Tree Spirit

Short on bottle-buying ideas this holiday? One local distiller separates the flavor from the trees with a Douglas fir eau-de-vie.

By Tom Colligan May 19, 2009 Published in the December 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

Looking for something new to put under the tree? Clear Creek’s Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir stands out.

GIVING LIQUOR as a holiday gift can feel like a bit of a punt, a safe fourth-down play—an admission that you’re out of ideas and, really, just looking to hold on to some decent field position.

One thing I’ve learned about the art of gift-giving is that nothing beats local. Local suggests personal, and personal is priceless. A bottle that bears the mark and flavor of our home state comes a lot closer to the true spirit of giving than that fifth of Tanqueray ever will.

Clear Creek Distillery’s Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir ($50) is a 96-proof, brilliant-green infusion of local fruit spirits and the tender buds of Oregon’s most iconic conifer. Eau-de-vie (“water of life”) is a distilled fruit brandy popular in France, home of the spruce-flavored Bourgeons de Sapin—the digestif that inspired Clear Creek’s Steve McCarthy, the dean of Portland’s growing band of distillers.

“It took me 10 years to figure out how to make this,” says McCarthy, who’s been distilling since 1985. “Finding the right balance of forest aroma, extracting the right color, getting the proof right. This is far and away the most difficult of all of our products to make.”

The process begins in the first week of June, when McCarthy dispatches his crew to his family’s property in Parkdale, on the north side of Mount Hood. Everyone spreads out into the forest to pluck buds from the branches of young Douglas firs. They all carry pails of McCarthy’s unaged grape brandy, into which they drop the bright-green tips; the buds will soak for a week before the liquid is distilled. The crew then returns to Parkdale to collect another round of buds to add to the already fir-infused spirits, drawing out additional aromas and extracting the ethereal, pale-green color.

Slightly sweet, with a hint of pear on the nose (from the addition of Clear Creek’s pear eau-de-vie), it sings an unmistakable ode to our forests. Drunk neat after dinner, or used sparingly as a culinary complement (some chefs put it in salad dressings and pan sauces), this liquor will not soon be forgotten by anyone who tastes it. Isn’t that how we’d like all our gifts to be?

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