Back in 2011, when Cannon Beach Distillery was still in its inception, owner and founder Mike Selberg was in a small-batch frame of mind. The young entrepreneur only had the funds to make a couple of barrels of whiskey, which he fermented, distilled and poured into barrels to age. Flash forward a couple of years, and Selberg found himself with a mailing list of about 3,000 customers jonesing for the mere 150 bottles of single-release whiskey he’d finished. “I never thought it would be so successful or sought after,” Selberg says. “I am trying to catch up.”
Selberg, now 31, may be playing catch-up, but Cannon Beach Distillery is definitely catching on. The craft spirit maker recently won best in class from the American Distilling Institute for his amber rum, Donlon Shanks. That rum also took bronze at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and Selberg’s light rum, Dorymen’s Rum, won a silver medal from the American Craft Spirits Association. Cannon Beach Distillery also makes Il Keyote (a tongue in cheek name for his agave spirit that he can’t called tequila) Peters’ Family Gin, which he describes as a kind of dirty martini gin, and Lost Buoy Gin, citrusy in flavor.
Selberg was born and raised in the Portland area and spent summers at a family vacation home in Cannon Beach. He studied biology and chemistry at University of Puget Sound, where he dabbled in home brewing. After graduating in 2008, Selberg was asked about distilling by some friends tinkering with a home still. He found that his chemistry classes had prepared him well for the craft. He was intrigued, and he jumped headlong into distilling. “It was really engaging. I really like working with my hands.” he says. “I like naturally processes. I like knowing how stuff works.”
Cannon Beach Distillery joins a small, growing community of distilleries on the Coast that includes Rogue Ales & Spirits in Newport, Brandy Peak Distilling in Brookings, and North Coast Distilling in Astoria.
For now, Selberg’s spirits are only available at the distillery and the local liquor store, Cannon Beach Liquor. Selberg doesn’t have any plans to get big faster. “I really don’t want to give up any step of the process. Everything happens in this shop.”
Staying small doesn’t reduce the demand for his spirits. Selberg has customers who plan weekend trips around a stop at the distillery, and those special release days inspire diehards from as far away as Seattle to drive down for pickup.
Selberg says he always hopes customers enjoy the product, but also wants them to walk away with a better understanding of craft distilling. “I want people to see it as an artistic venture. I want to make something that is an express of how intricate this process this is.”
Cannon Beach Distillery is open from noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday in the spring and six days a week in summer. 255 North Hemlock, Cannon Beach, 503.436.0301