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TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Stein Distillery Tasting Room Manager Jonathan Sanchez pours a glass of the Straight Bourbon.
Plenty of small businesses tout their family roots in marketing pitches.


But because members of the Stein family are third-generation farmers, those roots are literally the foundation of their business making whiskey, bourbon, vodka, rum and specialty cordials from the grains they grow near Joseph.

Stein Distillery recently opened its first tasting room outside of the small northeastern Oregon town at Beaverton’s Progress Ridge TownSquare where they showcase their award-winning products to the Portland market.

Distilleries are popping up, including a cluster in Portland, but very few — and apparently none in Oregon — start their process by sowing grains in soil. The Steins, longtime wheat farmers, grow the rye, barley and wheat used to make many of their products. They buy corn from a cousin in Hermiston to make their bourbon.

“I grew up changing sprinkler pipes,” said Austin Stein, an engineer by day who with wife Heather opened the Progress Ridge location while his father, Dan Stein, runs the Joseph farm and distillery.

“We pride ourselves from starting from our own grain,” Heather Stein said. “It’s not mass-manufactured like Jack Daniels. It’s all handmade.”

A decade ago, the family farm was struggling as grain prices plummeted. They tried growing grapes, but the fruit couldn’t handle Northeastern Oregon’s winters.

“We were exploring other venues to make some money,” said Austin Stein, who lives nearby in Tigard but is still tied to the family farm in Joseph.

Introducing a brand

The Steins, who also operate a construction business, bought property in downtown Joseph in 2006 and over the next few years put together the distillery there, about three miles from the farm. Three years later they were selling their first bottles, and business has grown steadily as more and more liquor stores make shelf space for Stein’s unique wildlife-themed bottles.

“Every year we have more and more business,” Austin Stein said.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bottles of bourbon at Stein Distillery.Customers like the idea that the Steins control every step of the process from the grain to their glass.

And it certainly hasn’t hurt that four of their products already have won double-gold at international tasting competitions, which brought increased interest from distributors and liquor stores.

While what’s inside the bottle is making an impression on taste buds, wildlife artist Dan Moncrief’s life-like drawings of bighorn sheep, bull elk and mule deer get attention from the eyes. The Steins note that the ram on their five-year rye whiskey has the horns of a male bighorn that age, while the ram on the two-year bottles is younger to match the whiskey inside.

Austin Stein called the tasting room a natural next step in their marketing efforts and found the right fit along Southwest Barrows Road.

“We just kept coming back to the Progress Ridge area,” he said, standing in their upper-level tasting room a short stroll from Cinetopia's theaters. Expansive windows overlook the main shopping center below.

Austin Stein, an electronic engineer who like Heather also has a day job, used his construction and engineering skills as the Steins fashioned most of the tasting room interior themselves. It’s open and modern with wooden accents harkening to a more rural landscape.

Most impressive is the glass-topped bar showcasing the grains that go into the bottles. It rests atop genuine aging barrels.

Tasting room manager Jonathan Sanchez will sell bottles off a wall of Stein products, but a significant part of the room’s purpose is to introduce the brand to potential customers who might seek it out elsewhere the next time.

“When you go into a liquor store, it’s overwhelming,” Heather Stein said.

Stein products are mid-range, from the low $20s for some vodka, rum and cordials to $50 for its best whiskey aged five years. (Older whiskeys are still aging.)

The tasting room is open from noon to 8 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays.

The Steins are planning an official grand opening of the tasting room in early 2016.

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