Portland, Ore., has one of the most prolific craft beverage scenes in the world, but Mel Heim, executive vice president of operations and master distiller for Eastside Distilling, remembers what the city was like before the boom. “Eleven years ago, we were one of two distilleries on what we were forward-thinking enough to call ‘Distillery Row’ even back then,” she laughs. “Now it covers 13 distilleries in Portland proper on both sides of the river.”
Eastside started out as a small craft producer, but after becoming SEC-compliant in 2016, it became the first publicly traded craft distillery in the country. Eastside was uplisted on the NASDAQ in 2017 and, after entering the market in the $3.70 range, it’s hovering around $6 today. While it would be easier, in many ways, for Heim and the rest of the Eastside team to abandon their rugged roots and go corporate—Eastside does produce 35,000 cases annually and is valued at $50 million—they won’t, she insists.
“Our goal is to make every experience with our brand completely personal,” she says. “We look at each tasting room as an opportunity to surprise and delight our customers. We were the first to open a tasting room in a mall, which was tucked between a toy store and a Victoria’s Secret.”
In addition to the “wow factor” of having multiple tasting rooms—four in the Portland metropolitan area, with more kiosks and pop-ups opened during the holidays—some of which are in surprising places, they design the rooms to reflect the neighborhood and community where they’re located.
“We have spirits, mixers, a ton of books, places to sit and hang out, bartenders who are highly trained,” Heim says. “We’ve worked hard to create an amazing and relaxing space, but also to provide real knowledge so people will leave knowing more about our line and cocktail culture in general.”