Portland’s North Snaps Up Pacific Northwest Liquor Legend Hood River Distillers

By Doug Zanger 

Certain beverages maintain some legendary status in the Pacific Northwest. Up in Seattle, Rainier beer was the darling, and Olympia had its own legion of fans. They are both now owned by Pabst.

Down in Portland, Henry Weinhard’s (with some outstanding past ads) was a local favorite (now owned by MillerCoors) as was Widmer Brothers (which is 32% owned by AB InBev), they of a Hefeweizen that requires a lemon.

Today, it’s all about Portland-based Aviation Gin and its stellar marketing courtesy of Ryan Reynolds and company.


Then, there is Hood River Distillers or, HRD as it is affectionately known.

Back in the day (read: the early 90s), this was where you went when you found a few bucks and coins lying in between some couch cushions. Gather it up and, voila, 12 gallons of HRD or Monarch vodka somehow magically appeared. Let’s just say that it wasn’t exactly what one would call top shelf.


A few comments from Twitter on the brand at the time:

“Headache in a gallon jug.” “Tastes better through a Britta.” “Lightning in a plastic bottle.” And this gem: “Hello darkness, my old friend.”

You get the point.

Yet, good ‘ol HRD, 85-years-young and based in the gorgeous windsurfing capital of the world, Hood River, Ore., has upped its game and has a pretty decent portfolio. If you go to the site, you’ll notice humble HRD-branded liquors are at the bottom, and a raft of other interesting tipples dot the site.

Yes, HRD is an institution out in these parts, and we just found out that Portland agency North is now the brand’s lead agency. The shop will be responsible for positioning, creative, and communications strategy for their three newest premium brands: Batanga Tequila, Easy Rider Bourbon Whiskey, and a unique premium vodka brand in development to be launched later in 2020.

You may remember North from their very funny Peet’s campaign starring Iliza Schlesinger and some of their past work for Columbia Sportswear, which made its way to McCann in fall 2018.

North will also further develop HRD’s brand positioning.

“We were attracted to North because of their strategic and creative firepower capabilities but also because of their Pacific Northwest roots,” said John Russell, chief marketing officer at Hood River Distillers, who was Tillamook’s evp of marketing for over a decade. “Our focus is not just on the quality of the product but on associating each brand with a specific lifestyle and building the brand from the ground up.”

Trust us here, this will be a fun challenge. Powderhounds vibe off of Ullr Nordic Libation, which is a zingy cinnamon and peppermint concoction. The fancy set may dig Clear Creek Pear Brandy. And just about every Portlander that’s been to Prague and/or Reykjavik for an EDM festival (or not) will like the two versions of absinthe on offer from the brand (enjoy the description of Lucid below).

“The mixology moment we’re currently experiencing in the Pacific Northwest is in no small part due to Hood River Distillers’ impact on the culture,” said Mark Ray, chief creative officer at North. “I’m expecting great things out of our new partnership, including samplings before every meeting.”

Good call, Mark. Just make sure that it’s all coming from the top shelf. Not that stuff we could have powered semi-trucks with in 1992.