(Photo above | by Cascade Business News)
Craft Distiller Returns Downtown with Prohibition Era Style Tasting Room
Homegrown craft spirits success story Bendistillery is celebrating a reinvigorated return to its earlier roots with the opening of a stylish new tasting room in the heart of downtown Bend.
The small batch distillery helped ignite the American craft cocktail revolution when it launched in 1996 with the release of in-house vodka and gin under the Crater Lake label, dispensed from its original ‘Martini Bar’ premises tucked by the breezeway off Brooks Street across from Mirror Pond.
With a fervent original wish to just “live in the mountains and make great spirits”, the independently-owned artisan producer has grown exponentially in the last 20 years.
Over those two decades it has continued to release innovative new products – such as infused vodkas (Hazelnut Espresso, Pepper, and Sweet Ginger), Reserve issues, ground-to-bottle Estate spirits, Special Projects (Hatch Green Chile Vodka) and Rye Whiskey — and has expanded out of Oregon to reach a distribution footprint covering thirty-two states.
The award-winning distillery left Bend and moved operations to a 24-acre farm property in Tumalo in 2010 to allow “a little more elbow room” where visitors could enjoy free tastings and tours seven days a week, as well as a gift shop in the main building anchoring the sprawling property.
But in recent years, as Bend’s beverage-based tourism profile rose ever higher, Bendistillery leaders, founder Jim Bendis and CEO Alan Dietrich, decided the time was ripe for a return to the city’s increasingly vibrant downtown.
That vision has now come to fruition with the recent opening of a new tasting room facility on Bond Street — sandwiched between Deschutes Brewery Public House and Café Sintra – evoking a bygone era when American spirits were again a hot commodity.
Dietrich said, “We wanted the place to look like a bar that would have opened in the 1920s and ‘30s, but as if it was new, rather than a retro approach, with the art deco touches appropriate for a 100-year-old building.
“The space really fits our brand — we carry Prohibition Era-style gin and our American rye whiskey also reflects that period.”
The tasting room features some 2,000 square feet of public space together with 1,000 square feet of storage and four-panel accordion windows that can be opened to the street frontage. As well as offering small tastings and cocktails, the premises can sell merchandise and sealed bottles. More recent, less restrictive regulations surrounding taste room requirements means that installation of a kitchen was not necessary.
Dietrich added, “We wanted it to feel new and fresh and be a part of the businesses downtown that feed off each other and drive traffic in all directions. We are happy to be in that mix and we can be somewhat like a ‘waiting room’ for everyone in town as people are visiting downtown as a full experience.
“We are currently open from 11am to 9pm, about when most peoples’ plans for dinner are done, and offer samples and a full retail section and hope people shop us.
“The size of the space means that we can stage small events too as things evolve, including in an educational direction. We want to be involved in everything that happens downtown and help support that sector.
“It is exciting to be back downtown, but different from the first time around as the old Martini Bar was a full-on bar type premises. It did great things for the Crater Lake brand but this is a true tasting room with no food and smaller tastings.
“It is more about people coming in, sampling, buying a bottle and shirts and learning about craft spirits in general and our brand in particular.
“The site selection was influenced partly by the volume of visitors now downtown and a complementary dynamic is that the bar is much higher now for establishments and we had to step up our game.
“It is good to get people excited about craft spirits and our emphasis is all geared toward the public supporting our brand.
“With the amount of specialist operators including breweries and distilleries in the area, people are going to Bend to specifically eat and drink. It is more of a tourist trap downtown and being close to Deschutes Brewery and others means the new location is in that epicenter of craft and culinary tourism.”
Dietrich said the company looked at a number of locations in town, including the Old Mill District – which itself has a wide reach including a high volume of tourists — and other “up and coming” areas, but in the final analysis wanted to be in a historic part of downtown.
He commented, “We are Bendistillery after all, and wanted to contribute to the dynamic downtown.
“It has been a somewhat challenging and lengthy process; we started in September 2015 with the planning stages and working through permits, and sat on our hands for almost a year while navigating various hurdles.
“Remodeling an older building requires creativity and patience but we had a great landlord to work with and a fantastic project team.
“Now we are finally open, it is great to get more people interested in the brand — they can be informed, tour and leave more educated about our brand and craft spirits.”
As far as current developments, Dietrich said aged whiskey was an exciting trend in the industry right now, together with more variations in gin out in the marketplace. Vodka remained a strong product line for Bendistillery, with unique flavored spirits in that dimension continuing to hold interest.
More collaboration was in the works, following the successful launch last year of Black Butte Whiskey, which was developed in conjunction with
Created over three years, the malt whiskey was double distilled from the wash of Deschutes Brewery’s flagship Black Butte Porter beer, with the limited edition first batch release selling out in just 30 minutes.
Dietrich observed, “Whiskey is special as it takes on the personality of the climate in which it is aged, rather like the ‘terroir’ environment in the case of wine.
“The release for the next round of Black Butte Whiskey is scheduled for the fall as part of a whole series of releases in which each will have its own unique flavor. It was exciting to see the overwhelming public response to the first batch produced and we will continue to do things to make each issue special.”
He added that the new Bond Street tasting room space was designed by his wife, Angela Dietrich, adding, “She really took the lead on all fronts and has a great eye and great style. We are happy to have her talents and she had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve.
“We also had the benefit of working with top-notch general contractor Tony Gaines Construction. Tony has done work with us for several years, and in that time has developed a lot of expertise regarding the ins and outs associated with our business including distillery and restaurant codes and so forth.
“He and his crew are valued members of the team on our projects and I think we pulled off a quality end result.”
Gaines said, “One of the biggest challenges of this project was dealing with an older building and trying to modernize the space and bring it up to today’s code standards while keeping within budget restraints.
“I have been involved in construction projects with Bendistillery for almost seven years and they are great people to work with — they are very dedicated and a great client.
“They trust me to give input and are collaborative and open-minded regarding concepts brought forth, especially when we were steering through the process and coming up with alternatives for the downtown location.
“We are very happy with the result. I am gratified to have the crew and subcontractors that worked with me on the project and to have the valued relationship with Bendistillery. The renovation proved successful in having a satisfied client and a very cool space.”
Founded in 1996, Bendistillery is one of the nation’s first craft distilleries and is still the most awarded craft distillery in the country. The company’s flagship Crater Lake Spirits brand are traditional American style gins, vodkas and whiskies all produced at their distillery in Tumalo outside Bend, Oregon.
Crater Lake Spirits Tasting Room
1024 NW Bond St. • 541-318-0200
Contractor: Tony Gaines Construction
Square Footage: 2,000
Project Manager: Tony Gaines
Subcontractors and Suppliers:
Accent Lighting, B&C Smith Contracting, LLC, Bend Cabinets and Fixtures, Bobcat & Sun, Inc., Bryan Young Plumbing, Downtown Ornamental Iron, Guarantee Glass and Mirror, Heartland Painting, LLC, James Addison Masonry, Inc., Nelson Tile and Stone, Inc., Pioneer Woodworking, Inc., Revive Upholstery & Design and Team Air, LLC.