When the founders of Crater Lake Spirits first began their company, their mission was simple: Live in the mountains and make great spirits. That was 1996. Now, 25 years later, the spirits producer has experienced exponential growth, but it has continued to stick to its roots, with a focus on celebrating and supporting local.
According to Crater Lake Spirits CEO, Alan Dietrich, Jim Bendis founded the distillery in Bend, Oregon, during a time when craft beverages were on everyone’s mind. The Oregon and Washington wine business was well established, and breweries were just starting to take off. “The spark that did it for him was running through the woods and seeing all of the juniper, and nobody was making a craft gin out of it,” says Dietrich. In 1996, Crater Lake Spirits launched with its flagship gin, utilizing locally sourced juniper from Central Oregon’s high desert, along with the concurrent release of a vodka.
From the get-go, the distillery was focused on local ingredients and small batches. And Central Oregon was the perfect place to accomplish just that. With plentiful produce grown throughout Oregon, coupled with an exceptional water source, Crater Lake Spirits was on track to produce extraordinary spirits. “We learned that the water here in Central Oregon makes really good distilled spirits,” Dietrich says. “If you don’t have good water, you won’t have a good product.”
As the spirits producer has continued to grow over the past 25 years – producing everything from whiskey, gin, vodka and infused vodkas – it has remained true to its roots. “We think it’s important to support local. It’s a big deal for us here,” says Dietrich. “And we’re lucky to be based in the Northwest where people want to support local.”
Given all that Oregon has to offer, it is easy to see why. Utilizing hazelnuts grown by Oregon farmers, the first flavored product from the distillery was its Hazelnut Espresso Vodka. Their Northwest Berry Vodka, first developed as a way to utilize leftover fruit that growers weren’t able to sell at farmer’s markets, is still made with fruit sourced from small family farms. Once Crater Lake Distillery decided to get into the whiskey game, they knew starting with a rye whiskey made the most sense. “Bourbon was the major player at the time, but we decided to do a rye whiskey, following the tradition of growing rye in Central Oregon,” says Dietrich. “We use locally grown grains, still sourced in Central Oregon.”
Now, the distillery is looking to the future with the completion of a new production and warehouse facility on its Tumalo, Oregon, property, just a few minutes north of Bend. After making a switch to utilizing recycled products for packaging, along with composting all spent grain and fruits, this corporate spirits producer is maximizing every effort to remain environmentally friendly.
As for what’s next after celebrating 25 years at this award-winning craft distillery? Dietrich says there’s a focus on keeping up with the company’s growth and not sacrificing what made them special in the first place all while continuing to turn inward and making themselves as responsible of a corporate citizen as possible.
Molly Allen is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on food and beverage, travel and entertaining. In addition to Sip Magazine & Cidercraft, her work has been published in a number of national and regional publications including Taste of Home, Brides and Washington Tasting Room.