The Scoop: Freeland Spirits is a woman-owned-and-operated distillery in Portland, Oregon. The company makes and pours gin, and bourbon, among other spirits, and creates canned cocktail mixes, all of which it can ship throughout the state. The mixologists share cocktail recipes made with Freeland Spirits products on the website, where couples can turn to for inspiration to elevate their date nights at home. In the coming year, Freeland Spirits plans to reopen its tasting room and acquire new spaces where people can gather for a drink.
Before she started Freeland Spirits, Jill Kuehler worked in nonprofit agriculture. She said she has always connected with farmers and loved the natural beauty of Oregon.
It was her good friend Corey who encouraged her to enter the spirits industry. Corey owned a cattle ranch, and he had a taste for whiskey, as did Jill. One day, Corey suggested they start a distillery together. Corey would grow the grain if Jill would distill the spirits.
“From that thought process, Freeland was born,” said Brooke McKinnon, who is the Hospitality Manager at Freeland Spirits. “Jill decided to make that dream a reality — doing everything from securing capital and investments, to opening up in 2017.”
Jill named her company after her grandmother Freeland, who never drank alcohol in her life but always told her granddaughter she could be anything she wanted to be. Inspired by such a strong role model, Jill created a female-led brand in a male-dominated industry.
“Jill noticed women were underrepresented in the distilling world,” Brooke told us. “She wanted her business to put women into positions of power.”
Freeland Spirits has created a comfortable and fun environment where adults of all backgrounds can enjoy high-quality drinks.
The company serves customers 21 and older, and it’s not unusual to see college students at one table and senior retirees at another. Freeland Spirits is popular in Portland, and it has expanded its reach and reputation through its Barrel Club Membership, which ships barrels of rye whiskey to other distilleries and bars.
Individual customers can also order the spirits by the bottle online and organize fun at-home date nights or happy hours with delicious cocktails.
The Team Created the Distillery From Scratch
Once Jill had established Freeland Spirits, she went on the hunt for a master distiller, said Brooke. She wanted to find a woman to join her mission of elevating uncommon voices in the spirits, wine, and beer industry.
She met Molly Troupe through friends of friends, and it was the perfect fit. Molly has a background in biochemistry, and she earned her master’s degree in distillation from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.
“Molly Troupe, our Master Distiller, was born wearing a pair of chemist goggles and never took them off,” Jill said of Molly. “Molly commands perfection with every spirit she orchestrates. Did I mention that women have more taste buds and 50% more olfactory cells? So don’t you want Molly making your spirits? I know I do.”
Freeland Spirits employs women in an industry that has long perpetuated a men’s-club mentality.
Brooke handles the hospitality responsibilities, including direct-to-consumer channels, online sales, shipping, and the bottle shop. She also manages Freeland’s two subscription clubs.
The company started out with the dream of making whiskey; however, whiskey production is a long process, typically taking between four and six years to complete, so that part is still in the works. Customers can expect Freeland rye whiskey to hit the menu in a couple years.
“Whiskey is the main goal, but it has a long return on investment,” Brooke told us.
In the meantime, the company has excelled at gin and bourbon production. Freeland Spirits Gin, which comes in a distinctive blue bottle, was the company’s flagship gin in 2018. Freeland’s second gin option is a bit drier and a lot stronger “because strong gals deserve strong gin,” according to the website.
The company also produces lesser-known spirits, including the Geneva, a hand-crafted gin the team fondly refers to it as the “Dutch grandmother of gin.” According to the website, this spirit has a “rich grain backbone heightened by peaks of alluring spice and hints of Willamette Valley hazelnuts.”
Offering Creative Recipes for At-Home Mixologists
Before COVID-19, Freeland Spirits had a tasting room in Portland, but it has been closed for over a year due to local and state restrictions.
When the popular tasting room closed, the Freeland team realized it needed to pivot. So, they started offering canned cocktails for national distribution and fresh cocktails for local pickup.
The canned cocktails include the Gin & Rose Tonic and the French 75. The first of these is Freeland’s gin paired with Portland Syrups’ Rose Tonic. Couples on a date night can prepare the French 75, which combines gin with Chehalem Chardonnay, by adding tonic water and lemon.
Portlanders can also purchase pre-mixed cocktails if they opt for curbside pickup and local delivery.
“It’s fun to create recipes and figure out what highlights our spirits. We juice our citrus and make our syrups in house. We come up with seasonal recipes that are easy for the home bartender. Take our mixture, a bottle of your choice, add ice and sparkling water, and shake it all up,” Brooke said.
The Flora Dora Mix comes with Freeland gin, raspberry puree, lime juice, and ginger simple syrup. It can add a sweet note to any date night.
The Princess and the Fig cocktail kit comes with a bottle of bourbon, local balsamic fig preserves, sparkling water, and Freeland’s Princess & the Fig mix. “This cocktail boasts tangy-sweet notes alongside ginger and lemon for a perfect toast to celebrate all that we love,” according to the website.
Couples who don’t live in Portland can also order Freeland Spirits to be delivered in preparation for a special date night. The Freeland website publishes recipes that are easy to make and fun to try at home. For instance, Amy’s Breakfast Bourbon combines bourbon, half-and-half, and coffee for a boozy and caffeinated cocktail that’s sure to provide a pick-me-up.
Freeland Spirits to Open In-Person Tasting Rooms This Year
During COVID-19, the Freeland Spirits community has kept a positive attitude and supported the local business. Even if when it wasn’t safe to meet at the bar, people continued to order from Freeland for a pickup or home delivery. Over the last year, many couples have enjoyed using the cocktail kits and recipes to up the caliber of their date nights.
“A great date involves having fun playing with new recipes. It’s cool to find garnishes in your garden or down the street where the two of you can have a few laughs, learn about craft spirits, and have a cocktail or two,” said Brooke.
Freeland Spirits is slowly but surely returning to normal business operations, and the team expects to reopen the tasting room patio soon.
“It’s rewarding to see that not only are we a distillery, but we have a powerful message. We want to engage with the community, and seeing the community engage with us back has been amazing,” Brooke told us.
In the coming year, Freeland Spirits has big plans to expand. The team is going to build an outdoor patio for guests and search for other locations to open a second, and maybe even a third, tasting room in Portland. And, of course, the rye whiskey is still in the works and going to be ready to drink once it’s good and aged.
“Our goal is distribution, and as Jill likes to say, world domination. We want to expand as much as possible, but we don’t want to outgrow ourselves too soon,” said Brooke.