A Conversation With Ransom Spirits At Billy Sunday

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Apr 10, 2015 7:35PM

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Sheridan cocktail made with Ransom's Henry Duyore Whiskey, Gavoli Fernet, jaggery sugar, Abbott's bitters (Photo by Kaitlyn McQuaid)

With the recent distilling boom, it sometimes seems like everyone and their mom is opening up a small distillery. Unfortunately it's still so early in the boom that not all the results are good, so it's a joy when I encounter a small distillery with a variety of strong spirits in their portfolio. Ransom Wines & Spirits in Sheridan, Oregon is one of these and owner and distiller Tad Seestedt recently dropped by Billy Sunday (3143 W. Logan Blvd.) for an event featuring their spirits and wine.

Yes, wine— maybe the spirits are so good because Seestedt didn't just come out of nowhere on the alcohol scene. He started with wine in 1999 and then started doing small amounts of grape-based spirits like grappa. It wasn't until 2007 that he decided to delve into grain-based spirits. "I had to learn mashing, but luckily we have a lot of microbrewers in Oregon to learn from" Seestedt told me as we tasted Billy Sunday's excellent cocktails made with his spirits.

But while their lineup includes bourbon for now, it won't be there for long, which is a bit surprising given the growing popularity of bourbon. Seestedt says that's because of the requirement to use charred barrels, since he's moving over to using toasted barrels instead. "If you look at the inside of a charred barrel it looks like wood that's been in a fireplace - like charcoal. With toasted you can still see the grain of the wood. I really feel charred barrels do a disservice to the product, which is controversial. But we want the signature of what we put into the product not to get dominated by char." He compares charred barrels to putting steak sauce on a dry aged steak when just a bit of salt and pepper is more appropriate.

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Apertif (carbonated Ransom Dry Vermouth, vitex berry, mineral water) and Crusta (Ransom's Whippersnapper Whiskey, Kina Bianco, Palo Cortado Sherry, Welsh nectar, lemon) cocktails (Photo by Kaitlyn McQuaid)

And since they grow some of their own grain, showcasing the raw grain material is important to them. "People think of the Willamette valley as wet, but there is little rain in the summer and our land doesn't have any water rights." He worked with OSU to find experimental varieties of barley that would thrive on his land. "I love the challenge and the reward of evaluating the finished product to pick up on what raw materials were used" Seestedt says. I sipped a little of the WhipperSnapper Oregon Spirit Whiskey, which was well-balanced and bright with hints of caramel and cinnamon.

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(Photo by Kaitlyn McQuaid)

Another of his products is perfect for a hybrid spirit/wine maker who likes cocktails: vermouth, which is made with his wine and a mixture of local and non-local herbs and roots. It was deliciously bracing and refreshing in the apertif served that night, a carbonated bottled mixture of his dry vermouth, with vitex berry and mineral water. Many people drinking at the bar confessed they hadn't thought much about vermouth, but the cocktail showed off how it shines in even simple preparations even though it's usually buried in more complex cocktails.