Distilleries of Portland

You can be forgiven for thinking that Portland Oregon is the distillery capital of the country.  Our neighbor/hat to the north Washington has significantly more even just inside the Seattle city limits but their distribution around town makes any kind of reasonable tour more difficult.  The density and number of distilleries who have landed in downtown PDX makes it one of the most interesting places to sample distilled spirits around.

The Portland Distillery Row in the SE industrial district has continued to grow since my last post about them and even more since my last attempt at a distillery crawl.  Most notably the other side of the river has gotten into the act and formed the Northwest Distiller’s District.  Nominally just the 3 distilleries off of NW 23rd between Quimby and Vaughn it has since expanded somewhat to include Indio Spirits’ new tasting room in the Pearl district.  One hopes that Glaser in the Pearl will get the hint and jump on board as well but who knows what the future will bring.

All of this (except Glaser) is covered in the Portland Distillery Passport which is now produced and managed by Proof PDX, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with PROOF the Washington Distillers Guild convention. (The Oregon Distiller’s guild convention is called TOAST).  The passport is still $20 which is a fantastic deal for all of the stuff that it now includes.  One caveat that I haven’t had to test yet is they want to limit you to 6 visits per day.  The passport covers 11 distilleries and from what I can see doesn’t actually expire.  There is a web version of the passport for the same price, but it only lasts for a year. I couldn’t figure out what it was going to do before it tried to charge me and I was more comfortable with an app than a website log in so I passed and went with a physical copy that you can get at any location.

On the west side

On the East Side:

Casker

I was searching for a place online that I could buy some rarer bottles when I stumbled upon a fantastic site.  Caskers.com is a plethora of bottles both mundane and unique.  The only drawback to the site I’ve found so far is that it requires you to create a login or use facebook to access the site at all.  Once you’re beyond that hurdle the site is very responsive on both desktop and mobile.

Breaking it down the site has 5 sections.  Firstly is the spirits themselves, a massive list that can be filtered by your location, the spirit type, point of origin and more importantly by in or out of stock.  The least expensive item in their catalog appears to be a $28 bottle of honey flavored vodka and the most expensive a $1000 bottle of 30 year old Balvenie.  I could swear that I’ve seen more expensive and unique bottles that have likely sold out and been removed.

Next up is the clubs.  Much like the current fashion for mail order boxes of unique stuff from places like lootcrate, glambag or Citrus Lane these clubs offer a curated selection of spirits.  Choosing from whiskey, vodka, or spirits you can have up to 4 shipments a quarter sent to your home for about $100-160 per package.  There is also an office option where starting at $250 you can have as many spirits as you want delivered as often as you need.

There is also a line of accessories with everything from drinking horn novelty cups to engraved glassware.

Something I have only seen offered by Jack Daniels is the private cask.  Starting at $1500 you can choose an entire cask of a spirit of your choice and have it custom bottled with your own label, be it for a wedding, graduation, retirement, hunting cabin or private club.  The Jack Daniels option was close to $1000 and generally required a licensed agent to facilitate the transaction, I can only assume caskers is taking on the more boring portions of this in exchange for a higher price tag.

Lastly is their concierge service.  If you’ve ever had a white whale that you couldn’t locate on your own and despaired of having the time and funds to travel to the places that might have what you need then this is the site for you.  Caskers offers a service to track down rare, ultra-premium and small batch products.  There’s no listed prices as this is the kind of service where if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it but I’d be tempted to see if they could find something limited but mundane like the Mt. Vernon rye or Anchor Christmas Spirit.

This site has shown me some very interesting stuff, from a vodka made entirely out of of honey to an absinthe named for Emperor Norton.  I haven’t had the chance to place an order but I’ve played around with their shopping cart and with a shipping cost of only $9.99 for a single bottle and $24.99 for a six bottle case they are more reasonable than several other sites I’ve visited.

Pricing is obviously going to be tricky but on a few items I could compare online they were the same as other web vendors.  For the items that appeared locally on oregonliquorsearch.com the pricing was pretty close with a difference of a few dollars here or there but neither caskers nor the local shops appeared to have the advantage.

The real benefit here is selection.  The internet has not been the boon to liquor sales that you might expect due to the problems of distribution and the costs involved in shipping.  If caskers can offer Lost Spirits, Balcones, or even just a wider selection of small batch major label products then they’re already ahead of anything else I’ve run across.

Whiskey Tees

Update: Upon reviewing the picture for this story I found that the site appears to no longer be active.

