Ted Pappas will tell you his love affair with whiskey started early. When he was a boy in North Carolina, his dad owned a restaurant and two uncles were in the distillery business. “At an early age I knew more about spirits than I probably should have,” he says with a laugh.
And as he grew up, that passion matured too, culminating in the founding of Portland-based Big Bottom Whiskey, a small batch whiskey producer, which began distributing in 2011.
Big Bottom, named for a swath of old growth wilderness on the southwestern flank of Mt. Hood, currently bottles three main varieties — American straight bourbon, a straight bourbon finished in a port cask and another finished in a zinfandel cask. (A rotating fourth special warehouse series is sold exclusively out of the tasting room.)
Pappas, who is vice president of the Oregon Distillers Guild, says craft bourbon production is on the rise across the country and in Oregon. Oregon’s craft distillery boom started in the mid-2000s and now includes 36 distilleries. Many of them started with vodka, which doesn’t need to be aged and therefore gets to market faster.
But bourbon has captured the attention of distillers like Pappas as well as Bull Run Distilling, Eastside Distilling, Ransom Wines & Spirits, House Spirits Distillery, Oregon Spirit Distillers and others. “We have the right place to do whiskey,” Pappas says, pointing to Oregon’s barley production and the moderate climate. “The barrels like it,” he says.
And whiskey drinkers like Big Bottom. The zinfandel cask finished bourbon recently won a gold medal at the Best Bourbon 2013 awards hosted by TheFiftyBest.com, an online fine living guide. Pappas has also won golds at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the 2011 MicroLiquor Spirit Awards.
Find Big Bottom Whiskey at about 90 of the OLCC stores in state, or visit the Hillsboro tasting room on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. and by appointment.
Bartender Bonus: We asked Pappas how to drink whiskey in winter. Here’s his answer:
The New York Cocktail
2 oz. Big Bottom Whiskey
½ oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. simple syrup
¼ tsp. grenadine
Stir with ice, serve up in cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.