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Hamley bartender Kristen Shea pours Pendleton Whisky while making a drink called the “Deac” at the 2014 Battle of the Bars in Pendleton.

Pendleton Whisky and the Pendleton Round-Up go together like boots and blue jeans. The two share a symbiotic relationship, each contributing to the other’s growth.

The line of oak barrel-aged whisky is distilled in Canada and bottled by Hood River Distillers, but it has developed strong roots across the Pacific Northwest thanks to its use of the Let ‘er Buck slogan and bucking horse logo. It also serves as a critical sponsor for the rodeo.

“The Pendleton name represents authenticity, adventure and heritage — qualities that our drinker understands and appreciates,” said Tia Blesdoe, vice president of marketing for Hood River Distillers. “We consider it an honor to be partnered with the Round-Up’s 17 directors and hundreds of volunteers.”

The product launched in 2003. With a taste heavy in caramel, oak and gunsmoke on the finish, the whisky needed a name that captured the essence of a cowboy. The owners of Hood River Distillery, Ron and Linne Dodge, looked east for an emblem of the American West. The Pendleton Round-up fit the bill.

Fourteen years later, the brand includes Pendleton Whisky, Directors’ Reserve, Midnight and 1910. Hood River Distillers sells 260,000 cases annually, making Pendleton Whisky one of the fastest growing whiskey brands of all time. No one loves the high volume of sales more than the Round-Up.

According to Round-Up Publicity Director Randy Thomas, the royalties continue to rise annually. The added proceeds have played a substantial role in allowing the Round-Up Association to make capital improvements around the grounds and pay off the debt from construction of the west centennial grandstand. The whisky money also helped raise the prize purse by $50,000, pushing the total well over $500,000. That made Round-Up the nation’s second-highest paying rodeo. (The National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas is the highest.)

The successful partnership with a prestigious rodeo might have helped Pendleton Whisky land a sponsorship spot for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. And both whisky brand and rodeo have benefited from nationwide name recognition.

“It’s only increased the exposure,” said Round-Up General Manager Casey Beard. “People see the brand in liquor stores and think, ‘Let’s go see the rodeo in person.’”

The true key to success is that both the brand and the rodeo continue to back up the slogan and logo with quality.

“The Round-Up is more than just a competition,” Beard said. “It’s the best rodeo out there.”

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