Oregon is a pioneer in beer, wine, and spirits, but one thing we lack is ready-to-drink cocktails in cans or bottles, partially due to regulations from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. But now, thanks to some innovation from a distiller and some help from a state senator and officials at the OLCC, we’re about to see our first canned mixed drinks: Bloody Knuckles’ Astoria Mary, a canned bloody mary from Pilot House Distilling in Astoria.
Lawrence Cary, founder of Pilot House Distilling, has faced some hurdles since opening in 2014. Early on he was forced to change the name twice after two separate lawsuits. More recently, he developed a line of canned, pre-mixed bloody marys. After receiving clearance from the TTB, Cary was ready to start selling, when a call from the OLCC shut down his operations. Apparently, at 10 percent alcohol by volume, it wasn’t strong enough to be legally sold as a liquor, which required 17 percent alcohol by weight.
However, Brian Fleming, the Director of Distilled Spirits at the OLCC, was working directly with Pilot House, and felt that the law was outdated. He told Cary that they would work with legislators in Salem to change it. Executive Director Steven Marks then called up State Senator Betsy Johnson. Johnson had worked with the OLCC on legislation concerning Ye Ol’ Grog, a St Helens distillery, and its boozy ice cream. Both she and Fleming expressed to Eater PDX their admiration of Oregon’s innovative distillery scene, as well as the ambition of our small businesses, especially in rural areas.
Johnson was able to attach a rider to a senate bill on distillery licenses that changed the minimum liquor in a product from 17 percent by weight to 10 percent by volume. The bill was voted through unanimously, and was signed by the governor in early July with an effective date of June 29. Fleming called up Cary, and told him he could move the cans to the front counter, where they’ve been reportedly flying off the shelves.
The Astoria Mary is Pilot House’s spicy jalapeño-lime vodka combined with “Bloody Knuckles” bloody mary mix. It also gets a tomatillo jalapeño drinking vinegar from Grumpy Dog, a sister establishment owned by Cary’s wife, Christina. Currently, it’s found in four-packs of 355ml cans at the distillery, but expect to start seeing it appear in liquor stores around the state. This new legislation opens the doors for other distillers, meaning you could start seeing more canned cocktails from your favorite liquor makers. As for Cary, he’s currently working on contacting Portland based ginger beer companies to start on a possible Moscow Mule collaboration, while looking ahead to even more canned drink ideas.
Pilot House Distilling: 1270 Duane St., Astoria
- Pilot House Distilling [Official]