Camp 1805 Distillery

Posted: 20th May 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Bar Review, Liquor Review
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220A customer recommended that I take a trip down the gorge to try out a new distillery in Hood River.  Camp 1805 is parked in a little industrial complex just a stone’s throw from the HRD plant right on the Columbia river.  Position wise you would not think that there would be much in the way of restaurant or retail in that part of the town.  Most of the commerce seems to go on in the south bank side as the town rises up the hill.

Given their location I suppose it was no surprise that they didn’t actually open until 3pm.  So the girlfriend and I made a day of it, driving down the gorge taking photos and exploring hidden gems until afternoon rolled around.  The site is actually a bar, which is different than many of the tasting rooms in Portland but encouraging as it means the bartender is going to be well versed in what kinds of cocktails go well with their products.

They were open promptly at 3, which is refreshing in this business where things can sometimes be lax.  Things were quiet since we were effectively waiting for them to open and it was the middle of the week.

The decor is very nice looking and new.  Their selection behind the bar was heavy on major labels with a good selection of mixers but lacking in the depth of a Kask or oven & shaker.

Their tasting flight included four offerings.  From what I gather their small batch nature means that the proof on some of these varies from batch to batch with 80 being the baseline and the end product going up to at least 93.

Endurance White Whiskey

Whiskey is a curious duck, the legal requirements say that it must be barreled but not that it must be charred or aged for any length of time.  For this reason white dogs always feel like a cheat to me.  This one spends all of a minute in an unchared barrel before heading to bottling.  The result is clean and has the flavors of the heavy wheat in the grain bill without the oak to temper or tame the alcohol flavors.  It wasn’t a biter for all that the version I was drinking was 93 proof.  I can see this getting much better with time and oak.  I’m not a big fan of white dogs so take my opinion with a lot of salt.  4/10

Mt Hood Vodka

A french wheat vodka purchased elsewhere and then cut with local water and bottled.  This was similar to a grey goose in both flavor and character.  At 80 proof I wasn’t surprised with the content but neither was I really blown away.  5/10 – nothing much new to see here.

Backbone Rum

When I first tasted this I thought I was drinking whiskey.  The flavor is quite potent, which again might come from the higher proof nature of some of the offerings.  The flavor was good for a silver but not quite as soft as say Cpt. Morgan White. 6/10

Aged Rum

This is the true standout of the ones that I tried.  There wasn’t any information about it on their website so I’m stuck with what I learned while I was there.  Their backbone is aged in Yellow Rose Bourbon barrels until it is ready.  Barrel aging is a tricky process when you’re not using new barrels, the flavors in the wood already can play as much of a role as the size of the barrel in how long it needs to age to get the right flavor.  The batch I tasted was not really a dark rum but has some very good flavors to it.  8/10

Nocino Walnut Liqueur

Posted: 13th May 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Liquor Review
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nocinoStone Barn Brandyworks is a Portland gem.  Hidden away in a small semi-industrial area off 20th and SE Powell they are constantly at work cranking out brandy, whiskey and liqueurs of impeccable flavor.

In the late summer they pick immature (green) black walnuts and then soak them in their own rye whiskey.  The end result has aged brandy and spices as well.  Because I’m often there during the summer I always get a chance to see them making it, but because this is barrel aged for about 6 months they don’t release it until around November.  It’s a smaller batch item and is not around all year, so when they run out it’s gone till next November.

This is a 375ml bottle and it runs in the $30 range.  I’ve not been able to find it on Oregon Liquor search so if you don’t drop by their tasting room you might only see it in some of the local bars.  It is strong and so you won’t need to buy a lot to go a long way.

Flavor wise this is a very mixed bag.  Rye has a very spicy scent and pairs wonderfully with the scent of the walnuts.  A kind of sweet and fruity nut scent.  On the tongue the walnut is brief with the rye and brandy playing nicely with oak and the other spices in the mix.

