distribution.
Stursa: Were they all eau de vie?
McCarthy: Yeah, the other stuff came much, much later. As for your question, I left out the most important part which was, apart from interest, maybe just curiosity about how to do this, I was a member of the sort of founding land use planning mafia in this state, I was fairly close to Tom McCall. I knew enough about farming and rural life to know if you can’t sell the crop from your land, then you’ll sell it to the people with the big bucks, the developers, so let’s do what the French figured out about three hundred years ago, which was to take what you have, which was ordinary, good but nothing special, pears, and make it into something very good - most of the French eau de vie was excellent - and then sell it to the Americans. Seemed to me like a natural thing to do. I made enough money on the gun company to last me the rest of my life, so I wasn’t profit oriented initially. In fact, of the thirty one years that I owned [Clear Creek], I didn’t even think about profits for at least half of that. I wanted to learn how to make it, how to make it in large quantities, I wanted to learn how to sell it, in a real profound sense, as in “Where is the place in this country, in our culture, in our food habits, in our business world for eau de vie…how do you get there?” And then the last one on the list was, I wanted to make some money…as I said I had enough money that I didn’t need to worry about it for a long time…although I started to get serious about it about five years before I sold the company. I was ready to make some money. I hadn’t gone through all the revenue from the gun company, but I was picking away at it a little bit.
Stursa: Yes, reminds me of the old joke: how do you make a small fortune in the winemaking business? You start with a large one.
McCarthy: That’s right. I did…and we used a lot of it. Because I could write checks, I tried a lot of stuff. I didn’t look at a product and say, “How do I make this thing so it sells,” I’d say, “How do I make this thing so that it’s really good?” and then we’ll worry about how to sell it later. So by the time we got to about twenty five years in to it, the industry had responded very positively. The writers had responded. That was another thing – I had a pretty good sense of how to get to the wine writers because I’d done it in the gun business, I got to the gun writers…there are a lot of them…the sporting goods guys and the manufacturing guys and others. I’d learned how to call up some famous writer and somehow get a story out of him.
Stursa: At what point did you feel you’d achieved critical success? In other words, when did reviewers start putting articles out there saying, “Hey, this guy is making good stuff”?
McCarthy: At the very beginning, the absolute very beginning. I never had a bad word written about me.
Stursa: I’ve never seen one.
McCarthy: I had incredible luck. I understood the point of view of the writer…he’s got to have something good to write about. So it wasn’t like you were trying to pull the wool over his eyes or anything, it was just laying out the story. You had the food industry, the fancy food gourmet magazines, the traditional wine people, the wine distributors, they were happy to write about eau de vie. You had the business story people that wanted to write a business story, here’s a new business, how do you do this new business in the United States. There were a couple of other angles. Oh, Ag [agriculture], a set of interesting Ag problems and issues, how do you get more money for your fruit, here’s a way to do it. And I was just plain lucky a lot of the time. I got to know Johnny Apple, the New York Times food writer guy…crazy, wild man…wonderful guy…he’d often come to Portland and call me up, say, “Let’s go have dinner.” He was a huge fan, and it was sort of overwhelming, actually, this guy was famous…and he loved what I was doing…thought I’d gotten it right, and one day Eric Asimov, who was coming out to keynote the Oregon Pinot Noir annual potlatch, called me, said, “I’ll be in Portland Saturday, could you spend a little time with me?” I resisted the urge to be cute and say, “Jeez, I’m sorry, we’re fully booked,” went through my mind, “Sorry can’t fit you in this time, maybe next time.” I didn’t do that, I just played it straight. We spent the whole day together. He’s a good journalist, he’d ask a question and then listen to you, he wouldn’t try to answer it for you. Then I couldn’t I tell whether…and I had been very carefully, with a very light touch, cultivating him for about fifteen years…like getting an eight pound trout on a half-pound leader…you have to be very careful with what you’re doing…because he was being worked by everybody in the world in the industry. As he was leaving he said, “I’ll have a photographer in here on Tuesday,” and I thought son of a bitch, I got it. And he wrote that big spread on me, which was just the wildest…
Stursa: I’m pretty sure I’ve read it.
McCarthy: Ask Rachel, she should have a copy for you if you want.
Stursa: Okay.
McCarthy: Or Jeanine in Sales and Marketing.
Stursa: I may be getting with her for some follow-up questions.
