Ex-Sheriff Tim Mueller, partners poised to unveil whiskey distillery

Two retired sheriffs and a police officer walk into a bar and ask if anyone wants some whiskey.

If this sounds like a joke, it isn’t. It’s a little closer to reality – and home – than one might think.

Retired Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller, retired county patrol Sgt. Dave Lawler, and Lebanon police officer Andy Borland have started producing whiskey and expect to open a tasting room to the public some time next month.

Hideaway Distillery, located at 4120 S. Santiam Hwy., is a business concept originated in 2014 by Mueller and initial partners Rob Franklin and Lane Brown.

It’s been nearly five years from concept to completion, and they’ve had to move their opening date forward several times, but Mueller and Lawler feel pretty confident that this time when they say Hideaway Distillery will open within the next month for tastings and distribution, their word will be as golden as a smooth glass of moonshine.

Lawler hesitates a little because, he said, it seems they jinx themselves every time they set a date.

But being in the production phase of their business has been “a huge shot in the arm” for the owners, as they monitor the bubbling liquid rising from a still they purchased five years ago.

Producing whiskey starts out much like brewing beer, by drawing starches out of corn and grains, and using yeast to create alcohol. Then the liquid, termed “wash,” is placed in the still where it is distilled until all the water is removed from the alcohol.

The very first batch produced in Hideaway’s new still had to be thrown out.

“It’s called a sacrificial run. It’s so sad,” Mueller said.

The sacrificial run cleans the system and removes the coppery taste from the brand new equipment. With the sacrifice complete, the owners then began making their “unapologetic American whiskey.”

There’s still a little tweaking to be done as they learn how to operate the new equipment and refine their recipes, but they’re ready to start bottling enough to appease their friends and family.

“We figure, with as much interest as we’ve had, we’re probably gonna have to have three pallets of booze in there ready to go,” Mueller said.

Hideaway Distillery will offer tastings to encourage sales, but their main income will be through distribution. To do that, the owners have to approach bar and liquor store owners to solicit orders.

WITH DECADES of experimental experience under his belt, and several years of research under his hat, Tim Mueller explains how the still at Hideaway Distillery heats up and separates alcohol from water.

 The Hideaway label, still waiting for federal approval, includes a thin blue line on the bottle’s neck. Anybody in law enforcement will recognize it as a symbol distinct among themselves, Mueller said.

“The thin blue line is referred to as the line between chaos and order,” he explained. “That blue line is cops, because that’s what keeps society from just evolving into a tribal mess.”

He believes the blue line label will attract law officers who like whiskey, especially on the East Coast.

As former and current law enforcement officials themselves, that’s a significant point on a number of fronts.

Mueller started working for the Linn County Sheriff’s office in 1984, shortly after he returned from the Army. He worked his way through the ranks until he was appointed Sheriff in 2005, retiring in 2014.

Lawler also served in the Army before working at the sheriff’s office in Colorado. He joined the Linn County Sheriff’s office in 1997, and retired in 2017.

Borland previously worked in the Sheriff’s office, and is now an officer for the Lebanon Police Department.

ANDY BORLAND, Dave Lawler and Tim Mueller enjoy putting their still to work after waiting nearly five years to begin production.

Mueller said his vision is to use proceeds from the sale to support nonprofit law enforcement-related organizations, such as Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS).

“We don’t plan on making ourselves multimillionaires out of this business, but we want to give back to some important things,” Mueller said.

He mentioned, for instance, an accident on I-5 in 2001 that led to the death of state trooper Maria Mignano and Albany police officer Jason Hoerauf, and severely injured state trooper John Burright.

COPS supports families involved in such tragedies, and Hideaway wants to help.

It took a long time to settle on a business name, but once “Hideaway Distillery” came on the table, it just made sense, Mueller said. It was reminiscent of the prohibition era, but also harked back to Mueller’s family legacy and the tale of Mueller’s stills.

That story starts while he was high school, when his grandfather passed away. As the family looked through grandpa’s old photographs one day, Mueller came across one that grabbed his attention.

“There was a picture of him and his brother and my great-grandpa, and they were making moonshine in Tangent,” he said. “It was hidden between the cellar house and the smoke house, which is right behind the old windmill.”

This was during The Depression, when the family could make more money from one gallon of whiskey than they could on a bushel of corn, Mueller was told. His grandmother had taken the photo with her Kodak Brownie.

“It made my grandpa and my great-grandpa and my uncle pretty upset because it could’ve gotten them thrown in jail.”

Mueller was immediately hooked on his family’s connection to whiskey-making, and sought help from a relative who still had the equipment and know-how for the process.

He acquired one of his grandpa’s old stainless steel milk condensers to make his first attempts at moonshine.

After high school, Mueller joined the Army and was stationed in the Military Police Company at Miesau, Germany.

His buddies didn’t believe he could make whiskey, so Mueller did what any self-respecting moonshiner would do: He rigged up a contraband still.

“I told the guys, ‘Hey, when you go to the chow hall, just bring back peaches or apples and stuff.’

I think I got, maybe, a shot glass full (of brandy) out of that little bit, but it was enough to prove to those guys that I wasn’t lying.”

It didn’t take long for the still to be confiscated, but when Mueller prepared to return to the States, he made an attempt to get it back. He popped his head into his first sergeant’s office where the makeshift still was stored, and asked if he could take it with him.


OWNER TIM MUELLER explains the distillation process of whiskey at his soon-to-open Hideaway Distillery.

 After his discharge, Mueller moved into his career with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. Some months after his retirement, he had his first business partner, Rob Franklin, in tow to pursue his dream of starting a distillery.

Mueller took delivery of his brand new still in November 2014 and moved into the building on Highway 20 the next month. Everybody told him it would take a year or two to get going, but he figured he could get it done in six months.

“I was so naîve when I first thought about this,” Mueller said. “I’ll tell you what; you learn a lot when you go into business.”

The partners figured they had some repairs and minor cosmetic issues to fix before they could begin running the still, but their start date kept getting pushed back, he said. When one obstacle was coming to a close, a new problem would arise.

“It’s frustrating to everybody, but especially to us. It’s like we’re right there, and then they just move the goal post.”

The journey has been a long one, but Mueller, Lawler and Borland believe they’re nearing the finish line.

Lawler doesn’t have much experience with making alcohol, but he knows what a good whiskey should taste like.

“My background is in drinking alcohol. I’m the official taster,” he joked. “I only drink top-shelf whiskey, so if it doesn’t taste good to me, then we’re not going to sell it.”

He explained there are a lot of factors involved to make a good whiskey, including the grain bill and a good charred oak to smooth it out.

Borland also doesn’t have near the experience Mueller does in making whiskey, but he saw an opportunity he didn’t want to miss.

“It seemed like fun,” Borland said. “It was something I wanted to get into. I was thinking more of a brewery, but this will more than do.”

If distribution of their American whiskey stays aloft, Borland’s investment could provide a good foundation for his own retirement.

Mueller used to joke with his wife that when he retired he would buy a 1948 Ford Business Coupe and become a bootlegger and run moonshine whiskey all around, just like in the old Robert Mitchum movie, “Thunder Road.”

While Hideaway Distillery is much more on the right side of the law, it might seem a bit strange that those who enforce the law would start making whiskey. Mueller disagrees, jokingly.

“Going from a respected law man to a legitimate moonshiner, it seems like a natural progression.”