It is dark, almost black from the oxidation of the walnut juice.  With both brandy and rye as the base this drink pairs amazingly well with bourbon or brandy cocktails.  It can be added easily to sidecars, manhattans, negronis or even a simple old fashioned.  It is a pretty traditional Italian digestif and really goes well alone in a small cordial glass.

Bartools: Perfect Black and Tan

Posted: 6th May 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Beer, Tools
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blackandtanI’ve discovered my kryptonite.  I can see kitchen gadgets, drinkware, tools and any number of other items on the shelf but if their use is obvious I can ignore them.  At a recent trip through Williams Sonoma I wandered near the barware and nestled among the cocktail shakers and bottle openers was this simple coaster sized piece of steel.  It was sold unboxed, with neither instructions nor explanation.  The sole concession to marketing was the engraving around the edge promising the “Perfect Black and Tan”.

It was $9.95 and I was hooked.  From the photo it appears to be slightly flat but this could not be further from the truth.  The outer ring is designed to sit comfortably around the rim of a pint glass and leaves enough space for a collins or a slightly wider than normal bar glass.  The middle ring is recessed from the rim and has equally spaced holes in the bottom of the depression.

The center is a raised dome of steel, perfectly rounded.  Being of a single piece of steel there are no welds, seams or rough edges.

Not being a beer drinker I was not immediately familiar with the Black and Tan as a beverage. If you are (like me) unknown to this drink it is a combination of lager and stout most notably Guinness and Harp.  Porter and pale ale are also allowable but the original is as given.  The drink is supposed to be served in a pint with a relatively clear separation between the two beers.  A “Perfect” black and tan would have a firm line between the two without blending between.  The Guinness is usually presented on top despite the arguably higher specific gravity (thickness).

pousse CafeTo achieve this process the bartender will pour the Guinness over the back of a bar spoon or down the angled edge of the glass to slow the beer’s fall.  This is the same process would would use to create a Pousse Cafe only simpler because you’re using only one layer.

So the intent with this little gadget is to give you a bar spoon like surface to spread out the overall pour and prevent splashing and then allow it to drain evenly through the holes across the surface of the lager preventing a single point of contact from mixing the two beers.

This is a fantastic design and a well thought out item.  It is easy to clean, use and store.  Beyond those elements it is useful for more than simply the original intention.  You could use this item to create similar separated drinks in any other format so long as the glass allows for the drain openings.

I have not attempted an actual pousse cafe with this as most of them use significantly smaller quantities of alcohol and much smaller glasses.

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The name of this drink is something of a joke.  The two main components are an Advocaat egg nog liqueur and orange juice.  Advocaat is dutch and while the low country isn’t exactly above the arctic circle the name has kind of stuck.

The Recipe:

2 oz Egg Nog Liqueur (advocaat)29
2 oz Pulp free Orange Juice

There isn’t anything terribly complicated here, advocaat has some lemon custard flavors to it that blend well with citrus and as a morning drink has much to recommend it.

As an AM drink I also try to shy away from anything that requires ingenuity this early in the morning.  If you want to expand this beyond the 2 ingredient level you can also float a little cream on the top and add club soda which turns it into an Australian drink called a fluffy duck.

stgermainOne of the flavors that I most associate with springtime is the scent of elderflower.  Growing up in the high desert of New Mexico there was a time after a strong sudden rain when the morning glory that laced our little hilltop would open and wash the normally dry air with their scents.  It is one of the few times I can remember the desert smelling like anything other than sand.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur has some of that same clean fresh scent and a delicate flavor like little petals and new grasses.

The full 750ml bottle of this liqueur is huge, with giant fluted sides like a vase.  I have tried to make myself buy one in this size a number of times but my shelf sends me angry texts,  “Really?  SRSLY?” and I have to put it back in favor of the 375 or a couple of the 50ml size.  All of their bottles have the same style to them which makes the little 50’s quite cute and perfect for a little rosewater or lavender oil when you’re done.  Prices in oregon run about $4.50 for the 50ml, $19.95 for the 375 and 39.95 for the 750ml.  Seeing as you need only use this one sparingly the bottle will last for quite a while.

