New Deal Distillery
Portland, OR 2004
WHAT THEY FEED:
New Deal Distillery makes high quality, craft-distilled spirits, inspired by the DIY spirit of Portland. All of their artisan spirits are made locally in small batches with Bull Run water and natural and organic ingredients, sourced locally whenever possible.
WHERE TO FIND THEM:
Distillery Tasting Room: 900 SE Salmon St, Portland. Open Wed – Sun, 12 pm – 6 pm.
Farmers Markets: Beaverton (Saturday), Portland PSU (Saturday)
Retail: Many local retailers! Search the OLCC website or see here for out of state carriers.
Online: Binny’s Beverage Depot
SEEDERS & FEEDERS THEY SUPPORT:
Bob’s Red Mill, Water Avenue Coffee Roasters, Camas Country Mill, Baird Family Orchards, Double Circle Farm
New Deal Distillery started in 2004 at a time when craft distilling and the craft cocktail movement were nowhere near as booming as they are today. New Deal was the first distillery in what is now known as Portland’s Distillery Row and the second modern distillery in Portland, after Clear Creek Distillery. They also produced the second Bourbon made in Oregon and are proudly the first Bourbon to be made in Portland.
It was a combination of curiosity and hope that, “if you make something you love well, someone will buy it” that inspired founders Tom Burkleaux and Matthew VanWinkle to go into a complex and mostly uncharted market at the time.
The booze industry is heavily regulated and dealing with prohibition era laws make it incredibly challenging for distillers to start a business.
Tom Burkleaux gives credit to the support of Portland’s craft brewing community and the natural collaborative environment of the city itself: “this city has taught me – ‘I don’t know how to do this but we’re going to do it’. It is a supportive community and brewers help each other,” says Tom.
When Tom first started making his own vodka in 2001, there wasn’t even a term for what he was doing. “Back then we didn’t have a name for it. We certainly didn’t call it craft distilling,” Tom says. His inspiration to begin distilling was born from a fondness for vodka and the economic uncertainty during the recession of the early 2000s. “I thought, why don’t I make my own booze and it was the most obvious idea that I’d ever had.”
Tom, along with his friend Matt VanWinkle, started in a tiny 10 x 12-foot commercial space in SE Portland’s industrial district. With a single still, day jobs and many nights spent high on the thrill of experimentation, Tom and Matt were able to push through until they received their license in 2004. Six months later they launched their Basic Vodka.
With the number of craft brewers and talent in the Portland area it was clear to Tom something was happening and he found himself wondering why more people weren’t doing it. “Information was so limited then, I didn’t know where to start”, Tom remembers. “In the first year people kept asking us if we were joking. It took me six years to figure out how to make it work.”
“In some ways, I miss that innocence” Tom says.
Their simple philosophy to “make it simple, make it right” and practice of keeping it as local as possible has made New Deal a cornerstone of the Portland craft distillery movement as well as the overall local food movement.
For Tom, New Deal Distillery remains a passion project. He is a computer programmer by day and craft distiller in his spare time. “After 14 years still I am still working without pay but am able to provide employees a good place to work”, says Tom about whether or not he will ever be able to become a full time distiller.
New Deal Distillery has greatly expanded its product line to include: Portland 88, Hot Monkey, Mud Puddle, and New Deal Vodkas, Gin No. 1, New Deal 33 Portland Dry Gin, Coffee Liqueur and new Ginger Liqueur. For Tom and Matthew of New Deal, craft distilling is about creating unique spirits and getting to know their fans one drink at a time.
Tom and his team continue to explore new projects which include but certainly not limited to working with winemakers to create Imbue, trying out a Sochu, even a Hop Works whiskey.
“We are still writing the New Deal story”, says Tom, who looks as excited and inspired as one can imagine that he did on the day it all started.
Advice from Tom Burkleaux:
“Gotta duck or get shot in the head”
“Practice denial and focus on what you have to do today”
“It’s work and as long as you realize its work, its a business and a hard business. You’ve got to be able to deal with paper work.”
“Think outside the box”
“You have to scale more than you think you will to be successful”
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