By Caitlin Vargas

 

Illustration by Liza Burns

 

Thinking Outside the Box (or the Tree, in This Case . . .)

Thinking Tree Spirits is a women-led, community powered, farm-to-flask distillery rooted in Eugene. Inspired by the bounty of the Willamette Valley, they seek out sustainable ingredients to make award-winning botanical gin, barrel-aged rum, and vodka.

CEO Emily Jensen remembers observing the undeniable growth of the craft beer industry — and seeing an opportunity. “Beer and wine shouldn’t have all the fun, this town needs a craft distillery,” she recalls thinking. Jensen and her partners went to work gathering brand enthusiasts who became the company’s first investors. With a big dream and a lot of hard work, Jensen, engineer Bryan Jensen, and head distiller Kaylon McAlister created a distillery that celebrates its Oregon roots through its traditional distilling practices and locally sourced whole ingredients.

“At Thinking Tree Spirits, our rebel yell is: ‘We endeavor to bring people together — let’s use spirits as a conduit to create the world we want to live in!’” says Jensen. Never did they imagine how much their ethos would lead to what came next. When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, Jensen and her team saw an opportunity to take action. “We had the alcohol, the equipment and supplies to make hand sanitizer,” she says. “In February and March, we were giving it away to everyone, but the demand grew so fast we realized we had to start full-scale manufacturing.” Jensen promptly reached out to Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden for help cutting red tape with the FDA and federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau by allowing craft distilleries to make hand sanitizer for their communities across the nation. She also rallied partners around the state, from legislators and agencies to distilleries across Oregon, to legalize distribution of hand sanitizer, supplying more than 100,000 gallons for first responders and the Oregon Health Authority. Ultimately, the shift in distribution helped Thinking Tree Spirits survive the business shutdown during the pandemic.

Jensen is proud to be a trailblazer for women-led businesses and an advocate for legislative change to support smart business for craft beverages and agriculture. Her core values of community, sustainability, and collaboration are visible in the newest Thinking Tree partnerships with Glory Bee Foods — creating the Bee’s Knees classic cocktail with partial proceeds benefiting the Save-the-Bee initiative — and with electric automaker Arcimoto for the upcoming Big Adventure Barrel-Aged Gin.

The RISE program for woman-owned small businesses offers business marketing assistance or technology services from Comcast Business. Applications are available at www.comcastrise.com. Caitlin Vargas is the Startup Community Director at Onward Eugene, helping entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams of launching their own business. Connect with her about startups, mentorship, or economic development on LinkedIn/in/caitlinvargas.