Petal and Thorn Vermouth by Imbue

petal and thornI picked up this 375ml bottle of vermouth at one of my favorite liquor stores and was immediately intrigued.  Imbue vermouth is already a local staple and this bottle seemed to be a small batch release.  Neil Kopplin of Imbue was kind enough to confirm that this is a barrel aged version of their normal Petal and Thorn aperitif.  Rested in french oak barrels for one year outside in the Oregon weather where it ranged from 98 to 28 degrees.  This small bottling was released in 2015 but the result was so good they have committed to incorporating the process into future products.

Bottled at 18% and individually numbered the bottles also include the latitude and longitude where the barrels were rested.  The corks feature a wax seal which gives them just a little touch of class.

Despite the barrel aging it doesn’t have an overly oaked flavor.  It blooms with a floral note and then sways into a more bitter tinge.  Like many vermouths this is a fine thing to drink on its own, blends well with gin and other cocktails.  Because it’s not a sweet vermouth or a “dry” vermouth there may be any number of cocktails where this won’t work well but it’s a wonderful drink all the same.

Glaser Butterscotch Liqueur

glaserbutterWhen your biggest competition are Dekuyper and Bols chances are pretty good that you’ve got a product worth looking at more than once.  It has been some time since my first visit to the Glaser tasting room and I’m still licking my lips over some of their offerings.  As a craft distillery it can be hard to compete on the more simple spirits.  White rum, vodka, tequila and even dark rum have numerous big names making excellent products.  With the much higher overheads that craft distillers face they can’t compete on price on those kinds of products.  Enter the flavors and liqueurs.  I have seldom found a major label that does liqueurs with any kind of aplomb.  Be it limoncello, creme de Cassis, or even just a simple flavored whiskey craft usually has the time and the attention to make a product worth drinking.    Such is definitely the case at Glaser Distilling.  This little offshoot of a Roseburg winery has 4 different liqueurs currently on offer and each of them is excellent.

In particular I want to focus on their butterscotch liqueur.  Limoncello is becoming a fad and can be found in a lot of new places, you can’t swing a growler without knocking over a display of a dozen local coffee liqueurs and chocolate is equally ubiquitous.  Butterscotch is something I have seldom seen outside of a college shot party.

What makes the difference here is Glaser’s attention to detail.  Your typical bottom shelf butterscotch “schnapps” is a wad of fake sugar, fake flavor and sometimes fake color.  A gut bomb of artificial ingredients at less than $10 a bottle.  Glaser distilling makes their own butterscotch which gives this liqueur an even brown sugar flavor and an inviting brown color that can only come from a real caramelization process.  The flavors are rich with the deep molasses tones and bright buttery notes.

If you’re planning a college party and someone wants to make buttery nipples a bottle of bols will do, if you need something classy to sweeten up a cocktail you can’t do any better than Glaser’s Butterscotch Liqueur.

Stone Barn Apricot Liqueur

apricot liquorQuite possibly one of the furthest flung points on the Portland Distillery Row, Stone Barn Brandyworks has a lot to offer.  Many of their products are seasonal, using fruit and grains from around the NW when they are at their freshest.  This can lead to a bit of a scarcity problem with some of their more popular bottles.

While looking for a good flavored brandy for use in some tiki cocktails I remembered their selection and made the trip over.  After an hour of samples in everything from Ouzo to quince liqueur I wrapped and bought my favorites.

Among them was this gem.  Using an Oat Whiskey base this liqueur pulls all the tart, sweet and tangy notes of fresh apricots into that earthy, bright base.  Far better choice than an artificially flavored apricot brandy.  This carries all of the color, weight and scent you could need for anything between spring and fall.  At $25 for a 375ml and $35 for a 750ml this is a bargain for anyone who needs apricot flavor in a cocktail.

The only downside is that Stone Barn doesn’t distribute very widely and production is often a limitation.  I checked listings and found bottles at only around 10 stores in Oregon, and only 1 outside of the Portland Metro area.  Some online sales are possible but appear complicated by state limitations.

