(Michael Hart, owner and distiller at Gompers Distillery in Redmond | Photo by Kristine Thomas)
There was a time when Michael and Jessica Hart could never find a versatile gin to suit the various ways they enjoyed drinking it — neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail.
“We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 different gin bottles in our bar as we found each one had one to two uses,” Michael said. “One evening, Jessica suggested we make our own gin, and the rest is history.”
The Harts founded Gompers Distillery in 2012. They chose the name to honor Jessica’s grandfather, Herman Gompers, who was a Holocaust survivor from Holland, where gin originated. Michael said he was fortunate to know Herman for several years before he passed away in 2012.
“Herman and Deborah met just after World War II ended. They were the most loving, generous and inspirational people. They loved life, family and gin, and they were our inspiration,” Michael said. “They had an incredible upbeat outlook on life. We named the distillery after Herman, and his picture is on our labels and our secret bookcase room is named the Waterman room after Deborah.”
Family is a cornerstone in their business. Jessica and Michael work together at the distillery and often bring their two young sons to the office. Jessica’s dad, Jerry, began working with them in 2014 when he retired from the United States Navy as a commander and subsequently also retired from the Army Corps of Engineers.
After years of paying to use other facilities, they decided to open their own distillery in Redmond on April 2, 2019.
A retired attorney, Michael’s approach to learning how to make gin and vodka was knowing the flavor profile he and Jessica desired. They wanted to create spirits with their unique twist on them with the flavor, smoothness and versatility they enjoyed.
“We learned how to make gin and vodka by surrounding ourselves with people who know how to make it and the rest is history,” Michael said. “Since then, I have spent time with distillers and brewers and try to learn as much as I can about the process others use. I am grateful to the other distillers and brewers who share their knowledge and experiences.”
Each distiller and distillery has its own process and flavor profile, Michael shared, adding many distilleries do not even own a still.
“What makes our business unique is we are a family, woman and veteran owned distillery and the only distillery in Redmond,” Michael said. “We own an iStill which is made in Holland and fits in line with who we are and our distillery named after my Dutch grandfather-in-law and is the only iStill in Oregon. Instead of basing our business on creating numerous products and solely generating as much revenue as we can, we focus on creating spirits we love, sharing that passion with the public, and having fun along the way.”
Michael said being a craft distiller, family-owned small business and entrepreneur has its own challenges on a normal day. The pandemic has created an entirely new set of learning curves, including closing the tasting room in March. Plus they welcomed their second son this summer. They are hoping to reopen the tasting room on the weekends in Novembers and have a bi-weekly farmer’s market to support other local businesses.
“Since March, we have had many more ups and downs then we should due to the pandemic and the state’s response including shutdowns and restrictions,” Michael said. “Even with challenges, I wake up every day knowing how lucky we are to run our own business, and that the public enjoys our spirits. I am always proud when I’m in a liquor store, restaurant or bar and see people enjoying Gompers Spirits as much as we do.”
Believing in supporting local businesses, Michael buys his ingredients from local farmers and uses only bottles and corks made in the United States. He also appreciates the incredible support he has received from local businesses, the Redmond Chamber of Commerce and EDCO.
“My advice to people considering starting their own business is that they won’t know everything going into starting a business so be prepared for highs and lows, successes and failures and the ride of a lifetime,” Michael said. “I wouldn’t trade this for anything and absolutely love being a craft distiller. To be successful you must be prepared to ride the highs and lows, learn from the successes and failures and always be willing to ask questions, seek help from people in the same industry and maintain a positive and happy attitude.”