Modern Pioneers: Sara Brennan and Trail Distilling

Molly Johnson | 08/02/2018 | Food & Drink, Oregon City, Oregon Trail

Trail Distilling has cemented itself as a must experience destination in Mt. Hood Territory and is the First Distillery in the First City since prohibition. You may not know that the first incorporated city west of the Mississippi River is Oregon City and since prohibition made the production, distribution and sale of alcohol illegal until the 21st Amendment was ratified and ended prohibition in 1933, Trail Distilling is the first legal distillery in Oregon City since that time. 

We paid a visit to co-owner Sara Brennan and had a conversation in their truly beautiful tasting room to learn more: 

OMHT - Why did you choose distilling?:

TD - The craft movement is fantastic in Oregon and we love Oregon City. We live here, its our community, our kids went to school here and one (kid) still does. We wanted to embrace the community and bring spirits back to Oregon City as the First Distillery in the First City since prohibition.

OMHT - What is it about the region and that makers movement that creates such a nurturing environment for businesses like yours?:

TD - Oregon is wonderful. The craft distillery movement is kind of where the beer and wine movement was 20 years ago. Its just starting to ramp up and people want to know where their veggies are grown, their fruit, their grains, everything - they want to be informed. We are a certified farm distiller which means we grow our own rye for our rye whiskey for example, and people like to know that we are the makers and they appreciate that.

OMHT - What makes your spirits different from something we could get at a store from a big name brand?: 

TD - We are craft. So every gin will taste different from every other distiller's gin. We specifically made our Trillium Gin very citrus and floral forward with a balance of juniper so its not your traditional juniper forward gin. It's a London-Dry style and we also have a gin that we aged in an Oregon Pinot noir barrel, so we have two gins. That's a little unusual for most distillers plus you are getting that craft, unique recipe that makes it special.

Related Content: Trail Distilling Keeping Oregon's Spirits Alive

OMHT - What is the most fun part of owning the distillery?: 

TD - The community. Everyone who walks through our door is automatically a family friend. They love to come and hang out as well as ask about our cocktails and that is kind of what lead to our mixology classes.  We also love to take part in events in the community as well as collaborate with other local brewers and wineries for special events. The community here is just so fantastic and we cherish that.

OMHT - What is your process for crafting your spirits? There are recipes that have been around for centuries but you seem to be finding new ways of crafting your own recipes that bridge the gap between the classics and the emerging tastes of today?: 

TD - Yeah we actually have 14 different botanicals in our gin and our gin is just the perfect example of that. it took a year to develop that recipe and we started off on our little alembic still with little pinches of this and that and we knew we didn't want certain botanicals but wanted other ones. If I were to give you a taste of the first couple of batches I don't think you would be impressed so it was a trial and error process. Another differentiating thing about us is how we age the gin in a Pinot noir barrel. We tried a couple of other types of barrels but the Pinot barrel aging was far superior so that's what we stuck with. Also our vodka is different. We started with corn and while there is nothing wrong with corn for vodka we found that the wheat we selected was far superior and a much smoother vodka. It sealed the deal that we were correct with our wheat choice when we learned that it scored a 93.

OMHT - What is coming down the pipeline for Trail Distilling?:

TD - After being open for 21 months we are ready to launch our Rye Whiskey. We've grown our own rye, we harvested it and are preparing to distill it. We'll be putting it in large and small barrels and testing out which is the best so you should come on down and try out the new offerings available now and some others coming soon.

As 2018 Oregon Gin Distillery of the Year award recipient from the New York International Spirits competition, Trail Distilling has garnered national attention but has clearly kept their local pride at the forefront of all they do. Whether you want to come in for a tasting, a cocktail, take a mixology class, join the Trail Club or Barrel Club or even host your own event in their stunning tasting room, you are guaranteed to have a wonderful experience. Plus they are part of Mt. Hood Territory's Tap Trail which offers discounts at all participating breweries, cideries and this special distillery via a free mobile passport.

Next steps:
Download the Mt. Hood Territory Tap Trail mobile passport
Alternative Transportation Options
Lodging nearby

Molly Johnson grew up in Mt. Hood Territory and loves getting to write content inspiring others to visit her beloved home. She is currently generating content for and for the #omht Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest channels. 

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