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Freeland Spirits: Good drinks and warm hospitality

A unique Portland distillery with a woman owner and talented woman distiller, Freeland Spirits is serving up “farm to bottle” gin, whiskey, and canned cocktails.

Freeland Spirits Hellbitch Still
Joss Flanzbaum
Joss Flanzbaum

Who wouldn’t want to sample spirits made in a still named Hellbitch from a distillery that hosts Drag Bingo?  If this sounds like your cup or tea, or gin, then walk, ride or uber over to the tasting bar at Freeland Spirits in Portland.

Freeland, however, is far more than an avant-garde hot spot for a drink. This distillery—woman owned and operated—is home to some of the most intriguing spirits I’ve been privileged to sample.  From their signature genever style gin to blended bourbon and farm to bottle whiskey coming down the line, this Oregon gem’s production is simply stunning.

Photo credit: Joss Flanzbaum

Releasing its first spirit in late 2017, Freeland has quickly become a standout in a city known for its food and drink.  The distillery was founded by Jill Kuehler and named after her Grandmother “Meemaw” Freeland who, ironically, never touched a drop of alcohol.  Guided by one of her favorite sayings, “The good things come from the earth, “Kueler’s vision is to produce spirits with locally grown grains and botanicals to create a true farm to bottle product. 

Photo credit: Joss Flanzbaum

Master distiller and fellow Oregonian Molly Troupe was brought on board at the outset. Raised in Oregon and earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Southern Oregon University, she then traveled to Scotland and received a master’s degree from Heriot-Watt University in brewing and distilling. In so doing, she became the youngest female master distiller in the United States. Using a “rotovap” (rotary evaporator) to extract maximum flavor from her carefully selected botanicals, Troupe manifests how she blends her strong technical education and natural creativity to bring her personal spirit to the products she creates.

Freeland Spirits Distiller Molly Troupe and Founder Jill Kueler; Photo credit: Freeland Spirits

On our recent trip to the Rose City, my wife and I were able to sample four of Freeland’s outstanding offerings. The whiskey is a bourbon, blended by Troupe, and finished in local Oregon Elk Cove Pinot Noir barrels. The rich mahogany color entices the eyes, while the aroma of toasted nuts and sweet toffee excite the nose. The flavor is smooth and well rounded, with brown sugar, and caramel notes, and just a touch of holiday spice at the finish.

The gin, poured from a gorgeous blue tear drop shaped bottle, is crisp, clean and smooth. Fresh scents of cucumber, mild mint, lemon and, of course, juniper, are noticeable immediately. The taste is smooth, with a crisp botanical essence, accentuated by a subtle citrus tanginess that makes this a perfect gin for drinking straight, on the rocks, or mixed with any tonic water. It is also excellent in any classic gin drink.

Photo credit: Joss Flanzbaum

“If a really good botanical gin and a really great rye had a baby, and she was beautiful, this is what she would taste like”, said Troupe, as we sipped her Geneva, a genever style gin. 

Made with locally grown Rye and Oregon hazelnuts, this is truly a unique and outstanding spirit. It has the crisp clarity of the gin, where juniper is certainly the highlight. There is also an intriguing whisky-like depth of flavor from the rye and a homey hint of baked bread in the lingering finish imparted by the grains. The botanicals shine as well, adding a spiciness that is well tempered by the overall smooth character of this liquor.
The final taste was the canned gin and rose tonic. This is a remarkably successful pairing of the Freeland Gin and Portland Syrup’s Rose tonic. Unlike many canned cocktails, this is neither too sweet, nor too placid. The taste is pure summer: back porch barbecues, blue skies, pool parties and beaches. We even enjoyed it on a rainy cold Portland afternoon in November.

From start to finish, everything the entirely female management team is doing at Freeland Spirits and Distillery is first class. From the elegant and eye-catching bottles, to the artistic choice of botanicals in the gin, from the locally sourced ingredients to the open and inviting tasting room and bar, no detail is missed. I am already looking forward to the farm to bottle rye that is planned for future release.

Freeland products are becoming widely available around the western states, in fine stores, restaurants and bars. Whether you can visit in person, or buy their products at a distance, do yourself a favor and try the fine spirits of Freeland. 

If you go: During the pandemic, check website for details.

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