If you’re prone to fits of loneliness or you fear the thought of an empty Inbox, I highly recommend starting a blog. Every day, a cavalcade of publicity works its way through my Gmail account: press releases, newsletters, public betas – you name it. A lot of these emails are exceedingly mundane, and many of them are for things I have little or no interest in – they get summarily read and summarily deleted.
But when I got an email from Rob Nollenberger at Thomas & Sons Distillery, inviting me to check out their new line of tea-based spirits, there was one phrase in particular that stuck out. When describing his product, Rob said, very simply: “They’re all tasty motherf***ers.”
My curiosity was piqued. And a few weeks later, I found myself visiting Thomas & Sons’ Southeast Portland plant, looking to find out for myself whether or not these accolades were well-deserved. (Spoiler Alert: They were.)
Thomas & Sons is the latest addition to the Townshend’s Tea Company family, which started in 2003 as a local purveyor of fine teas, before going on to launch their even more successful Brew Dr. Kombucha line, eventually growing into one of the largest kombucha brands in the nation. Now, Thomas & Sons is shooting for a tea-based trifecta by adding spirits to the mix, all based off teas from their parent company’s repertoire.
After quick tour of the state-of-the-art facility that Thomas & Sons shares with Brew Dr., I was led into the distillery’s brand new tasting room – which was surprisingly cozy, considering that it’s located inside of a giant warehouse. Under the benevolent gaze of their mascot, Otis the Sloth (it’s a painting, sadly, not an actual sloth), I tried their entire lineup, which currently consists of four tea-infused liqueurs and a clear spirit they call White Rose.
The heart of Thomas & Sons’ lineup are their four tea-infused liqueurs, which are distilled on-site using tea, sugar, and botanicals in a special low pressure vacuum still. I’m always a little skeptical of liqueurs, many of which tend to be too syrupy for my tastes, but the four I sampled at TSons were all remarkably crisp and not overly saccharine. The flavors range the spectrum, too: the No. 2 Sweet Tea has a traditional feel, and is perfect for making a boozy Arnold Palmer (what they call a “Hard Carl”); their punchy No. 16 Spice Tea can add some kick to a Ginger Beer; and my personal favorite, the No. 5 Smoke Tea aptly lives up to its name with a rich, almost Laphroaig-like texture that tempers well with a splash of Mexican Coke.
There’s a reason I mention these combos, by the way – unlike most distilleries, who are frequently content to make pairing suggestions and then leave you to dream of them as you choke down shots of high octane liquor, TSons will usually pour you a splash of whatever they recommend, so you can experience it firsthand. This is a probably a shrewd move, since most liqueurs are not meant to be consumed straight.
I also got to try Thomas & Sons’ newest offering, the No. 50 (Spiced Amaro) Bitter Tea, which has a rich, digestif-like aroma. Also rumored to be in the works is a Pacific Northwestern take on Fernet, which I all about, if they can make it happen.
Townshend’s White Rose
In addition to their liqueurs, Thomas & Sons’ flagship spirit (in my opinion, at least) is their Townshend’s White Rose, a clear spirit made from tea and rose petals. With a rich aroma and subtle texture, White Rose inhabits sort of a happy medium between Vodka & Gin: floral like gin, but without the astringent quality of the juniper, and light and peppery like vodka, but with, you know, some actual flavor.
Not only was the White Rose my favorite beverage of the tasting, but it also led to one of my favorite moments of the day – when I remarked to my host that the White Rose and the Bitter would probably be pretty good in a Negroni (and we all know how much I enjoy a good Negroni), Rob’s response was – and this may not be a direct quote, but it’s pretty close – “F*** yeah! Let’s do it!”
And that, dear reader, is how I ended up drinking a tea-based negroni at 3 o’clock on a Saturday.
All in all, Thomas & Sons seems poised to continue the Townshend tradition of successes. In addition to their tasting room on Distillery Row, you can also find their wares in over 70 liquor stores throughout Oregon and Washington, and they’re slowly gaining recognition throughout Portland’s food and beverage scene.
With regard to the last, if you’re reading this article at press-time (you hit that little “Follow” button already, didn’t you?) and don’t feel like driving to Southeast, Portland restaurant Nonna will be featuring Thomas & Sons as part of a special pairing menu this coming Thursday, 20 August 2015. For more details, click here.
If you can, you should check them out. They are, as they say, tasty motherf***ers.
Thomas & Sons Distillery (www.thomasandsonsdistillery.com)
4211 Southeast Milwaukie Avenue, Portland, Oregon
Tasting Room open Thursday – Sunday
5513 Northeast 30th Avenue, Portland, Oregon