written by Justin Fields
A Distiller of Good Taste at Indio Spirits
In the five and a half years since Mark White has been at the helm of distilling operations at Indio Spirits, he has overseen the expansion from smaller operations to a 12,500 square foot facility near Tigard that produces just under 20,000 cases a year distributed in 30 states. Making Indio the third largest producer of spirits in Oregon.
As with most things in life, little was left to chance. White’s early education in the culinary arts at the Seattle Art Institute ignited a lifelong passion he would pursue his whole career. In the years following, he gained experience at wineries and breweries in California, Oregon, and Washington, where he further refined the nuances of his palate.
By the time White started his tenure at Indio, he brought with him 11 years of expertise in brewery management, having risen to the position of district manager of all McMenamins’ Washington breweries, which included six different facilities.
How much crossover is there between being a brew master and distilling liquor?
There is a lot that goes into brewing and distilling. With whiskey, I would say about 65% of the flavor profile is how you treat the wood that’s involved and how you treat a distillate in the aging process. It’s our barrel program that makes us produce award-winning whiskeys.
Aside from the barrels, what makes Oregon particularly suitable for beverages making?
Our water source is among the top in the world. Just as it is great for beer and wine, it’s terrific for our whiskeys,and for our vodkas too. It has a low mineral content; so, other than a little filtration, it’s really good to go. Best of all, it imparts a unique flavor profile that is different from than that of anywhere else in the United States. It has a very round and smooth mouth-feel.
Indio gin and vodka products were already established when you came on board. How have you been able to “make your mark”?
The James Oliver line is kind of my baby because I wanted to start a rye rather than bourbon. Recently we expanded to our James Oliver American whiskey, and we’ve already laid down a single-grain whiskey too. It should come out sometime next year. But it’s the rye that has garnered the most attention lately.
I saw potential in a category that was beginning to become popular, but that there were only about four rye’s that were well known. There was more opportunity to hit the parade at the front rather than the back. It’s probably our biggest seller this year. Our Snake River Stampede blended-grain whiskey has always been our flagship — the one that keeps the lights on. But the rye is really squashing it so far this year.
Tell me about your tasting room
It’s been great to launch the James Oliver brand with the rye because it has won a lot of gold medals. It just rode the wave of prohibition-era-style cocktails that use rye. We sent it to a lot of tasting panels and the highest we’ve had is a 92, whereas the lowest we’ve had is a 90. It’s just an exceptional whiskey and we’re very proud of it..
What does craft distilling mean to you?
I think if you are a student, a passionate observer, and a master of what you do, it’s your craft. A lot of us came into this business as artists, and expressing our art is the same as developing our craft. We’re constantly improving, we’re constantly changing, and we’re trying to make the best product we can.
At 20,000 cases, does that put Indio up there with some of the highest producing distilleries in Oregon?
Well, the Portland Business Journal just came out with a list of the top five highest selling Oregon distilleries. We were mysteriously left off that list. But if you look at overall volume of sales we are number three. We actually come in third to Hood River Distillers and Bend Distillery.
How about being omitted from the Willamette Week “Best Of”?
Yeah, we’re basically the best kept secret in Oregon honestly. (Laughs) Honestly, they can have their accolades and we can have our sales. At the end of the day, it’s nice to get another feather in your cap, but we’re happy selling more and flying under the radar, if you will.
If you were to have a perfect evening enjoying one of your spirits at a local restaurant or bar where would you be heading?
I would keep it local. I love Circa 33. They’ve got a great selection and they’re big supporters of us. And Southland Whiskey Kitchen is one of my favorite places to go to. The barbecue is pretty darn good, but the whiskey selection is almost second to none. Likewise, Bullseye Pub is one of our leading partners. They have an amazing selection of local spirits and some great food.