McCarthy: She’s actually stepped up to do that. Rachel was actually more  production than marketing most of the time, but she could step into the marketing, and Jeanine came in, must be ten years ago now, to be just a rank-and-file sales person but I could tell right away she was a very bright, very ambitious girl and so when we had the transition at the time of sale I encouraged her to make a run for the top marketing job, which she did, and she’s basically been doing the work of two plus people ever since…she knows everything.
Stursa: What was the greatest challenge that you had to overcome during the first few years of the operation?
McCarthy: (long pause) Well, always, throughout the entire history of my time there, we were always working on marketing and sales, especially distribution. I had learned a lot about distribution from the gun business but there was a lot more to learn, and once you…and you can’t learn it without getting out there and taking you briefcase and your sample bottles and a stout pair of shoes and just work your ass off…and then you learn it and you learn stuff that most other people don’t know and you learn how to make some money. In terms of…sort of more tangible issues, we had to learn, with every single fruit type we added we had to start all over again, because cherries are not the same as a pear, just plain not. We’d start out, thinking, well, this will be easy, we’ll make it just like we made the pear, and then three years later we’d come up for air and realize that it hadn’t worked worth a damn. So that was sort of the heart of the company anyway was how do you do it…you want to make blue plum brandy, well how do you do that? You take a blue plum, well, what kind of blue plum and what stage of ripening and how ripe can they get? You got to get them pitted…there may be differences in fermentation…every single product. Pears, apples…apples we’d barrel age. Almost nothing else was barrel aged except brandy and whiskey.  But because we were just fanatics about making everything from the whole fruit, no flavorings involved at all. We had to learn how to get along with that fruit. Take a bottle of pear brandy, there wasn’t anything in it that wasn’t on the pear tree and so you’re stuck…it was very hard to cover up a mistake. A good winemaker can take a so-so wine, fiddle with it a little bit, make something that’s okay, but it was very hard for us to do that.
Stursa: At what point did you feel the distillery was a commercial success?
McCarthy: That’s a little bit hard to answer…obviously by the time I sold it…but I had just…I think I had mentioned…just five years short of selling it I finally got more serious about making money. That wasn’t how I define commercial success anyway, really. I’d get distributors who’d say, “Well, what kind of target shall we set?” They’d take on my stuff, they wanted to know what I expected. I’d say, “All I want to do is have year-to-year growth, and I want to become popular and respected among the circle that consists of your very best retail customers and your very best restaurant customers.” So Portland I wanted, got the OLCC, that was hard to deal with. Say, in New York City you wanted those big-time, four star restaurants, the heavy hitter retailers like Sherry Lehman and…
Kitty: Meowah. Meow.
McCarthy: I’ve forgotten…what the hell was the name of the wine store in…I’ll have to look back. Anyway, the super-high-class wine dealers that also sell liquor.
Kitty: MEOW.
McCarthy: I wanted them to say “Hi” to me when I walked in the door…and we got there. They could be real jerks, some of them, but if you see a guy who seems like he’s going to be a real jerk, you go easy. Eventually you could usually get most of them to at least give you the time of day.
Stursa: I admit that the phrase “commercial success” can be defined different ways, but what I was getting at was…presumably someone was keeping the books and so, was there a period of time when you were in the red and then finally in the black?
McCarthy: Yeah, well, we had a good bookkeeper…thank God, because without her I would have gone crazy. That was Candice…Rachel might have mentioned her…terrific bookkeeper. I always knew where we were, it wasn’t like I was just spending money. I knew that we, say, lost money last month, we were going to lose money this month, we get to August, September, October we’ll make some money, and so we bounced, with a couple of exceptions, we bounced right along the break-even line, almost at every level. We grew and we grew to meet existing demand, we grew to make demand for new products, and when you got done with pricing it, distribution issues and so on, you just barely broke even. I don’t want to seem blasé about having commercial success because sooner or later you can’t expect an industry to be based on not making any money, and I expected to see other guys come along and get into it…they were pretty slow as you know, and it took a while for anybody else to raise their head...and when they did there were the first few…and then there was just nobody after them for quite a while…and then all hell broke loose. But a great deal of that was the flavored stuff, which I never thought was…I mean they’re nice guys and they have a perfect right to go out and earn a buck and a lot of them will do better than I did, but to me that wasn’t the point of it. Who wants to take bad vodka and dump some flavoring into it, bottle it, call it…whatever you want to call it.
