Marionberry Love: Why Oregonians Love Marionberries
The Pacific Northwest is known for a lot of things:
Picture-perfect waterfalls, endless hiking trails, salmon, rain (of course), and a berry the rest of the world has never heard of. The Marionberry hails from Marion County in Oregon and is the mad scientist-fueled fusion of the 'Chehalem' and 'Olallie' strains of blackberries.
The versatile and delicious growing purple gem has become a seasonal standard in everything from pies and jams, to BBQ marinades, and smoothies. Where the marionberry has really begun to shine is in cocktails. Local distilleries, like Eastside Distilling, have pushed the little berry into the spotlight with their Marionberry Vodka and Marionberry Whiskey.
The marionberry comes out the gate swinging with a tart punch that’s balanced by a sweeter finish. Supported by a midpalate of earthy tones and a few slightly savory nuances, the marionberry is as much of a melting pot of flavors as it is a culmination in a long line of berry lineage.
“The marionberry was developed by U.S. Department of Agricultural researcher George F. Waldo at Oregon State University in Corvallis in the nineteen forties. It is a cross of the flavorful Olallie berry and the high-producing Chehalem berry, both of which are also caneberry hybrids. The Olallie berry is a cross between the youngberry and the loganberry, each of which is also a caneberry hybrid. The youngberry is a cross between the native pacific blackberry and dewberry, while the loganberry is a cross between the native blackberry and the raspberry.”
“On the other side of the marionberry family tree, the Chehalem berry is a cross between the noxious European Himalayan blackberry and the Santiam blackberry. The Santiam is a cross between a native pacific blackberry and the loganberry. Got all that? And yes, loganberry is marionberry’s grandpa on one side of the family and great-grandpa on the other.”
Walking that fine line between too tart and fruit-forward makes Oregon’s marionberry the ideal accompaniment for cooking, baking, grilling, and (in our opinion, the best choice) for cocktails. Sure, adding a layer of tart sweetness to freshly baked pies and spreadable preserves is a fine role for marionberries to fill, but where they really reach their full potential is being a driving force in craft spirits and cocktails.
Eastside Distilling’s Marionberry Vodka is a delicious warm-weather spirit combination, bringing to life a whole realm of cocktail possibilities. From on the rocks with your feet up to elaborate concoctions, the Marionberry Vodka showcases a surprising spectrum of flavors.
"Portland Marionberry Vodka is a genuine venture into flavoring spirits. The jammy, berry notes are lively and rich, unencumbered by added sugar and complemented by the water-like profile of our potato vodka. Compared to other berry vodkas on the market I think we achieved the unachievable and crafted a complex vodka out of a simple concept.”
~ Mel Heim, Master Distiller at Eastside Distilling
Not to be outdone by the vodka, Eastside Distilling has fused the humble marionberry with their award-winning whiskey to create a brand new dimension of the spirit world. Their Marionberry Whiskey features the rich oak and smoke of whiskey with the lightly fruity local marionberry.
"Oregon Marionberry Whiskey is rich in color like homemade strawberry jam. It has a bright, potent aroma of sweet mango, raspberry and blackberry that sweetens as the vapors disperse. Intense fresh marionberries hit the palate and quickly transform to spice and citrus; ultimately evolving into warm brandy and cherry essence. The finish lingers awhile with subtle young whiskey heat and baked tart dryness."
~ Mel Heim, Master Distiller
Marionberry Mint Julep
2 oz. Marionberry Whiskey
10 Fresh Mint Leaves
.5 oz Simple Syrup
.5 oz Lime Juice
Garnish with Marionberry and Mint
Muddle mint leaves and marionberries, combine all the ingredients, and pour into glass with crushed ice.
Marionberry Vodka Martini
2 ounces Eastside Marionberry Vodka
.5 ounce French vermouth
*This drink is best served in an ice cold coupe glass, place a couple cubes of ice into your glass before you start to make the drink to pre-chill.
Add vodka and vermouth to a mixing glass with a scoop of fresh ice.
Stir gently with a bar spoon for 25-30 seconds (only secret agents are allowed to shake their martinis).
Strain into your empty, chilled coupe glass and squeeze the lemon peel over your glass to express the oils into your cocktail.
Garnish the rim with your lemon peel.