Dawson Officer darts between tanks and dives beneath tubes like a kid who’s fully eased into his first adult-sized chemistry set. No longer a novice distiller, Officer is producing his first ever batch of small-batch rum, which, in silver, spiced and dark flavors, will hit liquor stores and top shelf bars in winter 2014.

As he works, Officer records distilling temperatures and performs internal calculations not with hardware, by with his senses — he uses his nose to determine what to keep and what to reuse the way an Italian chef knows that his risotto is perfectly simmered.

Just a few years ago, Officer had no distilling chops to speak of. His most recent professional experience was military. The seventh-generation Oregonian, whose grandfather, father and siblings have all served in various forces, was in the Oregon National Guard for seven years. In 2005, returning from an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq, Officer was looking for a different direction. He was intrigued by Oregon’s blossoming craft distilling industry. He had also lost four good friends in Iraq and wanted to find a way to commemorate them.

As he explored the idea of craft spirits, he thought, why not make whiskey in their honor? Why not dedicate a whole distillery to their memory? Officer didn’t want to exploit their sacrifice, so he took his idea to a veteran’s reunion and presented it to others he’d served with. And from the ground troops to the top brass, everyone gave a blessing. He turned next to several Oregon small-batch distillers, who, in a cooperative style typical of Oregon’s artisan producers, were happy to initiate him into the trade.

In 2010, 4 Spirits Distillery was born. The 4 Spirits Bourbon Whiskey, batched in 2012, won the Spirits International Prestige Award at the 2013 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco. In 2014, he took home Washington Cup’s Silver Medal for 4 Spirits Vodka. The distillery also produces vodka labeled Webfoot and SlapTail, for Ducks and Beavers fans, in addition to forthcoming rum.

The distillery, which Officer operates from a former U.S. Air Force building of Adair Village, is usually a one-man show, punctuated by a lot of hurry up and wait typical to the distilling process. But on bottling days, Officer’s parents, Jill and Bud Officer, and employees Sarah Wyat and Shanan LeBre help bottle, cork, label, box and pallet batches of whiskey, vodka and rum that are bound for bars and liquor stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The work doesn’t stop there. In addition to commemorating those four lost friends, 4 Spirits actively honors other military veterans. Officer created the 4 Spirits Veterans Scholarship Endowment Fund for Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis to help pay for the education of military veterans. The scholarship is the first of its kind in OSU’s history, and Officer is also the youngest person in the school’s history to start an endowment fund.

You can find 4 Spirits Distillery products at bars, restaurants and liquor stores around Oregon. To get a taste of 4 Spirits Distillery’s craft spirits, visit the tasting room at 6040 NE Marcus Harris Avenue in Adair Village on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment.

About the Author: Chad Walsh

Chad Walsh has been a police reporter, a cinema and stage editor and now writes a lot about food. He likes Portland for its parks, its food (naturally), and even its weather. But mostly he likes it for its people.

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