Stursa: Yeah, well…
McCarthy: How we doing there?
Stursa: We have fifteen minutes left on our hour so I’m going to try to jump through the rest of my questions. This one you’ve already partially answered but I’ll ask anyway; by 2014 you had an extensive product line – over two dozen – why so many products rather than concentrating on three or four? What you said earlier was that you wanted to offer a line of products to distributors.
McCarthy: Yes, to get serious with the real heavy hitters you needed something that was worthwhile, from their point of view. I they sent their salesmen out and they sold one case of pear brandy, and that was all, there was nothing in it for them, they needed to write a little more business than that…and that’s what I’d learned in the gun industry as well.
Stursa: Of the various products you’ve introduced over the years, is there anything in particular that you are proud of?
McCarthy: Well, the pear. But the other one, that’s kind of a sleeper, is the blue plum…and I got that…
Stursa: I’ll have to try that some time. Just so you know, we’re gone through a lot of the pear ourselves. Also I’m a big fan of the eight year old apple brandy for a long time. We moved here from Florida nine years ago and I had been able to buy it in an upscale liquor store in Tallahassee.
McCarthy: I don’t know how they got it, because I knocked myself out trying to get distribution in Florida and I never got it worth a damn. Frustrating. I had Southern [Wine and Spirits] for a while and they were very hard to deal with.
Stursa: Okay, sorry to have interrupted, pear…blue plum…
McCarthy: The blue plum was so good, it’s one I kept in the freezer. We had several good fruit years, and it was just a stunning eau de vie. Every bit as good as the pear…maybe even a little bit…I never like to talk about anything being better than the pear…but I knew it was good…drank quite a bit of it. I hardly drink it at all anymore, but when we brought that eau de vie along I was so excited about it that every so often I had to have a little taste.
Stursa: Many craft distillers make vodka in order to pay the bills while their good stuff is aging. You’ve never made vodka, but are their products you made more to satisfy popular demand as opposed to being something that you just wanted to make?
McCarthy: No, not really. We never made a coffee based liqueur, for example, partly because there’s no coffee grown in Oregon and there was a standard that we pretty well set, it had to be something you could buy the raw materials in Oregon or Washington.
Stursa: So if a distributor said, “People want this, could you make some of this?”
McCarthy: Well, we always listened. Seriously listened, because sometimes we’d get some ideas from people. Growing the pear inside the bottle on the tree, I’d seen that in Switzerland, but I had several distributors tell me I ought to do this, so I though, heck yes, so that was one. It fit, so neatly, into what we were doing. There were things I didn’t do. Never did an apricot, partly when people said apricot they meant the sweetened liqueur, they didn’t mean eau de vie.
Stursa: The pear-in-the-bottle is an interesting thing. I’m from Corvallis and for the first few years we lived there neither of the town’s two liquor stores had your pear-in-the-bottle. Somewhere along there I bought a bottle of a French pear-in-the-bottle…trying to recall the name…Mannewiz or something like that…
McCarthy: Manischewitz?
Stursa: No, but I can’t recall [Massenez was the brand]. We took the label off…you don’t want the pear to become exposed to air and so we kept topping it off with Clear Creek and at a certain point it didn’t seem honest to keep the original label on it. Shortly after that one of the local liquor stores finally started stocking your pear-in-the-bottle…perhaps they’d only just heard about it…
McCarthy: The OLCC was perfectly okay to deal with, there was no funny stuff, they weren’t crooked, but they were awful slow to respond to what I made and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Finally I hired a couple of pretty girls to go around and talk to the liquor stores and that helped. Jeanine and Jody. But compared to a private sector distributor who says, “Yeah I like your products, we’ll take them on,” that was the beginning and the end of it.
Stursa: They seem to be pretty supportive these days, but I guess it took them a while.
McCarthy: Yes, they’ve been better. I had to finally stop making the calls on the OLCC stores because they irritated me. They were just so darn slow to respond…and the girls got along with them just fine.
Stursa: Is there anything you would like to have made, but didn’t?
