Like many professionals emerging in the American craft distilling scene, Christian Krogstad got his start in beer and wine making. He began as a brewer at Portland’s infamous restaurant chain McMennamins before he went to the Siebel Institute of Technology for brewing school. He headed back to the Northwest after graduation to open Orchard Street Brewery in Bellingham, Washington, and then returned to Portland where he managed Carlton Winemakers Studio. In 2002 he opened House Spirits Distillery with his partner Lee Medoff. “[Distilling] is very much in the same vein of brewing and winemaking,” says Krogstad. “It’s part art and part science.”
Krogstad says that new distillers are a lot like new brewers. “People learn their craft by making the existing styles of beer…and then realize quickly that they can’t because they aren’t in the same environment, or have the same water or the same ingredients.”
When he started making gin, he realized quickly that he didn’t want to make London Dry style gin because Portland didn’t have the same environment, water, or ingredients as London. “And people’s palates are different in Portland than in London,” he adds.
Krogstad used coriander, orange peel, lavender, Indian Sarsaparilla, aniseed and cardamom to balance out the bite of the juniper berries in his gin. “We wanted gin that was drinkable on its own,” he says. “We wanted a certain blend of botanicals — a balance of floral, spicy, and citrus flavors. There were a lot of test batches.”
Ryan Magarian, the owner of Liquid Relations cocktail consultancy in Portland and the co-founder of the Aviation Gin brand, got a hold of one of these test batches and joined forces with House Spirits, naming the gin after his favorite gin cocktail. “It was the first gin cocktail that changed my life,” he says. “It was that drink that made me rethink gin. That’s what we want Aviation to be: It makes you rethink gin.”
With its experimental botanicals and surprising lack of juniper flavor, Aviation does make consumers rethink gin. So much so that Magarian decided that it fell into an entire new style of gin. He coined the term “New Western” gin to embody the new gins on the market using a balance of botanicals rather than singularly focusing on juniper. “I’m always naming things,” he says.
Magarian also named his craft “distology,” to describe the bartender-distiller relationship he’d engaged in to create high-quality spirits that are relevant to the craft cocktail scene.
House Spirits is establishing itself as a kingpin of this craft cocktail, and craft distilling scene. In addition to their internationally acclaimed gin, Krogstad and his team make whiskey, aquavit and a small-batch line of seasonal spirits called Stillroom. They are currently working on a coffee liqueur. And they have Krogstad’s passion for all things fermented ensuring the quality of their products.
“My experience with alcohol production was colored by the early days of the micro-brewing revolution,” says Krogstad. “We take the same sort of innovative spirit and creativity to the spirits industry that we did to the brewing industry before.”
Hooch from House Spirits Distillery
House Spirits Whiskey