 

Item of the month clubs that send boxes of fancy stuff seem to be a dime a dozen these days.  From Lootcrate to Glambag the bag of random stuff to your door has returned.  One that caught my eye recently was Whiskey Tees.  A company that for $20 a month will send you a different whiskey distiller’s shirt each month.  Discounts for yearly subscriptions are offered which can bring the total down to $16 per shirt.

They say that each of the shirts uses unique artwork from the various distillers but from the example shirts on their site it looks mostly like the company logo plastered on a random color t-shirt.  The ones I recognize from Corsair, Koval and Few aren’t really that different than what you see on their bottles.

Additionally while it may seem like the hipster thing to do by wearing a shirt from a liquor you probably can’t even buy in your state the shirts are likely not much better than what you could purchase from the various company websites.  Unlike liquor there aren’t any restrictions on what T-shirts you can ship interstate.

Great idea for the whiskey drinking friend who likes to advertise their hobby.

Gojee Drinks

gojeeI stumbled across this on another bloggers site. Gojee is a food and drink site that helps bloggers.

The basic idea is that they aggregate recipes from various contributing bloggers and display them in an easily searchable format.

Some initial impressions.  I couldn’t get the sign up using facebook or google to work and had to create a new login.  Not a great first impression as I hate creating new logins for things when existing ones will do.

The drinks side of the site is very pretty.  The whole screen is devoted to the photos of the drink with minimal controls around the top and sides to let you delve into things more fully.  Since many bloggers do their own photography you can see some very lovely shots of drinks just scrolling through.

The controls are responsive but somewhat poorly laid out.  If you open the ingredients list you lose the ability to scroll to the right via mouse.  Keyboard scrolling still works using arrow keys but that isn’t really stated, so I had to spend a minute figuring it out.

Once you find a drink you like you can click on the ingredients and get a very scrubbed list of what is in the drink.  It appears that unless you list something by name it will substitute the generic option.  So suggesting Buffalo Trace as your favored bourbon for a cocktail might not carry over but listing Hendrick’s Gin would carry over.  This could result in some AND/NOT OR search problems where looking for one filters out the other entirely.

The lack of some ingredients may have more to do with the source of the recipes than anything else.  Each of these is contributed by individual bloggers and not from some kind of central drink database.  So there could be a plethora of martinis and daquiris but some rarer drinks may fall by the wayside.

Once you have a look at what the drink has in general, you can add missing ingredients to a shopping list, or click on the full recipe at which point you are directed to the original blog post.  This is a nice touch and a neat way to drive traffic to bloggers with good ideas and good photos.

The site also allows you to make a list of things you already have, and things you would like to avoid so that it can actively filter things.  They even let you dislike alcohol which lets you see kid friendly cocktails and sodas.

There is a favorite items list on the site and it has a full range of social media sharing buttons which makes it easy to compile your own cocktail menu.

I applied to be one of their contributors but their submission process didn’t leave me with a lot of information.  I will update if I hear back from them later.

I see a lot of duplication on the site, Just poking around in gin cocktails I found “The Income Tax Cocktail” and “Income Tax”.  A classic from “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”, having it show up twice under slightly different names means that a lot of the recipes here could simply be variants on each other.  I’m not sure how many super glossy photos of a basic martini we need but I know there aren’t that many ways to make it differently.

Final thought, Come for the photos, leave for the blogs themselves.

Impractical Barware: The NES Flask

flask-drunk_huntAt first blush this appears to be a simple cartridge game from the original Nintendo Entertainment System.  Fond memories and nostalgia for the days when you had to blow on your games to make them work properly will fill anyone old enough to drink at this point.

I know my own childhood was occupied by an NES light gun pushed point blank to the CRT of my TV trying to nail rapidly moving pixelated ducks.

So when the kickstarter for Inkwhiskey.com and their NES inspired flask came out I was intrigued.

Their current line runs to at least 10 styles including tetraquila, Kegaman, Metal Beer and my own favorite CastleVodka.

The flask itself is a neat piece of design, the tab of the cartridge is rubberized and fits snugly into the flask generally preventing leakage.  It also fits flush to the point where many many people have walked right by them thinking they were old games rather than barware.

It isn’t listed on the website but testing has shown the flask able to hold slightly more than 4 ounces.

As funny an idea as this is, the design still suffers from a number of flaws.  Like many flasks you will need a funnel to fill it properly.  The package includes a plasticized card which they claim can be rolled into a funnel.  Experience shows this to be folly.  The card is not a good funnel and often requires two hands to operate properly meaning you would need someone else to pour.

