When Bart Hance started working at McMenamins, it was not unusual to call up your boss to say you wouldn’t be coming in that day because the Grateful Dead was in Eugene (chances are, your boss was going too). 32 years later, it’s less likely to call in “Dead,” but a convivial air of friendship and collaboration still permeates the distillery at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse where Bart, now Head Distiller, works closely with Arthur Price who he refers to as his “co-distiller.”
Every whiskey and spirit that Bart and Arthur make is crafted by hand from start to finish, from selecting grains to filling bottles, and the art-meets-science process is not so different from brewing beer, which Bart did when starting out at McMenamins, proclaiming that “a good brewer is an artist.” That brewing-distilling connection proved valuable: A number of McMenamins spirits found their genesis in some of our classic ales like Philosopher’s Stone and Barn Owl Bitter, quickly shortened to whiskey grain bills Phil and Bob – and so the progression through Grateful Dead names began, inevitably leading to Mickey, Billy and Garcia.
When Bart began learning how to distill he thought, “This can’t be how the pros do it,” then quickly realized that McMenamins was reviving methods from the past and it worked; the proof was in the spirit. Learning was an exercise in experimentation, and that guiding principle still holds true today. Sure there have been a few bombs along the way, but those beautiful mistakes led to Billy Rye, High Council Brandy and the rest, so Bart says they were worth it.
The CPR Distillery is now ten years old and crafting a growing collection of spirits: whiskeys, rum, gin, brandy and hazelnut liqueur.