St. Germain is a 20% ABV which puts it nicely below a lot of other mixers and keeps the alcohol flavor down.

As a nice spring cocktail I recommend something simple.

1 oz St. Germain
2 oz vodka
Pineapple chunk garnish

Using extra pineapple juice rim cocktail glass with cane sugar, pour contents into mixing glass.  Stir vigorously over ice.  Strain into rimmed glass and garnish with pineapple on a long pick.

I would use something like a Portland Potato or Ransom’s The Vodka which both have a flavor to them which won’t overshadow the elderflower.

Another good cocktail can be found Here.  Cocktailtube has a great sour, it uses an egg white which might not perfect for everyone but it’s a good drink anyway.

50 licks Ice Cream (and cocktails!)

Posted: 15th April 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Bar Review
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wpid-wp-1421354010691.jpegLocated in SE Portland at 20th and Clinton street 50 Licks Ice Cream represents two of the greatest things about living in Portland, hand dipped Ice Cream and well done cocktails.

Fifty Licks owner Chad is an enthusiastic and gregarious host, he welcomes you into his tiny shop with sample after sample.  Offering flavors as normal as vanilla and chocolate and as esoteric as Vegan Passion fruit with Sichuan Pepper Sorbet there is always something unique to try.

I had the pleasure to sample their Cherry Bourbon (made with Eastside Cherrys left over from Cherry Bomb Whiskey), Thai Rice Pudding, and Blood orange creamcicle.

All of them are well done and are both subtle and flavorful.  A little goes a long way, the scoops are not large but having bought a pint and nursed it greedily for several days it is well worth every penny.

What brought them around to my attention is their cocktail menu.  I don’t know what possessed me to ignore ice cream as a flavor delivery method but Fifty Licks has created some stunning and wonderful drinks.

The one that drew me in was the Bitter Rose

Cocchi Americano Rosa, Orange Bitters and Grapefruit Rosewater Sorbet.

Obviously there is almost no way to replicate the ice cream elements at home which means you should visit them directly, and as often as possible.

2021 SE Clinton Street
Portland OR 97214

Monday-Thursday 3-10
Friday 3-11
Saturday noon-11
Sunday noon-10

Cruzan Blackstrap Rum

Posted: 8th April 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Liquor Review
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cruzanI went looking for a dark rum because I needed one for the Cafe con Leche Flip.  There were several on the market but I quickly became aware of the many differences in how they were marketed and constructed.  For starters there aren’t any real regulations about how rums are classed.  There are rums, rum liqueurs and flavored rums.  Beyond that you’re pretty much on your own in the wilds of marketing speak.

From the little research I’ve done so far the black strap from Cruzan is fairly similar to their aged dark with the addition of extra molasses beyond the normal distillation.  When they add the molasses is up for some debate.  I’m personally betting that they add it after barrel aging as the extra sugar wouldn’t go over well in the oak.

Cruzan makes a pretty awesome rum normally but I was shocked that their Black Strap was actually pretty comparable price wise to my previous standby Meyers.  I paid $14 for this bottle and was glad for the privilege.  Many of the other “dark” rums on the shelf were in the $35-50 range which was well outside my limits for an unknown quantity.

The smells coming off of this bottle were puzzling.  Unlike the more vanilla and sugar smells of meyers there were hints of heavy oak, clove, coffee and some other less identifiable items.  A couple of solo sips almost killed this for me.  The rum is actually a bit bitter and the spice notes do not help to bring it back around.  There isn’t actually any sweetness in the rum, it is not a liqueur.  The molasses is prevalent but it occurred to me afterwards that black strap molasses is the final extract of the sugar process.  It is the gunk left over after you’ve squeezed every last white grain of sucrose out of the liquid that you can.