The opening of the flask is recessed into the tab slot, meaning you will need either a straw (recommended) or will need to put your mouth entirely over the cutout to prevent spillage.  Pouring from the flask itself is also difficult as the opening isn’t really a pour spout and is hard to aim.

Finally the flask is entirely plastic.  There is a reason most liquor bottles aren’t made of plastic and it has to do with the solvent properties of ethanol and the tendancy of plastic to leech unwelcome flavors and chemicals into the contents.  Judging from the plastic type I’m not entirely worried about chemicals, but plastic flavors wearing over time could be an issue if the flask isn’t properly cleaned.  Proper cleaning is another problem given the interior corners and unusual position of the spout.

For $20 I’m not expecting a great deal out of this item.  It’s mostly for the wow factor of drinking out of a game cartridge in front of other geeks.  If you’re actually trying to smuggle alcohol into an event or carry it with you there are many other more functional options.

Website Review: EUVS Library

EUVS may sound like an odd acronym but it stands for Exposition Universelle des Vins & Spiritueux.  Aside from a wonderful layout the site boasts a catalog of over 500 spirits, details of bar tending tools, techniques and most importantly a digital library of scanned bar books that date back to the 1700’s.  Among them are several of the most well known and sought after bar guides such as the Flowing Bowl, Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, and the Old Master himself Jerry Thomas’ 1862 classic How to Mix Drinks.

Many of these books can be had in paperback or in reprints for anywhere from $10 to 30 but here you can find high rez digital scans of the original prints.

There are at present just under 30 volumes in the collection and all of them are from before the era of copyright so they are easily able to be shared in this fashion.

The pages are crystal clear and are accurate even down to the pencil marks made on various pages in the scanned copy.  Navigation is a snap and has some of the feel of flipping an actual book.

I’ve not attempted to read these on an E-reader but they can all be downloaded in PDF format for ease of portability.

Best of all the entire site is funded via an actual museum situated on an island off the coast of france and founded by Paul Ricard of the Pernod-Ricard company.  This means there isn’t an advertisement to be had on the entire site and it looks beautiful.

Kickstarter: The Drinking Jacket by Zane Lamprey

The Drinking Jacket

One of my personal drinking heroes is Zane Lamprey.  He somehow got a major network like Spike to pay for him to travel the world drinking and exploring drinking culture with a stuffed monkey.  For those not familiar he’s the star of the show Three Sheets which aired on either Spike or the travel channel briefly a few years ago.  More recently he ran a successful kickstarter to fund a drinking series “Chug” which I have not had a chance to watch but dearly want to.

His current project is a jacket built for the drinker, starring everything from a beer koozie pocket to a bottle opener zipper pull.

The jacket is $85 normally but looks to be pretty well built with many fine features even if you don’t need it for a night of heavy drinking.

The campaign has only about 72 hours left on it so I encourage you to decide quickly before you have to pay retail for it.

Adventures in Marketing Copy

questionbottleThere are times where you will be wandering the aisle at the liquor store, surfing a distillery online or even just checking out the back of a bottle to see what the deal is with this spirit.  When you see a small block of text on the shelf it’s called a Talker and generally praises the quality and purity of the spirit.

For Example: (I found this one on DrinkupNy.com)

“This Vodka is produced from white winter wheat sourced directly from local farmers in the Western Rockies of Canada. After distillation, the spirit was shipped to the Distillery in California where it was cut down to proof with pristine water from a well in Mendocino County. Light bodied with a silky mouth feel, the Vodka is perfect for mixing, with subtle notes of grain, mineral and spice.”

Translation: We bought a tote of 190 proof vodka from our distributor and then cut it down to bottle proof with filtered tap water.  It tastes like wheat vodka.

This kind of thing happens all the time in distilling.  Lots of producers buy their base product from elsewhere or use someone else’s still to get the job done.  It’s not a sin, it’s just how the business operates when you can’t get the approval for a bigger still from the government or your current still can’t produce enough to fill your demand.   I know of a number of companies that hardly own any equipment at all.  Imbue Vermouth for example does not own a still, a vineyard, or a bottling plant but still manages to make a very compelling product that requires both wine, brandy and a significant amount of herbal infusion.

It’s not a big deal when someone does it, it’s when they feel the need to use a lot of adspeak to cover their process that things start to get murky for me.  This could have been their marketing guy, the ad man at drinkupny.com or anyone in between, but someone thought enough of their process to polish it a bit and put it out there like they were cutting the wheat by hand.