McCarthy: There were a few. I was interested in making a sour mash whiskey, as opposed to a peated malt whiskey. We sort of poked around it…and got started a little bit. This fellow Daniel was very talented [Daniel Ruiz is currently the Clear Creek Head Distiller and Production Manager] and I think if I hadn’t sold the company that in a couple of years we would have gone to that whiskey. We sort of came in under the radar with the McCarthy’s Whiskey. It was completely unplanned. It was almost too good a situation…it got away from us in terms of demand…I don’t know if they caught up down there yet. It was just amazing. I had friends tell me I was twenty five percent underpriced on it…I could have got have gotten a lot more money for it. I was always dragging my feet on prices…because this is Oregon and, especially in rural Oregon, I’ve got customers who don’t have sixty five bucks for a bottle of whiskey. I always had that in mind.
Stursa: It’s certainly the most I’ve ever paid for a three-year-old whiskey. Still have my original bottle. Bought it a number of years ago, sort of as a “ringer” in a tasting of Scottish single malts. Kept it in a bag. We’d tasted the five Scottish malts, and then I said, “I’ve got one I want everyone to try…tell me what you think.” I was pretty well received, so I pulled it out of the bag and announced, “It’s from Oregon.” But not being a fan of peaty malts, I still have over half the bottle, and I have to ask why you went with that style?
McCarthy: Because I liked it.
Stursa: I figured as much.
McCarthy: I’d had some sixteen-year-old Lagavulin and I couldn’t believe how good it was. It was just a perfect whiskey. It was pretty heavily oaked but not over-oaked to my taste. It was a very sound whiskey. My wife and I were in Ireland on vacation…sort of drinking our way around western Ireland…staying in some of the beautiful hotels there, with good liquor cellars and good wine cellars, and I went home with a bottle of it and thought, “I’m going to try to make something like this.” And that was ’92…’93…somewhere in there. For the first few years we made small amounts and put it in different kinds of wood without a whole lot of thought. Then what’s-his-name…Jim Murray…he came along and thought it was the best whiskey…
Stursa: Yes, he gave it great ratings.
McCarthy: I guess he just did it again. Somebody, Jeanine or Rachel, called me the other day to say, “You’ve got the best small distillery in the world again.” This was stuff that I made, actually, because it doesn’t go out for three years and that hasn’t come up yet.
Stursa: Why only three years of age on that?
McCarthy: In retrospect it was the right decision. We needed the money. That’s the problem with a successful product, particularly one that ages, you’ve got a fortune tied up just sitting there, because it has to. I think also, when I decided to put it on the market for real, there was a little bulge in our production so I had several barrels that were three years or older…and the public just loved it. It was a little bit of a dicey product because everything else was fruit…traditional eau de vie or grappa and we wondered if the whiskey would work as part of that family. You can ruin a company by having a product line that’s…nobody knows quite where it’s at…got the wrong stuff mixed in with it…but it was never a problem. They looked at Clear Creek, I think, and they treated that as important nomenclature.
Stursa: Although it’s interesting…HRD has moved the McCarthy’s over into their product line.
McCarthy: I didn’t know that.
Stursa: If you go to the Clear Creek website, the McCarthy’s is not there. If you go to the HRD website, that’s where it is, listed with their other whiskeys.
McCarthy: Well, I think that’s…more power to them, in a way. That’s how they’re going to pay for it, what they owe me.
Stursa: Kind of a tricky question…reflecting a personal bias…I’ve not had any of your grappa…in fact I’ve only had two or three American made grappas. I’ve been into spirits a long time…since my late twenties…and my first experiences with grappa and marc, I wasn’t impressed, and trying to find out more about it, I  learned that it was kind of the peasant’s brandy back in Europe, the good stuff that was barrel aged, that’s what the rich people drank, and they took this stuff that was left over from winemaking, give it some guy who’d fire up a little still in his barn and runs off some for him and his buddies, so it was basically peasant brandy. I know you’re gotten good reviews on your grappa so what I’m wondering is, do you follow a different process, or put more effort into it to create a better product?
McCarthy: Yes. Because you’re right. I learned how to make it in Alsace and I worked in a big distillery for a couple of days, and they were using stuff that we [Clear Creek] would never even let in the building. What you put into a still is what you’re going to get out, so I used fairly high quality pomace from fairly high quality wineries. I never paid for pomace.
Stursa: By “high quality pomace” you mean, say, not over-pressed?
McCarthy: Yes, but also just very good quality. They were making decent wine and they were using good quality grapes and they were treating them right and when they pressed them their techniques went with the flow of material. So they were good grappas. There is some terrific grappa but there isn’t much of it.
Stursa: I think there are a couple of good Italian ones.
