(Guilt) free spirits

David Eliasen had been tinkering around in his Ashland distillery, trying to get the gin right for weeks. In August, when he finally found the right concoction, he was honest with his wife about his process: It was a genuine mistake.

"He was supposed to steep the botanicals for 12 hours, but he forgot about it and left it for 24 hours," said his wife, Diane Paulson, president of Cascade Peak Spirits Inc., an Ashland company that makes Organic Nation Vodka and Organic Nation Gin.

Eliasen, who had been toiling in the Hersey Business Park distillery like a "little mad scientist," according to Paulson, mixed the 24-hour gin with the 12-hour gin to create the taste he was after.

"It was the coincidence of creativity," Paulson said.

Eliasen, who is the company's vice president and who also works full time for the city, now replicates his "mistake" every weekend to make the company's smooth, fragrant gin, infused with 12 botanicals, including juniper berries and angelica root, gathered from Pacific Botanicals in Grants Pass.

Cascade Peak Spirits, founded late in 2007, has established a niche in the growing organic alcohol market and was the first organic distillery in Oregon, according to Paulson. In April the company rolled out its vodka, and in 2009 plans to peddle at least two other types of alcohol.

In January the plan is to start selling ginger vodka, a rare spirit that is made from ginger root. By the summer of 2009 the company hopes its rye whisky, now aging in barrels at the distillery, will be ready to sell.

"We want to give the consumer a choice," Paulson said. "We think we're on the forefront of a mind shift about drinking quality not quantity."

The longtime Ashland residents "didn't know anything about making spirits" when they decided to begin distilling in 2007, Paulson said. They took a short class in California and toured Oregon distilleries to learn the basics and then flew a professional out from Alabama to teach them the intricacies of making vodka and gin.

Now Eliasen, who daylights as an Ashland electric department employee, spends his free time making moonshine, of the local — and legal — variety.

"Most Oregonians like products that are made in Oregon," said Paulson, who along with Mary Toney, production manager, handles the company's day-to-day operations.

Paulson hopes to hire a full-time distiller by the fall of 2009 to enable the company to fortify Southern Oregon wines with brandy, which is done when grapes aren't sweet enough to produce enough alcohol in a wine.

"That's a really exciting opportunity to explore, because right now the wineries have to use a lot of resources and time to ship their wine to Portland to have it fortified," she said.

Cascade Peak Spirits also hopes to move into a larger space in Ashland and buy a bigger distillery to increase production soon. The company, which is certified organic by Oregon Tilth, produces about 300 cases of vodka per month, Paulson said.

She and Toney spend hours meticulously affixing 100 percent recyclable labels to the bottles by hand, because sustainability is important to the company, Paulson said.

In addition to the organic factor, people seem to like the smooth, fresh taste of the spirits, she said. Organic Nation Vodka has already been part of a winning drink made by Standing Stone Bartender for the regional Oregon Bounty Cocktail Contest.

"We've had so many people say, 'I don't really like gin, but I like your gin,'" said Toney.

"That's why we came up with this idea," Paulson added. "It seemed like a good niche and it just fit with our lifestyle and our beliefs. To create something that doesn't use chemicals or fertilizers or herbicides: It's good for the environment and the soil."

Still, Paulson cautioned eager drinkers.

"It's still alcohol. If you drink too much it's not going to be good for you."

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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