On a recent soggy May afternoon, I happened upon a relatively new spot at the Seaside Outlets that can really change the narrative arc of your day one way or another: It’s 5 Artisan Distillery and Espresso.
While an espresso drink will certainly boost the rising action of your story, a flight of handmade, small-batch spirits will most likely lead toward the conclusion and eventual denouement of your day. Though the name of the distillery directly plays up the climax — the top of all story arcs, the combination of opposing forces, when Luke faces Vader or the place where coffee mingles with alcohol — as the brand nods to that old wink-wink adage of day drinkers: It’s always five o’clock somewhere.
Seaside Outlets was not exactly where I expected to find an artisan distillery equipped with a spitting espresso machine, all stuck behind the storefront once occupied by Totes Isotoner, the umbrella, footwear and cold weather accessory store. But the Wine and Beer Haus has been slinging bottles on the other end of the massive parking lot for years, so maybe that’s on me. Anyway, it’s always nice to find something unexpected in a strip mall.
Inside, the tasting room is spacious and minimally decorated, with much more of a suburban café vibe, minus the long wall stocked with spirits and liqueurs. Like I just mentioned, It’s 5 is a tasting room and one that plays by the OLCC’s rules. A flight of four for $10 measures up to about one single 2-ounce shot and is meant to entice purchases for off-site consumption.
One innovation that It’s 5 has introduced is to mix “mini cocktails,” as Manager Amanda Hanshew put it, with regulation pours. They keep a wide variety of mixers on hand for those uninterested in tasting the straight hooch, but who are more concerned with how these spirits interact with their favorite cocktail bases. Think tiny, tiny screwdrivers and gin and tonics. Look for little bloody Marys this summer.
Born in Cashmere, Wash., the Seaside location is It’s 5’s first Oregon tasting room. Though the shop quietly opened in mid-December 2018, owner and former chef Colin Levi is actually celebrating the 10th anniversary of his ever-growing brand this May. As with many small-batch purveyors, certain items float in and out of stock, but they seem to have a steady stream of the usual suspects, including bourbon, gin and vodka. Hanshew whispered to expect ouzo and aquavit in the future.
From a flight of four I was able to taste their five-year, single-barrel, 90-proof bourbon which had a nice hint of spice and a full-mouth feel. One of their newest products, Eve’s Apple Pie, a moonshine-based liqueur in which every bottle is spiked with a cinnamon stick, tasted exactly like that: apple pie. On its own, it was too sweet for my tastes, but Hanshew said that many customers like to pour it straight over vanilla ice cream.
Out of my last two sips, I was able to almost faithfully recreate one of the signature drinks posted on It’s 5’s website, its5distillery.com. Levi has curated a massive collection of recipes using the brand’s offerings.
The Grappa Gimlet is a showcase for It’s 5’s Northwest dry gin. Subtle, well-rounded on its own, this award-winning spirit plays easy with the earthy tones of the grappa, and a squirt of lime adds plenty of sharp contrast.
The recipe below is used with permission and is for a full pour. Bottles not included.
2 ounces It’s Five Gin
1 ounce It’s Five Grappa
2 ounces lime juice
Shake and pour over ice cubes and serve in a highball glass.
— Recipe by Colin Levi, owner of It’s 5 Distillery, and shared by manager Amanda Hanshew, manager of It’s 5 Artisan Distillery and Espresso in Seaside.