At least once a year the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) Does a night dedicated to cocktails, local distilleries and alcohol tasting. Running from about 6-11pm it was an interesting and excellent way to spend an evening.
Normally I do my distillery crawl which is 5-6 locations over about 6 hours with stops for food. OMSI offered up 15 different distilleries in about 5 hours without the option for bunk sandwiches in the middle.
The entry fee of $12 comes with a nice souvenir shot glass and a stack of 10 drink tokens so you can’t over indulge. The glass has a molecule on the side but from what I can tell it’s not an alcohol molecule, if anyone can tell me what it’s supposed to be I would be grateful. You can’t buy these in the OMSI store so I don’t have any other details about them.
As for the tokens, I think someone needs to clue the distilleries in as to their use. I was able to toss in one token for the pair of us and sample pretty much everything each of the booths had on offer, there was an option to purchase additional tokens but I didn’t see the need. I gleaned that some of the presenters were required to limit what they brought. Clear creek in particular looked sparse compared to their normal selection. They had their cranberry liqueur, some brandy and some grappa but not much else.
All of my favorites were there, Eastside was showing off their new spiced rum, New Deal, House Spirits, and Clear Creek all had their usual excellent option on offer.
Of those I was not familiar with I attempted to try anything that looked unique. Several kinds of Bourbon, more than a few gins and some stand out unique items. I won’t say I liked them all. I won’t even name names here since my tasting was brief and didn’t give me the kind of time I would put into a review.
Things that stood out:
Imbue Vermouth – A locally made vermouth that uses oregon Pinot Gris, distilled into brandy at Clear Creek and then flavored with herbs. I was not previously familiar with this brand but they impressed me. Both with their presentation and their product. Unlike many classic vermouths this one contains no wormwood. Not sure how that makes it stack up but I’m warming to the ideas of fortified wines and aperitif wines.
Grog – Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery located in St Helens produces some interesting products. I had thought that grog would be just rum, water and lime juice but these guys managed to surprise me with a lot of flavor packed into these products. I don’t know how soon I’ll pick any up, but if you’re a fan of rum drinks this is something to sample.
Sinfire – A new Cinnamon Whiskey from the Hood River Distillers, the same fine folks who make Pendleton Whiskey. This was a very tasty drink, less sugary than fireball and with a good flavor. Price point on it was in the line to compete, I saw a fifth going for around $17.
Things that Irked:
Everyone makes vodka. This isn’t a new thing, I’m sure that since the dawn of time everyone has taken the neutral spirit distillate of their choice, slapped a vodka label on it and put it out the door. What occurred to me then as it has so many times before is that “Vodka teaches you nothing.” Your options when you make a vodka are either to do as well as the ultra premium brands and produce a tasteless, odorless product without the serious burn of alcohol, Or you can fail miserably.
Once you have an premium well filtered vodka the only thing you can do is compete on price. I have a vodka that I like. It hits all the markers for me. No taste, no scent, no burn in the front, no burn on the back, nice soft mouthfeel, and it runs about $20 a bottle. To get me to switch brands, you would either have to do something remarkable, or have your bottle be half that price.
Keep in mind that I’m only talking about plain silver vodkas. Once you start adding flavors to them it’s an entirely different ball game. Hazelnut or hot pepper is going to change the matter for the better because you’re no longer in a wide open field.
If you fail to make a decent vodka there are a couple of things that will happen. First off it will be immediately obvious. You can’t hide things in vodka. It’s not aged, there’s nothing to take the sting out of failure or to hope that it will get better with age. The second thing that will happen is people who know will assume everything else you make is equally bad.
There were two very nice booths at the OMSI show. They each had vodka and gin, one had bourbon as well as a few other things. I tasted both of their vodkas, both were awful. I can’t say there was any real flavor problems but the burn was front back and center. I assumed that if someone couldn’t do vodka well then their other products might suffer a similar lack of expertise and after tasting their gins and the one bourbon I can say that I was right on all counts.
For the love of all that is holy, do not put out a vodka simply because you had some leftover spirits. If you put out a vodka, do it because you want to make good vodka.
Next time I do this, I promise, More pictures, better pictures even if I have to drag a photographer with me the whole way.
Also OMSI’s little presentations are cute but there are only a couple of them and they’re really reaching on trying to get the science around this stuff. The chemical lab had some of the most interesting but it was packed the whole time so you have to wait forever to do any of them.