When we asked friends from Portland, Oregon what we should do on our trip there, they said “eat and drink”. We not only had delicious food, but found that almost every place we ate also served cocktails (it must be easier to get a liquor license there than in LA). In this post, we’ll talk about a few of our favorites.
One highlight was the Multnomah Whiskey Library, shown in the photo above. We had dinner there and enjoyed two tasting flights of whiskey. A very knowledgeable bartender brought out bottles on a library cart and poured our drinks at the table. For our first flight, we focused on Pacific Northwest whiskeys. Our favorite was Henry DuYore’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey from Ransom Spirits. Aged first in American oak barrels and then in French oak, it combined toasty vanilla flavors with the floral notes of cognac. For our second flight, we asked for other whiskeys similar to that one. We especially liked our pour of Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece Bourbon, which is aged in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.
We had the most memorable cocktail of our trip a few blocks away at a cozy bar called Kask. The drink, called Talkin’ Bout Practice, was made with reposado tequila, mezcal, agave, and mole bitters, with a Mexican digestif called Fernet Vallet layered on top. In the past, we’d just heard of the Italian liquor called Fernet Branca, but it turns out that fernet is a general term for a type of amaro. The cocktail had a nice smokiness, probably from the mezcal, along with sweetness from the agave and a satisfying, complex bitterness from the fernet. We’ll try to reproduce this cocktail in a later post.
Portland also has several craft distilleries, and we chose to visit House Spirits because we love their Aviation Gin. One of us got a flight of mini cocktails and the other got a spirit flight. One of our favorites there was Krogstad Festlig Aquavit, a Swedish-style spirit that uses star anise and caraway in place of the usual gin botanicals. It has a strong anise flavor, making it similar to a pastis like Pernod, but with less sugar. Another treat we discovered was the Old Tom gin, created by aging Aviation in whiskey barrels for a year. The aging mellows out the flavor and adds a light golden color. (Update: As of 11/2016, House Spirits has sold Aviation to a New York distributer.)
This trip was not only the first time we’d ever had aged gin, but also our first time having unaged whiskey–we tried a “light” whiskey from Walla Walla Distilling Company. Unaged whiskeys are something new distilleries can offer while they’re starting up; they differ from vodka in that they’re less distilled and keep more grain flavor.
One of our last tasting stops was a non-alcoholic one, at Steven Smith Teamaker right across the street from House Spirits. We settled in on comfy chairs there and enjoyed a flight of hot teas. We really liked the refreshing White Petal variety, which had a flavor that reminded us of ripe mangoes.