Sorel by Jack from Brooklyn

27147_hrI recently found the website Gear Patrol and they turned me on to a number of new liqueurs via this article.  One of the more interesting was Sorel by Jack from Brooklyn.  The only current product of this Brooklyn producer the Sorel liqueur is a 30 proof blend of hibiscus and spice in a neutral base.  At 29.90 for a 750ml bottle this seems a little expensive for a liqueur.  The article hit the nail on head that this is a bottle that screams Fall Cocktail.  A combination of cassia, ginger, clove, and hibiscus makes for a very mulled wine extraction and the dark color does nothing to dispel that intention.

Solo, I think this is best taken at room temperature or higher.  Citrus notes can be found more easily at that point and the chill brings a bit too much of the clove forward giving it a musty off-putting flavor.  Vodka and gin drinks spring to mind with any number of other ideas involving fortified wines like port or sherry coming along after.  I want to see some cocktails with orange bitters, dark rum or a crisp wheat vodka.

If there was a smaller bottle I might have bought that instead and powered through it, as it stands the 750ml just seems to intimidate me into switching back to bourbon.

Glaser Distilling

glaserLogoI was very pleased to run across a new addition to the Portland distillery scene.  While they don’t operate their actual stills in Portland it is the place to be for tasting rooms as many others have already proven.  Based out of a celebrated winery located near Roseburg they produce a number of very keen products that I was able to taste on my visit.

Glaser in the Pearl can be found at 1230 NW Hoyt A, Portland, OR 97209
a few scant blocks from I-405.  Parking is a challenge unless you’re there during the day.  They are open 2pm to 8 pm Tuesday through Sunday.

Among their offerings were both Vodka and White rum as well as a spiced rum and a few other items that I can’t seem to find on their website.  This may mean they were seasonal or could just indicate that they don’t update their site often.

Their more interesting items were a Limoncello, coffee, and Butterscotch liqueur.   I would have loved to have bought a bottle of each but funds limited me to a single bottle of the butterscotch.  I was assured by the very lovely Sandy Glaser herself that they produce all of the butterscotch used in the liqueur themselves which makes it doubly wonderful.

It has been a while since I visited but their selection does not appear to change often.  Prices were reasonable for the region and the liqueurs were excellent.  Personally I didn’t find anything in their regular spirits to write home about but your mileage may vary.

Aval Pota

aval pota 2Mcmenamin’s operates two distilleries in the Portland area, one at Edgefield and another at Imbrie Hall.  Their products aren’t generally sold outside of their own operations but with dozens of small strip mall bars all over town it isn’t exactly hard to find their stuff if you want it.

Recently I went shopping for presents and found a number of new products on their shelf.  Among them was this tasty little number.  Aval is middle welsh for apple, Pota is old Irish for a pot still.  From the name you would expect an apple brandy but Aval Pota is basically apple pie.  Unlike a number of the other ones on the market this one isn’t a moonshine base it uses a single malt whiskey.

Blended with apple juice and spices down to a reasonable proof this is a pretty sweet liqueur.  It runs well hot or cold, the apple flavor in most things is normally too mild to notice but this holds up well.  Apple smell on top is a nice aroma followed by the cinnamon.  The flavors carry over into the first and second notes where you get the sweet and crisp kind of apple flavor you might get from a dried apple ring.  The whiskey has a nice bite on the end, being from single malt it doesn’t have the more spicy or rounded notes of a bourbon or rye.

A little spendy for something this low a proof, most flavored whiskey products aim a little lower since they know the whiskey flavor will be covered over and thus any imperfections will be less noticeable. Pick up a bottle when things get colder and drop a little into your tea or cider.  This doesn’t disappoint.

33% ABV and $29.95 for a 750ml bottle.

Camp 1805 Distillery

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

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.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

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.

Cruzan Blackstrap Rum

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 ;).