Fortunately I went straight from sips to cocktails and dropped this into my cafe con leche flip.  The results were an eye opener, the heavy flavors and bitterness were entirely gone and the spice, rum and oak were on full display.

Unlike a spiced rum the spice notes are not the primary flavor.  It’s not picking up a cinnamon stick and beating your drink over the head, it is a light shake of pepper and coriander on an otherwise deep black rum.

If you don’t already have a go-to tiki rum I would strongly suggest picking up a bottle of this.  At least until I start making my own ;).

 

 

Portland Distillery Crawl: Mk II

Posted: 1st April 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Feature
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Distillery RowPortland’s Distillery scene is expanding and exploding.  A recent article about local distilling pegged the number of distilleries at just over 27 between Forest Grove and Troutdale.  This is a staggering number and even more so when you consider that I can think of at least 1 they missed.  In the state of Oregon at large there are 35+ that fall under craft distilling and likely several more that aren’t on the radar beyond a street sign.

In my original Post I outlined some basic stops for a good distillery crawl.  Since then at least 2 new locations have opened on distillery row and some new west side locations have become worth the trip out to the suburbs.

 

 

East Side:

There are two outliers on the Distillery row.  Wild Roots distilling is on NE 6th and Couch, this is easily 15 blocks from the next stop on the row.  Stone Barn Brandy works is on SE 19th and Sandy, 24 blocks from their next most southerly neighbor.  While Wild roots is new they have only two products listed, Stone Barn however has over a dozen at various times and is well worth the trip.  If you have to cut one or the other out for time I would suggest starting at stone barn and then parking near House Spirits and walking the rest of the row.

Some new eateries have sprung up in the last few years as well.  Next door to Bunk Bar is the Boke Bowl a relatively new asian food place that has some wonderful noodles, steam buns and drinks.

On 12th and Hawthorne is one of the best food truck pods in Portland.  Despite recent shakeups and the  threat of their lot being turned into mixed use apartments they have endured and signed a new lease, visit now for crepes, mexican food, whiffy pies and BBQ.  Plus across the street is Lardo.

Around the corner from Stone Barn is 50 Licks Ice cream where you can get a taste of Portland’s hand dipped ice cream culture AND cocktails in the same building.

West Side:

Less of a crawl and more of a road trip, but there are a number of places worth hitting up on the west side.  In the downtown area there are still the steadfast likes of Clear Creak and Bull Run Distilling, each close enough to hit in quick succession.

Far out in the depths of Tigard is Indio Spirits, with 11+ products on their menu and one of the older distilleries in the area they are well worth finding.  Their flights are small but have larger samples so bring friends and share to get a better idea of the full line.

Even further out in yet another unassuming business part you will find Bootleg Botanicals, Big Bottom Distilling, Tualatin Valley Distilling and Vertigo Brewing.  Located just off Cornelius Pass Road near Cornell, many are not open for tastings every day.  Their out of the way nature means zero foot traffic, so some like Big Bottom are only open on Saturday or by appointment.  Be sure to plan accordingly, check schedules and likely call ahead.  Knowing how distillers hours run they could forget to open entirely if they aren’t sure anyone is coming.

Planning the Perfect Crawl

Driving: First and foremost I cannot stress enough the need for a designated driver.  Not all of these places are close enough together to walk and given the versatility of Oregon weather you do not want to rely on your feet to get you everywhere.

Packages: Second, check out PDX Distillery Row.  At $20 it is by far the best value in the city for tasting what the various distilleries have to offer.  The passport is good all year which removes some of the immediacy in trying to hit all 7 locations in one day.

Dates are important, some of these places are not open 7 days a week.  Some aren’t even open 2 days a week so planning for any given day is important.  I recommend Saturday as a prime day, most places are open the longest on the weekends.

