The Oregon swallowtail butterfly—a true Northwest native—is bold, colorful, and our official state insect. It’s also the key brand ambassador for Swallowtail Spirits, the innovative, Springfield-based distillery that proudly embraces its Oregon identity.
Swallowtail Spirits produces premium liquors distilled and blended with McKenzie River water naturally filtered by the volcanic geology of the Willamette Lowland aquifer system. Some of their spirits are made from Oregon grains, flavored with Oregon-grown herbs and fruits, or aged in barrels made from Oregon white oak.
Swallowtail Spirits is young, adventurous, ambitious, and quickly accumulating accolades for its products.
From beer to clear
A few years ago, Kevin Barrett, Swallowtail’s owner (and product designer, distiller, marketer, spokesperson, bookkeeper, principal packager, bottler, and warehouse maintenance worker), got his first taste of Northwest craft beers. The experience provoked an unexpected obsession with home brewing.
Today, Barrett laughs about how he found little success as a hobbyist beer maker because much of what he made didn’t inspire his palate. But, his home brewing adventures did inspire a passionate interest in hobby distilling—a key to Swallowtail’s rapid ascension within the emerging community of local craft distillers.
“I simply started making what tasted good to me,” Barrett says. And apparently what tastes good to Barrett also tastes good to consumers of premium liquor.
Take, for example, Swallowtail’s original vodka, the only product Barrett bottled during his first year and a half in business. The vodka found favor among investors, allowing Barrett to craft a product line and grow his business almost overnight.
The degree of filtration is what largely distinguishes a pedestrian vodka from a premium vodka. Better, more intensive filtration makes for higher-quality, cleaner, smoother spirits. Swallowtail runs the slow, naturally-filtered spring waters of the McKenzie through a filtration process that includes 120 repeat filtrations, with an end product that is truly something special.
The same filtration principles also carry over in the production of Northwest fruit-flavored vodkas, a delicious addition to the Swallowtail liquor cabinet. Use of real fruit (rather than fruit flavorings) requires even more filtration and, thus, an arduous processing period. Their fruit-flavored offerings include raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, marionberry, and apple cider, which, according to Barrett, is super tasty and “dangerous . . . because everybody drinks it straight.”
The gin tonic
Not so long ago, Barrett was dismissive of gins—mostly due to their juniper- and cardamom-dominant taste. But gin offers relative manufacturing simplicity: a clear spirit, quickly distilled and bottled, with little need for aging. A few days of “resting time,” notes Barrett, is all that most gins require. All of which are good for business.
In Barrett’s self-styled approach to “good-tasting” spirits, the path to premium gin requires great water combined with traditionally overlooked herbal flavors. Thus, the original Swallowtail gin features juniper and cardamom fused with a special mix of coriander, angelica root, orange peel, lime zest, and lavender. The result is a gin marked by floral, citrus, and other botanical notes. “It’s something that goes great in a gin and tonic or mixed cocktail,” Barrett says, “but not something I would necessarily use in a martini.”
The flight of Swallowtail gins has since expanded to include the true martini-style “Navy-strength” (114 proof), a versatile London dry style, and a “single-barrel gin,” unusual because it’s aged in wood. Barrel aging will shortly meet up with the Navy gin and London dry spirits as well, further expanding the Swallowtail gin line.
Bottles, barrels, boxes
Then there are the other spirits-in-waiting. Tequila sourced from Mexico will soon migrate to the Swallowtail distillery, where it will take on some unique Swallowtail features. There will also be upcoming opportunities to taste three special whiskeys that have been quietly aging in the Swallowtail warehouse. The trio features a peat-smoked single malt, a McKenzie River five-year whiskey aged in King Estate barrels, and a special Ninkasi-Swallowtail collaboration based on the brewery’s Oatis Oatmeal Stout.
Should I mention that there’s also a rum waiting in the line leading to the Swallowtail stills? Or that Swallowtail manufactures liquors for re-branding and sale by other liquor companies? Or that Swallowtail distributes a large share of their products internationally?
It’s that kind of all-encompassing business approach that pits Barrett’s young company against established, big-boy distilleries. “And honestly,” Barrett confesses, “I don’t want to do another product right now. It’s just me.”
A new incarnation of Swallowtail Spirits is launching soon, with a location in downtown Springfield, on Main Street, near the eastern footing of the Willamette River Bridge.
The new Swallowtail Spirits site will showcase much more than shiny copper stills and packaged goods. It’s been designed as a drinking establishment (with indoor and patio dining space), showcase manufacturing site, retail outlet, and tourist stop.
Nosh on food prepared by established, downtown Springfield restaurants and food carts. Participate in special events, such as tastings, site tours, education sessions, musical performances, date nights, and other catered events. And, most certainly, imbibe on distilled spirits.
“But don’t ask for a Jack and Coke,” warns Barrett, “because we won’t have it.” They will, however, have plenty of signature spirits and cocktails.
5250 Highbanks Rd., Ste. 300, Springfield