McCarthy: There’s Jacopo Poli, an Italian, and his stuff is insanely expensive and I just kick myself around about it because he can charge that. He’s one of these charming Italians that everybody oohs and awws about him. I’m from Roseburg so I didn’t feel I could compete head-on with Jocopo Poli, so I priced it where I felt okay about it and I got a lot of attention, and that’s something that if I was still there I’d go back through that and see if I could doll it up a little bit and see if I could get a few more bucks a bottle for it. I don’t know what the new owners are doing with it.
Stursa: There are still four of them in the lineup.
McCarthy: Okay.
Stursa: I know you did some contract distilling for wineries that needed brandy to make fortified wines. I’m guessing that along the way you were contacted by people who were interested in having you do contract distilling for them and I presume that you didn’t.
McCarthy: We did some of it. Usually it was for another branch of the industry. Somebody wanted to make…uh, what is that cognac product…I mean the Normandy product…
Stursa: Calvados.
 McCarthy: Yes. They make a product that’s juice or cider with Calvados added.  A couple of these new cider guys were going try to do that so I did some custom distilling…it was a great way of booking some hours when there was not much to do. We had some flat spots the year so we’d get somebody to ship me a full tanker truck load of Chardonnay and want me to do some distilling for them and we’d come in with a low ball price, but it was a better than not getting any cash flow.  It was also a way of becoming a little more popular with the industry. I didn’t want ‘em to think I was too stuck up about myself. I wanted to work with people where I could…but those days were ending…and I don’t know that the new owners were doing it at all…don’t know one way or the other but  I would have probably had to give up the better part of  it. 
Stursa: Rachel told me they’re not. 
McCarthy: Well, yeah, we were headed that way.
Stursa: (checking watch) Oh my god. Okay, I just want to get through my questions then if you have any extra time and you want to give me more information. Verification question - Linné Dodge [of Hood River Distillers] told me that you approached them about the sale, that you initiated the negotiation.
McCarthy: Yes, that’s true. Well, it was a hard company to sell. They were one of the few companies that was wealthy enough to pay for something like this and they had the in house management ability to take it on and run it right. They’re good. I haven’t inquired at length as to what’s going on because now it’s none of my business…I don’t call Rachel or Jeanine and say, “Hey, what’s really going on?” I’ve been in there only a half a dozen times in the last two years. It’s just good business practice. If they invited me I’d go, but I wasn’t going to go down there and start to nose around and force my former employees to pay attention to me when they’re trying to pay attention to their new boss. They [HRD] were a terrific prospect for selling the company. They were really smart, they knew what they were doing, they had some great numbers guys, they had some great production guys. Ron and Linné…Linney…
Stursa: Linné.
McCarthy: Linné…are terrific people…I think they’ve got two of their kids involved in it. It’s a nice story.
Stursa: Would you do the whole thing over again, and if so, what would you have done differently?
McCarthy: Oh yeah, I’d do it over. I should have started ten years earlier. It’s hard work, making a market for a product. [pause] If you don’t mind, I’m going to get some more tea.
Stursa: Not at all.
Stursa: You’re a fussy feline.
Kitty: Rouwwwrrr.
Stursa: You’re a lot like our Cleo.
Kitty: Rrrrrr.
McCarthy: so, in terms of doing it over, sure. It was hard work. It’s different from law, which was hard work, but I could never really figure out what I was supposed to do…working hard to become a mediocre lawyer. In this business, and in the gun business, small scale, closely held, manufacturing companies with their own marketing and own brands, is a real nice place to be. For me it’s a little bit intuitive…I like figuring out stuff…so I’d do it again in a second.
Stursa: Including selling when you did?
McCarthy: Yes. I had some wild and crazy lawyers on this sale, even with a good straight outfit like Hood River, because they had their own wild and crazy lawyers. Every single word in the document was argued over…it’s just the game…and we did it and we did it right. We had a couple of cases where one side got their back up a little bit and I thought maybe we’d lose the deal, but the lawyers were pretty good about making something work and satisfying us and satisfying us that they didn’t leave a loophole they could walk away with.
Stursa: What do you feel is the historical significance of Clear Creek?
McCarthy: Well, the main thing I wanted to do was to show that you could make good, family-owned, small-scale, artisan distilled fruit brandies, like they did in Europe…partly because, if I go back to where I started, if that farmer can sell second-grade fruit, like a lot of the pears that I bought – I was buying a million pounds of pears every year – a lot of that was graded down because it was misshapen but was perfectly sound.
