Freeland Spirits: Meet the Women Behind this Portland DistilleryBy Colin Howard
Three years ago, Freeland Spirits put down roots in the Northwest Industrial District of Portland, OR. The Pacific Northwest brand set about the task of creating a gin with an uncommon source of inspiration. Of course, the last decade or so in craft distilling has seen no shortage of creative and “rule-breaking” gin recipes. But Freeland’s founding team of CEO Jill Kuehler and Master Distiller Molly Troupe approached things from a different angle: can a gin capture a memory?
The memory in question was seeded in Kuehler’s childhood. She absorbed a myriad of aromas, colors and textures that sprung from the garden of her Grandma Freeland—MeeMaw, for short. Over a wide ranging set of trials, that memory found a new stage in Freeland Spirits Gin.
The Early Days
Before the pair met, the inspiration for Freeland Spirits gained momentum in conversations with another of Kuehler’s friends and current collaborators, Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Wallowa, OR. “Whenever Cory would come to town, we would always drink whiskey together,” Kuehler recalls. Over these shared drinks, they discussed Kuehler’s goal of building a woman-led distillery featuring locally grown grains and botanicals. Carman had been eager to add quality grain production to the ranch, and told Kuehler, “ I’ll grow it, if you make it.” In that moment, the path was laid for Freeland Spirits to move forward.
While vetting potential spaces and working through different bottle designs, Kuehler was also seeking the right distiller to partner with. She had heard that a recent Heriot-Watt University Distilling program graduate named Molly Troupe was right down the highway in Hood River, OR. After a series of conversations, it turned out to be an unlikely detail that brought Troupe across the fence. “I had talked to a lot of people (about starting distilleries), and hadn’t ended up doing that for a number of reasons, but Jill had proven to be very determined, and actually with her bottle design, I was like, ‘oh yeah, she knows what she is doing!’”
Bottling a Memory
With the vision for a gin in place, Troupe set out to create the recipe using techniques that would communicate Kuehler’s childhood family garden. Drawing on her strong chemistry training, Troupe approached building the recipe with a meticulous attention to detail. She distilled each of the chosen botanicals individually. Centering the recipe around juniper, she also included pink peppercorn, coriander and star anise as well as fresh citrus elements. Looking back, they both remember—with some humor—experimenting over multiple bench trials. They went “pipette by pipette, mixing each and every ingredient together”. They both agreed that the spirit was not quite where it should be even after months of blending.
During a hike in Portland’s Forest Park, Troupe was reminded of a certain tool from her chemistry studies. She asked Kuehler if she had ever heard of a RotoVap (a tabletop machine that essentially allows for cool distillation). “It really was the key piece to making the garden freshness of MeeMaw’s garden come to life,” Troupe affirms. “I put the five botanicals I wanted from the recipe in there, [made the final blend], and it was like ‘walk away, don’t tinker!’”
This fortuitous moment seemed to materialize in a flash, but really rested upon years of persistence, creativity and expertise. These qualities quickly placed Freeland at the top of its field and on a great foundation for the future.
Next Steps for Freeland Spirits
Freeland Spirits Gin is swiftly winning hearts and minds on back bars all over Portland. And it’s steadily making inroads in other markets as well. And while they keep a keen focus filling that pipeline, the pair have pushed full steam ahead with their whiskeys. Their current offering is a delicious, sourced bourbon that is finished in previously held Elk Cove Oregon Pinot Noir casks. It’s a dynamic and lively bourbon showing delicate spice, toasted nut and vanilla characteristics that elevate from the French oak.
Still in barrel, but showing very well is the estate-grown rye whiskey sourced from Carman Ranch. The release of this much anticipated rye may be years away, but Troupe expressed confidence in its timing. “It can be hard to know when to just stop. It can be hard to know when you have something, and to just leave it be,” she said. “We are really good at feeding off of each other and knowing when things are ready.”
In just three short years, Kuehler and Troupe know when their next project is truly on target. So whether it’s next month or next year, fans of Freeland Spirits have come to trust that each bottle is always worth the wait.
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