Portland has become positively civilized with its recent explosion of small distilleries. Let’s raise a glass and have a proper drink toasting the city’s burgeoning local, made-by-hand liquor producers. Classic cocktails are nothing new, but small-batch artisanal liquors are showing up in liquor stores, restaurants and bars all over town.
It should come as no surprise that Portland is, once-again, making a name for itself. We’re all about hand-crafted and local here. Naturally, there are Portlanders who are bringing the same careful attention that locals give to brewing beer and wine-making to distilling spirits.
Micro-distilling in Portland started with Clear Creek, which began producing eau de vie in 1985. Along with grappa and brandy, Clear Creek produces the famous pear-in-the bottle eau de vie. McMenamin’s Edgefield followed in 1998, and now produces whiskey, a couple of varieties of brandy and gin. Rogue Brewing started distilling in 2003, and has two varieties of rum on the shelves, and various others in the works. More and more local distillers are open for business: New Deal Distillery (makers of Portland 88 vodka), Indio Spirits (producers of several flavored vodkas), Bendistillery (Crater Lake Vodka, among others) and House Spirits (Medoyeff Vodka and Aviation Gin). For you, dear readers, I have done a tour of duty, coming up with some great ways to drink locally.
The rains have started pouring, the days are grayer, and it’s time to stay home and make a hot toddy. Rogue has been producing rum for a few years now, with a Hazelnut variety due to hit shelves any minute. They have a new Spruce gin as well. But nothing says escape like rum. Pair Rogue Dark Rum with the apple cider that’s in stores now for a nice fall drinky-drink:
Hot Apple Cider
(recipe adapted from the Food Network)
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 orange – thinly sliced
2 quarts apple cider
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Pinch grated nutmeg
1 generous cup Rogue dark rum
Stud the apple with the cloves. In a medium pot, combine the studded apple and remaining ingredients except the rum. Slowly bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the rum. Discard the apple. Ladle into mugs and garnish each with a cinnamon stick. Serve immediately into warmed mugs and stare out the window. Curse the darkness.
The distillers over at House Spirits are mad scientists. You expect to see white coats when you venture into the lab behind their tasting room. I sampled their soon-to-be-released Krogstad Aquavit, with its lilting caraway flavor, and knew immediately that it would be become a pre-supper sipper in my house. House Spirits will also release a rum and a pure-malt whiskey (which, unlike many other local producers, they are distilling and aging in-house). I just adore their Aviation gin and prefer it in a G & T more than any other gin out there (including Hendrick’s). If you really want to play up the flavors of Aviation gin, though, order it in a gimlet. Let’s get back to basics with their vodka, Medoyeff vodka, named in honor of the distiller’s Russian grandfather. Of the locally-produced vodkas, this is my favorite to drink neat. Here’s my recipe for Medoyeff vodka (adapted from personal use):
One bottle Medoyeff vodka, slightly chilled
half a loaf of rye bread
Take a shot of vodka in one hand and a piece of bread in the other. Propose a toast. Inhale. Drink vodka. Exhale. Eat the bread. Repeat until all the stories are told and all the vodka is gone. [Note from Food Dude. 6 friends? Only with designated drivers. Drink responsibly]
Local hipsters have found a favorite in New Deal Distillery, producers of Portland 88 (proof, that is), New Deal vodka and Hot Monkey, a pepper vodka. New Deal has supported (and lubricated) many local causes, and there is a strong proletariat vibe going on with that company. The manifesto on their website states, “I want my vodka. You don’t like it make your own goddamn vodka, but I’m tired of giving my money to some big corporation that sees me as a mark? I want to help my friends get jobs. And I want to help people have fun.” It’s not all talk, though, I really like New Deal vodka. It’s got a nice, smooth mouth feel and mixes well with almost anything. The 88, however, is quite astringent by itself, and I have found nothing that tames the proof in that mother. New Deal has plans to release a chocolate vodka called Mud Puddle this winter.
On the other end of the spectrum of vodka production is Indio Spirits. Though their claim to fame may be candy-colored koolers that the kids are downing at Barracuda’s, I do keep one of their babies in my liquor cabinet, the Lemongrass-Lime vodka. They also produce a Marionberry vodka, and a Blood Orange vodka (Jolly Rancher anyone?) among others. Here’s what I make with the Lemongrass-Lime vodka:
2 oz. Indio Lemongrass-Lime vodka
5 wedges lime
8-10 cilantro leaves
1-1.5 oz. simple syrup (less is more here)
splash of club soda (I use seltzer)
Make ala a mojito – muddle lime wedges, cilantro and a few cubes of ice in a mixing glass. Fill the glass with ice, add simple syrup and club soda and stir.
Eleven year-old Bendistillery, one of the most well-known of the local distillers, produces Crater Lake vodka. Distributed in over 20 states, it is an elder statesman to Portland’s young punks and craftsmen. When I am drinking this Big Daddy of a vodka, I take it like a man: only a straight up martini will do, with a whisper of vermouth and a couple of olives. It has a satiny mouth feel that works well when left alone. The same can be said for their Desert Juniper gin, a total flavor bomb. Just have it in a very dry martini, and watch the work woes wash away.
