Let's drink to Burnside
According to Eastside Distilling's master distiller, Mel Heim, Whiskey and bourbon bottles typical feature a "dead white guy's picture" on the bottle, set on yellowing paper. The folks at Eastside Distilling have kept this in mind as they launch their newly reborn line of Burnside Bourbon craft spirits.
The bottles are designed to jump out from the shelf of brown and beige, with rock and roll poster fronts and high-contrast, screen-printed colors. A drawing of General Burnside was on the old version of the drink, which came in a long-necked bottle. He got the ax.
The Burnside spirits line is unique for having spent time basking in casks made by hand from Oregon Oak. These whiskeys, bourbons and ryes are named after Portland neighborhoods along the historic Portland street, Burnside. The first bottles rolled off the production line on Sept. 30 and started appearing in stores Oct. 2.
Oregon Oak is a protected species and the company supports sustainable harvest of a tree that is found almost only in Oregon. The barrels — made by craftsmen at Oregon Barrel Works in McMinnville or Rewine in Salem — are toasted with torches on the inside to bring out the unique flavor of this native timber. Eastside pioneered Oregon Oak finishing. The others that have copied them often use "adjuncts," that is, loose pieces of toasted oak left in the bourbon to increase the flavor. Using real barrels is costly, Eastside thinks that it is worth it.
According to Eastside's Mel Heim, Oregon oak is unlike the other American white oaks that are used to make the barrels that begin the bourbon aging process. "Oregon Oak, or 'Garryana' as the species is called, is almost sponge like from the fast growing it does in the wet Oregon winters. Not only does it soak up the bourbon and deeply flavor it, it has an unusually high content of vanillin when charred. Vanillin is a natural compound that mocks vanilla bean flavoring and a little hint of it is a great compliment to bourbon."
Each of the Burnside bourbons and American whiskeys is named for a different neighborhood off Burnside Street, which locals know bisects Portland but also runs the way to Mount Hood. West End, Goose Hollow and Buckman.
The branding is by rebranding powerhouse Sandstrom Partners, which is responsible for the appeal of brands such as Bulleit Bourbon, St-Germain liqueur and Steven Smith Tea.
Grover Wickersham, chairman and chief executive officer of Eastside Distilling, said "We think that we make an amazing bourbon. Sandstrom Partners amazing bottle design is true to our Portland roots and matches the quality of our bourbon."
Wickersham added, "Burnside Street became notorious in the 1860s for liquor and card rooms that drew the sailors from the large dock at the foot of B, C, and D Streets, the original names for Burnside, Couch, and Davis. The street's reputation for saloons and sailors may be an unsavory association for a bottled water brand, but I think it is the perfect association for an old school whiskey."
Kelly Bohls of Sandstrom partners commented, "Burnside Bourbon now represents its namesake's personality and character as one of Portland's most historical East/West arteries and a reference point for Portland's independent music scene. It's whiskey from the heart of Portland."
Eastside Distilling, in Southeast Portland's Distillery Row, has been around since 2008. It's known for its Barrel Hitch American Whiskies, Burnside Bourbon, Below Deck Rums, Portland Potato Vodka, plus a line of infused whiskeys. Their Portland Potato Vodka brand has recently been expanded by the addition of their Hot Potato Vodka, a habanero seeped vodka made in collaboration with local hot sauce company, Secret Aardvark.
Eastside began small but has grown with the popularity of its spirits, with five tasting rooms across the region and a new facility in Milwaukie to satisfy its expanding customer base. According to figures published by the Oregon Liquor Commission, Eastside's case sales in August were up by an impressive 88 percent over August 2016. Eastside Distilling went public on the Bulletin Board Exchange in 2015. In 2016 the stock uplisted to the NASDAQ Exchange (symbol: ESDI) and Sandstrom is now a shareholding partner.
In March, Eastside merged with MotherLode Craft Spirits, which bottles and produces craft brands. And in May, they acquired a percentage of Hillsboro-based Big Bottom Distilling, craft maker of gins, American single malt whiskeys, ryes and bourbon in a move that will further expand efficiencies and keep the creative juices flowing. With Big Bottom Distilling came Oregon craft spirt pioneer, Ted Pappas, and Travis Schoney, a former lead distiller at High West Whiskey in Utah, a famous craft spirits success story.