Stursa: Culls.
McCarthy: Not culls. Culls are crap…you can’t…these are what you call C grade...Fred Myer’s pear halves will be these because they peel them…or you can get graded down for being the wrong color. If your Bartlett pear is too red, which I think is kind of pretty, they’ll grade it down. So the poor farmer is sitting there with perfectly good fruit and half the time they had to dump it…or [a large California wine company] would give them two cents a pound or something and use it in those supermarket white wines.
Stursa: Well, that’s been a recurrent thing…using surplus fruit…that’s why HRD got started in 1934…
McCarthy: Yes.
Stursa: And there was a distillery in The Dalles that operated from 1900 to 1905…
McCarthy: I didn’t know that.
Stursa: You’re going to get a courtesy copy of this book, and I’m hoping there will be a lot in there you didn’t know.
McCarthy: Okay.
Stursa: Because I went all the way back to the 1830s on this, and I have covered every commercial distillery that has ever operated in Oregon.
McCarthy: I’ll read that with great interest.
Stursa: So, any observations on the current crop of Oregon craft distillers?
McCarthy: Well, there’s two kinds of small distillers. One of them is guys that basically flavor vodka that they buy, they don’t even make the vodka…
Stursa: Or they don’t even make their whiskey.
McCarthy: Yes, they don’t even make the whiskey…and that’s a lot of them…and they’ll do well, and that’s okay. I tried to get the OLCC, back when the first of these vodka guys were getting started, to have some nomenclature, like the French appellation contrôlée rules…but the overwhelming sentiment among the budding distillers was hell no and the OLCC didn’t have the political cojones to do it. They were afraid of the whole thing, they didn’t want a big issue of some kind. So part of what you read earlier is beneficial…you can have a very good cash flow by buying vodka for sixty cents a proof gallon and reselling it for five something, net, and if you want to get into the more respectable side of the industry you’ll have the money to do it, so it’s okay…but it’s very different.
Stursa: The story I’ve gotten from some of them…I’ve had several look me in the eye and say, “I never planned to make vodka, but I’ve got this rum I’m making, I’ve got this whiskey I’m making, it’s got to go in the barrel and I’ve got all my money tied up in that. People want vodka, so, fine, I make vodka. Keeps the bills paid, keeps the lights on while the rum ages.” It’s kind of hard to argue with that. My problem is with the ones who just buy the stuff and bottle it, that’s all they do. One of the things I’m going to be trying to do with this book is to identify who those people are…it’ll be a tricky thing with the people who are doing a mixed operation, I want to give them credit for what they’re actually making themselves. After all, the real artisan is the person who conceives of it, who designs it, makes it and presents it to the world. That’s not what you’re doing if you’re buying someone else’s whiskey, putting it in a bottle, putting your name on it along with the statement, “Produced in Oregon.”
McCarthy: That’s where I felt the OLCC could have done a better job. The wine industry has got it figured out. “Produced and bottled by,” means that you really made it, and if it’s “vinted by” or “cellared by” or “blended by” it means something else, and that’s fine. [pause] I get on my high horse about that a little bit…
Stursa: Okay, last question is one I always ask, sometimes I get really good answers and sometimes I don’t, what is the question that I didn’t ask, that I should of asked?
McCarthy: [long pause] Well, I can’t think of anything. I mean, I jumped around a lot.
Stursa: Yes, a lot more information than necessary to answer my questions, but all of it good…so this last question probably isn’t all that relevant…
McCarthy: But that’s a good question, and I’ve never had anyone ask me that…and I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who were writing something on me. Well, good luck with the book. I think the timing is good…a lot more people in Oregon than there used to be.
Stursa: Yes, and there’s a lot of interest in it. I think it will do well.
McCarthy: I hope so.
Stursa: I’d like to take a quick photograph of you.
McCarthy: Okay.
Stursa: [taking photographs] Yes, this is good…the window light is very good…thanks.
McCarthy: You bet. I’m glad we got together. I’ll be very interested in seeing the book.
Stursa: thank you very much for your time. I know we ran over here.
McCarthy: Well, I’m not bothered by that at all.
Stursa: So, are you enjoying your retirement?
McCarthy: Very much. Generally, I’m busier than I ever was…I’m wondering how I ever had time to work.
Stursa: Thank you again.
McCarthy: You’re welcome.