Whether you are at home or on the town, drink (to) Portland. There are lots of local spots around the city that have Portland liquor on the shelves. In addition to asking that your favorite cocktail be made with a local liquor, you could visit one of the many bars that are making Portland spirits a part of the menu.
Mint/820 has a couple of cocktails that feature Bendistillery products. Their Hazel (made with vanilla vodka and Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso vodka) looks like a great way to while away a rainy day.
Just as with their cuisine, Park Kitchen has come up with creative ways to use local libations. On their menu recently were a Clear Creek Pear Brandy Sidecar, and the Medoyeff Club Cocktail (Medoyeff vodka with fresh citrus, orange Curacao, Angostura and Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters).
Also going native is Paley’s Place, serving something called an M Collins (‘locally crafted Medoyeff vodka blended with sweetened citrus juices, served on the rocks’) and a Pear Brandy Kami Kazi (Clear Creek pear brandy, Cointreau, & fresh squeezed lime juice served up). Paley’s is also using Bendistillery’s Desert Juniper gin in a signature gimlet (‘an Oregon crafted gin blended with fresh sweetened lime juice & served up or on the rocks’).
You can find Portland potables at Alberta Street Oyster Bar and Grill, who makes a French 75 with Aviation gin, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup topped with sparkling wine. The Gilt Club shakes up an Aviation (Portland’s Aviation gin, maraschino liquor, fresh lemon – up with an amarena cherry). And CaféCastagna makes a drink called Im Pear (ginger vodka, Clear Creek pear brandy & lemon with a crystallized ginger rim). Equinox makes a cocktail called Garden of Eden (organic Crater Lake vodka, muddles basil, cucumber and limes, with a sugar rim and a cucumber slice); and Snake River Mud (Indio Spirit’s imported Canadian Snake River Stampede whiskey, Amaretto, coffee, and fresh whipped cream).
Oaks Bottom Public House is multitasking these days, serving up several Indio products with fresh squeezed juices. They also have on the menu a Cypress Martini – Indio blood orange vodka, tripel sec and OJ; and Nancy’s Nutty Calypso which is Rogue Hazelnut Rum and coffee, tripel sec and cream served on the rocks.
Wildwood’s bartender seems to be in love with Aviation as much as I am! A friend recently had the following drinks with made with Aviation: Pegu Club, a Chartreuse Martini, and an English Dog: (grapefruit juice, Aviation, bitters, salted rim). They also do a Clear Creek Sidecar.
“With micro-distilling, you’re getting the same handmade, artisanal qualities you’re getting with the microbreweries,” says Rogue’s Scott Gallagher. It’s just a matter of time before Portlanders pick up on the new trend. Because in Portland, buying local liquor doesn’t just mean “buying locally,” it also means buying the best.
More information is available here:
New Deal Distillery
Indio Spirits [link no longer valid]
Bendistillery [link no longer valid]
Clear Creek Distillery
Ransom Spirits [link no longer valid]
House Spirits had an open house a couple months ago on a hot summer day; they invited the public in for tastings of their gin, vodka, and aquavit, as well as cocktails made by one of the distillery’s owners. Both owners were incredibly gracious, knowledgeable, and proud of their products – and rightfully so! I disagree that the way to taste the best of the Aviation gin is by drinking it in a gimlet – the Aviation cocktail I had at the open house is by far the best cocktail I have ever had, and that is a well-worn path, I can assure you!
Anyway, if you haven’t tried any of House Spirits’ offerings, you definitely should – the flavor and quality are outstanding. I have not had such luck with New Deal, and then there’s Hood River Distillery…[wince]
Great post on local spirits. However, you left out one shining star. Clear Creek Distillery also makes a great single malt whisky called McCarthy’s. Very peat-y much like Talisker and quite affordable. It’s being poured around town and my bar is never complete without a bottle of it.
I also had the privilege of sampling the House Spirits a couple of months ago. They were serving a gin cocktail made with sage and egg whites which was fantastic – and I rarely drink my booze any other way than straight-up (was this the Aviation cocktail?)
Speaking of straight-up, their aquavit is amazing, FYI. I’m not sure, however, if it is available yet.
Nice, clean and smart packaging, as well. I’m a fan.
For the record, Christian said that the key is what kind of maraschino liqueur you use; I’ve had an Aviation before made with Luxardo, but I think he was using something else. I could be wrong, but it definitely tasted different to me.
Suds Sister says
The signature Aviation Cocktail:
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 oz. gin
Shake the mixture with ice.
The sage cocktail that you are thinking of may be one that the boys made up for a dinner at Culinary Artistry:
Oregon Sage Sour (Aviation gin, fresh lemon juice, sage, egg white, shaken).
