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Craft spirits venture features Madras grown grains

SUSAN MATHENY - The distillery's merchandise room, on the east side of the building, carries clothing and other items with the company logo, bottles of product displayed in rustic gift boxes, along with plaques and signs with witty sayings about vodka, gin and whiskey.When five Madras aficionados of fine spirits started tossing around the idea of making their own whiskey, they had no idea it would take them four years to launch New Basin Distilling Co.

“Most people don’t realize how hard it is. We started talking about it four years ago, and it’s evolved into what we’ve got today,” said Rick Molitor, who is a partner in the business along with Ryan Boyle, Chris Tatro, Tom Norton Jr. and Greg Williams.

The federal licensing requirements are extensive, plus the craft spirits distilling industry is growing at such a fast pace, that applications are getting backlogged. In addition, after receiving a distillery license in 2014, the partners had to learn the craft of making spirits, purchase and learn how to use the equipment, and then develop their own products.

SUSAN MATHENY - Greg Williams, left, and Chris Tatro, two partners of the New Basin Distilling Co., stand next to the new custom-made still, which was recently installed.Considering it more of a fun hobby than a financial venture, Williams said, “We learned how to do it by trial and error. A couple of the partners are more into the science of it.”

“We just created it until it tasted good to us,” Molitor agreed.

Besides great flavor, they wanted it to be a homegrown, all-Oregon product, and with two farmers as partners, they were off to a good start.

“What’s unique is that we will be one of the first full circle Oregon distilleries. We grow the grain and distill it, and we’re all involved from start to finish,” Williams said.

Williams and Boyle are raising 400 acres of rye for the project, plus in their regular farming they also raise white wheat, barley and some corn.

“Our goal is to have bottles made in Oregon, use Oregon-sourced yeast, and Oregon oak cooperage barrels, and come out with an all-Oregon whiskey,” Molitor said.

New Basin began production in 2015, starting with gin. To get the ball rolling until their own still arrived, they have been purchasing spirits from back East, then “producing,” or processing it at the Madras distillery.

“The whiskey is 140 proof when it comes in and has been barrel aged for over eight years. We adjust the spirits to 80 proof and filter to taste with Opal Springs water, and bottle it. The same is done with the gin and vodka,” Molitor explained.

The result is three main products so far: Strong Whiskey, Stagger Gin and First Cut Vodka. Each name has a meaning. The whiskey is named after Jedediah Strong Smith, an early-day Oregon explorer and trapper from back East; the aviation term “stagger” (for biplane wing positioning) gives a nod to partner Tatro, who is a crop duster; and the term “first cut,” meaning the best pick out of a cattle herd, is a nod to rancher and partner Norton.

Their first public marketing was August 2015 at the Airshow of the Cascades in Madras, where New Basin gin was highlighted at the hangar’s bar and received favorable reviews.

As a craft distiller and retailer, New Basin can offer tastings at the distillery and sell bottles, but cannot sell drinks like a bar. Off site, they can display unopened bottles of their product, but have to get a special event license to offer tastings. However, their product is already available in several restaurants and liquor stores.

At New Basin, 750 ml bottles of gin and vodka sell for $22.05, and whiskey for $43.55. Smaller 375 ml bottles are also available for $13.35 and $22.35, respectively.

Since then, New Basin spirits have been served at local fundraisers including the Rotary Cherry Tree Celebration, and Buff Boosters, Jefferson County Livestock Association, and Friends of the NRA events.

They will get a special event license to do tastings at the upcoming High Desert Stampede Rodeo in Redmond, and are planning for the summer.

“In the summer, we would like to open up the (distillery) door and have some tent parties with food vendors, and tastings,” Norton said.

On March 1, New Basin finally got its towering, custom-made, 24-plate copper still from Carson Distilling Co. in Boise, Idaho, and began installing it.

“We hope to be a full craft distillery and be making our own stuff by April,” Molitor said.

Until then, New Basin’s tasting room will be holding pop-up openings, with days and times advertised on its Facebook page, and website at

New Basin is located just off U.S. Highway 26 (north of Madras at the airport turnoff), at 2063 N.W. Andrews Drive, and the business can be reached at 1-541-288-8334.

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