The founders of Cascade Spirits got their first taste of infusing alcohol while still in school, making gifts for friends and family. With guidance from PSU faculty and advisors, Chris Joseph ’12 and Ali Joseph ’12 turned their hobby into a nationally recognized distillery.
“I needed a senior class project,” recalls Chris Joseph, founder and CEO of Cascade Spirits. “I’d worked at corporate jobs but my ideas weren’t getting heard and I got the itch to start my own business. I didn’t know what kind of business I wanted until Ali suggested, ‘Why not vodka?’”
At the time, artificially flavored spirits lined the shelves at liquor stores. But the Josephs created something unique by sourcing only real fruit like Pacific Northwest pears and marionberries for their infusions.
“We use over a pound of real fruit in every bottle of Wild Roots, which became Cascade Spirits’ first brand,” explains Ali Joseph, founder and chief marketing officer of Cascade Spirits. “It smells real and tastes real because it is real – and the quantity of the fruit matters.”
Chris Joseph says PSU instructor Brenda Eichelberger and Shelley Gunton (a guest speaker) were extremely influential in setting up the business. “There are many hurdles when starting a business and Brenda and Shelley made those less painful so we would come out okay,” he says.
The Josephs launched Cascade Spirits right after graduation and it became one of the largest distilleries in Oregon.
Although Brenda Eichelberger and Shelley Gunton each passed away, their significant impacts remain. “Their legacies live on in the work and successes of our students,” says Cliff Allen, dean at The School of Business. “I know they would both be extremely proud of Chris and Ali for all they have accomplished."
Cascade Spirits evolved into a brand house and is now home to Wild Roots, Broken Top Whiskey, Cascade Street Potato Vodka, Sun Ranch Spirits and GEM&BOLT Mezcal. In 2020, the company grew to more than 30 employees and doubled its revenue.
Cascade Spirits contributes product and money to educational and sustainability organizations, and the Josephs generously donate their time. When the business started Sun Ranch Spirits, workers in the U.S. Bartenders Guild (USBG) were hard hit by the pandemic and the couple decided to help those in their industry.
“A portion of the proceeds from our Sun Ranch brand line will go to the USBG National Charity Foundation to help bartenders who lost their jobs during COVID,” Ali Joseph affirms.
Chris Joseph has made himself available to PSU students for advising and coaching, and recently, the Josephs created new student opportunities through the Cascade Spirits Scholarship Fund. The funds provide significant scholarships totaling $50,000, which will support 20 students over the next five years.
For first-generation students in the School of Business, a total of $25,000 in scholarships will support two students each year for five years (10 total students). Each student will receive $2,500.
After joining the advisory board for the Center for Retail Leadership, Chris Joseph created a second set of scholarships. The Cascade Spirits Scholarship Fund provides $25,000 to two first-generation students in the Food Beverage & Goods leadership certificate program each year for five years (10 total students). Each student will receive $2500.
“The students in the program are incredibly hardworking, smart and dedicated,” he says. “I’m excited to have that type of talent enter our community’s workforce. I was a first-generation college student and want to make sure these students have the resources to focus on school.”
The Josephs also provide internships at Cascade Spirits for PSU students and hire students as employees. They believe continued engagement with PSU on various levels serves a larger purpose.
“It’s important to the entire community,” Chris Joseph explains. “PSU is nurturing a great group of well-rounded students and that’s not only good for our company but also for all the companies we work with. As we do what we can to make sure these students succeed, it’s a win-win for everyone.”