Scott Stursa came across some forgotten gems while researching his book on the history of liquor in the Beaver State, such as the Umatilla County jury who, during Prohibition, drank the seized alcohol and then acquitted the suspect for lack of evidence.
Or the tale of the ex-Confederate soldier in southern Oregon who made what was described as a world-acclaimed tomato brandy — though it might have been one of few such spirits ever crafted on the planet.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Stursa said.
Stursa will read from “Distilled in Oregon: A History & Guide with Cocktail Recipes,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Grass Roots Books & Music, 227 SW Second St. in Corvallis.
The Corvallis resident grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. “I was raised on Kentucky bourbon, and that’s mostly what I still drink,” he said.
After college, however, he began broadening his tastes to include Scottish malts, cognac, fine wine, good beer and other beverages.
Stursa found a career in cyber security in the Sunshine State, moved from Florida to the Willamette Valley in 2007 and became aware of the craft distilling boom in Oregon.
He’s always wanted to be a writer and immediately thought of doing a book, but the recession led to closures of some distilleries, and he reconsidered.
But a few years later, he began work on “Distilled in Oregon,” which was published last month.
“It was very slow progress. It took almost four years from the time I started. Last spring, I retired and I was really able to devote attention to it,” Stursa said.
Since Stursa was working much of the time, he had to use vacation to visit historical archives throughout the Northwest.
“Distilled in Oregon” traces the history of liquor from the “blue ruin” made by fur traders and sold to Native Americans through the rise of small farm distilleries in the late 1800s and the state’s early sunset on legal liquor production in 1916, four years before national Prohibition.
George Baker, the mayor of Portland during Prohibition, is one of the featured characters. “This guy basically became rich by turning the city government into a bootlegging organization,” Stursa said.
The book also chronicles the post-Prohibition industry in Oregon and Hood River Distillers, which started making brandy in 1934 because farmers wanted to get profit out of cosmetically inferior fruit that couldn’t be sold in stores.
The new wave of craft distillers, including five producers in Linn and Benton counties, are the focus of a latter chapter in the book.
Stursa said he tried to have one drink recipe per chapter, but some contain more.
While Stursa enjoys many of Oregon’s craft distilling offerings, especially brandy, he generally shies away from Oregon whiskey, which has a high price point and is too young for his taste.
While he’s officially retired, Stursa said that he’s really making a career change. He’s currently working on a Victorian-era novel.