Regarding the Aquavit: According to my notes, it was to be released “in about a month”. That was in September. I don’t believe it’s out yet, at least I haven’t seen it in stores.
Suds Sister says
I have only ever seen Luxardo on the shelves, but to be frank, it’s not something that I have used or tasted enough to tell the difference.
When I did a tasting at House Spirits for this article, I drank everything straight. Yes, even the gin. So I missed out on the excellent mixology talents of the proprietors.
FWIW, House Spirits is having an open house on December 9th (info listed in the press release section of the site). They will be selling the Aquavit then.
Thanks for the interest!
The brand of Masaschino we like is Maraska, which is a special order in Oregon, but on the shelves in Washington. SS’s recipe is best for the Luxardo, but as with any comestible, recipes should be adapted for the ingredients, so if using Maraska, go 3/4, 1/2, 2.
Hope to see you all on the 9th.
You can bet I’ll be there!! Thanks for the information.
I have been out of town and off internet for a little while, so imagine my delight (albeit delayed) in reading your in-depth review of local distillers. We’re so lucky to live in such a “spirited” town and all of us at Imbibe definitely draw inspiration from our bountiful surroundings.
Talk about drinking in the flavors of the Pacific NW—for my birthday, I got a bottle of Clear Creek’s Douglas Fir eau de vie. Uhhh, yum.
We’ll be at the House Spirits open house too. See you then…
Does anyone know of any other open tasting events happening over the holidays? An open house tour sounds like a fun thing to do over the Thanksgiving weekend… may take away from the wine country weekend though. It seems like it would be a fun thing to do when out of town guests are here for the holidays. Also, it would be nice to be able to taste a few before splurging on the unknown! Always looking for new cocktails to try!
Have a great holiday,
Food Dude says
Until you fall off of the barstool!
Suds Sister says
House Spirits is open by appointment, so is Clear Creek Distillery. Click on the links in the article to contact them.
Rogue has a tasting room in Newport, which could be a nice diversion over a holiday weekend.
I know you are looking at next weekend. But if anyone is interested, Simpatica is doing a dinner in conjunction with House Spirits this Saturday. This very well could be sold out, but it’s worth calling the guys: (503)235-1600
If all else fails, may I suggest a bellying up to the bar at one of the restaurants mentioned in the article? You can do a veritable tour without leaving your barstool!
Suds Sister says
I defer to my drinking mentor when I repeat, “Everything in moderation (including moderation).”
To Siobhan: That Doug Fir Eau de Vie sounds intriguing. Is it really distilled from just the needles? What does it taste like? I haven’t been to their distillery since the move. I think I need to check out their new wares.
Food Dude says
You had me until “the nose is almost that of a perfume”. Do you mean that in a piney, retsina kind of way?
The Douglas Fir Eau de Vie is a combination of spring douglas fir buds and brandy, as I understand it.
It has a really clean taste, with bright piney (fir-ry?) and earth flavors that burst forth in the first stip. The nose is almost that of a perfume.
Food Dude says
Jill-O, I use that in a pear sidecar (blatantly stole the recipe from Park Kitchen). It’s great stuff. Also good warmed up a bit.
I’ll have to try the Doug Fir d’ vie. Sounds interesting.
I just got a bottle of the Clear Creek Pear Liqueur. OMG, it is amazing – smooth and pear-y and easier to sip than the brandy on its own.
J Eisenhart says
The Doug Fir eau d’ vie is actually quite nice. Not sappy in any way. It is mellowed with some CC Pear Brandy. Come check it out!
I love the pear sidecar at Park Kitchen. That is a very tasty drink.
Suds Sister says
FYI: Many of the Clear Creek products are available in little airline bottles. I plan on using them this year for my PDX Christmas baskets of cheer. I tuck in local chocolates, hazelnuts, smoked salmon, a bottle of Fred (From the Wood), and cute little Clear Creek-ies, I think the folks back home will love it!
FD: I knew I should have skipped saying it’s like a perfume…. I meant that it’s light and appealing. I’d dab a little on my neck, but that would be both weird and a waste of this delicious eau de vie.
Suds Sister says
I came across an article in Portland Monthly about a new (to me) distillery. I wanted to give all you imbibers out there a heads-up. Based in CA, Modern Spirits produces infused vodka with such unique flavors as Oregon Black Truffle, candied ginger, celery peppercorn, chocolate orange, and grapefruit honey.
They are available in a few local liquor stores:
Hyland Hills Liquor (Beaverton)
11th Avenue Liquor (downtown)
Portland Heights Liquor
More info is available on their website:
Happy New Year everyone! And please remember to get a designated driver. Tri-Met is offering free rides after 8pm on New Year’s Eve and plans to run Max until 3 a.m.
The Doug Fir eau d’ vie is extremely pleasant with a loaf of bread and butter. It’s quite a recommendation. As an orthodox Jew, I usually have a problem finding Kosher drinks, however there is a nice brand of Kosher vodka available locally in San-Fransisco.
Thanks for a great post.