Time, some of these places have only 1 or 2 offerings.  Some have over a dozen.  The amount of time you and your group can take sampling at any one is going to vary greatly depending on the length of time you spend sipping and how long you spend listening to the patter about the drink itself.  In general tasting rooms are going to be open from around 11am to 6pm.  It is possible to hit up to 7 locations in one day if you get started early and have an experienced guide, otherwise plan to hit the places that most interest you first on the chance that you will run out of time to do them later.

Food.  Eat before, and make sure you eat something relatively filling.  There are any number of great places to catch lunch before you head out.  The Green Dragon on SE 9th has Rogue Brewing’s great selection of sandwhiches, Oven and Shaker does a great Brunch, hunt around it’s a great chance to find some out of the way Portland Food.

FOOD!  Take a snack break after your first 3-4 stops.  You’ve likely just downed the equivalent of 8-9 oz of random shots.  Time to take a quick breather and reload before you hit the next couple.  Grab some pie, or debris fries.  Take a half hour to work some of that stuff and get the better part of the botanicals away from your digestive tract.

Storage is important, if you’re taking more than 1-2 people with you be aware that you will buy things.  There is too much good stuff for anyone to pass up entirely and after three or four drinks your ability to say no to a good deal somewhat evaporates.  Carting an armfull of bottles around with you from shop to shop is a hassle.  Be sure your transport has space for everything and is handy for when you buy.

Costs:  While distilleries are not required to charge for their samples, most do.  The only one I’ve encountered that was entirely free was Clear creek.  Most others offer a single $5 tasting platter of 4-5 tastes.  Some will do $1 single tastes, others like Eastside have deluxe and premium flights that offer higher end offerings.  If you’re not doing the distillery row passport expect to spend at least $5 per person per location.  You can get this cost waived if you make a purchase in some places but not all.

McCarthysOne of my long time White Whales is a bottle of McCarthy’s.  This is partly from the small size of their yearly release and partly from laziness.  I know exactly when they release every year and I’m on their mailing list.  I can just never seem to get to a store in time to pick up a bottle before they’ve all been snapped up.

Color me surprised when I stumbled into my favorite liquor store on SW 1st and Lincoln and found a bottle innocently sitting on top of a barrel.  This was the 2014 release and it was at least six months since it had come out which made it incredibly unlikely that a bottle had mysteriously appeared.

McCarthy’s is one of the few Single Malts being produced in Oregon.  This is likely because grain to bottle whiskey is incredibly hard to do well and more than a few distillers have failed trying to do even a basic whiskey.  Single Malt, if done in the Scottish tradition, is aged in oak for three years.  That means my little bottle was started in 2011 at the very least.  McCarthy’s was one of the first craft single malts in the US and has been hailed by numerous whiskey books, magazines and authors and has been hailed as one of the world’s elite whiskeys.

Produced by Clear Creek Distilling this whiskey is done in the Islay tradition from 100% peat-malted barley.  It is smokey and clear with a light finish.  My fellow drinker the HopBoxer tasted only smoke but he’s an Irish drinker and not inclined to peat.

This is a bottle that will run you about $55 in Oregon, their next release should be spring of 2015 so keep your eyes open.

Update: Devils Bit Irish Whiskey

Posted: 24th March 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Events, Liquor Review
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wpid-wp-1427222705400.jpegSt. Patrick’s day has come and gone and with it the green beer and drunken revelry of those who want to pretend they’re of Irish extraction for 24 hours.

As every year the distilleries of McMenamins release their small batch Devil’s Bit whiskey.

I wasn’t aware until I put the last three years side by side but each year the release is a little bit different.  The 2013 is a 12-year aged Irish, the 2014 is an 8 year four barrel and this year is a 5 year port barrel finish.

The bottles are all still 200ml and the price has stayed at $17.  I’ve run a side by side tasting on all three and I’m hard pressed to find the differences.  The aging process is pretty light and the finished product is still a little harsh even for the 12 year.

As an annual tradition I still enjoy heading out to Edgefield or CPR, taking the tour and getting my one or two bottles.