In the Spirit of Education

Steve McCarthy started Clear Creek Distillery 28 years ago. The Portland outfit produces eau de vie and grappa. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

By Hilary Berg

On July 8, in the final hours of 77th Oregon State Legislative Session, House Bill 5008 was passed, giving Oregon State University $1.2 million from the general fund to supplement the expansion of its Fermentation Sciences program, one of just a handful in the nation. 

The unique, hands-on program addresses the biological, chemical and physical processes of fermented foods, including those used in the production of wine, as well as beer and a variety of other fermented foods such as cheese, yogurt, pickles, breads and more. 

Receiving almost half of the proposed $2.5 million in the original bill, Senate Bill 816, Fermentation Sciences will optimize the state’s investment by creating a distilled spirits curriculum. 

Distilled spirits is a rapidly growing Oregon industry. According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Oregon has 48 licensed distilleries, producing approximately 400 products for consumers. Even the wine industry is seeing more and more stills installed next to towering stainless steel tanks, including Oregon’s original estate winery, HillCrest, which now crafts spirits alongside its historic Pinot Noir and other varieties.  

Oregon’s largest winery, King Estate, donated a still to OSU. Until now, the university has been unable to use the equipment due to lack of operational funding. With the additional investment, OSU has an opportunity to become the first in the nation to showcase a working research winery, brewery and distillery. 

In addition to distilled spirits, the funding will also help as further agricultural research, workforce training and industry support programs, as well bring in marketing expertise to support wine, beer and fermentation industries.

Representative Paul Holvey (D-Eugene-District 8) and Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas-District 4) were instrumental in moving the funding forward this session and are excited about its potential impact on the state’s economy.

“This is an opportunity for us to really showcase the ag products that are economic drivers for the state and will be for the future,” Sen. Prozanski said. 

“The wine industry has proven itself from its infancy in the 1960s to where it is at today,” Prozanski continued. “Craft brewing has exponentially shown growth — in a short, basically 30-year period, look what has happened with this industry. I think for distilled spirits, you are going to see the same thing. 

 “I’ve seen numbers that show for every dollar of ag research, there is a return of about $10. So this is a very good investment,” Prozanksi continued. “It’s one that will help in multiple ways, not only through [wine, beer and spirits] industries, but the university itself will benefit because it will open up more research funding, and I think you’ll see more public-private type of partnerships because of it.” 

For more information about OSU’s Fermentation Sciences program, visit

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