As an alternative to the wines of Oregon, from Pinot Noir to Pinot Gris, you'll find other alcoholic beverages to entice you in Portland and the surrounding regions. There are numerous spirit distilleries and artisan breweries in the area, producing a diverse selection of beverages, from vodka to rum, from gin to grappa. One of the most famous is the Clear Creek Distillery, which makes a unique line-up of brandies, eau de vies, grappas and fruit liquors. I have tried some of their eau de vies before and was impressed with their quality.
Though I did not get to visit their distillery on my Travel Oregon trip, I did find a way to visit another local distillery, House Spirits Distillery. It is located on Distillery Row, an area in southeast Portland which is the home to six artisan distilleries. I hope that on any future trips to Portland, I will have the opportunity to visit some of these other distilleries and try more of the local spirits.
SakeOne brewery, Dewey took me by for a tour of the House Spirits Distillery, an artisan distillery that was established in 2004. The distillery is open to the public for tours and tasting every day except Mondays. They currently only produce 6000-7000 cases annually, which includes all of their different spirits. But, they have been sustaining significant growth each year of about 50%, and hope to double their production next year. Their best markets include California, Washington and New York, though their spirits are available in Massachusetts too.
Aviation Gin (about $30). I am generally not a fan of gin, finding the juniper flavor too overpowering. But this gin did not possess the usual flavor profile. It is said to be a "new western dry gin" style and more like the original Dutch Genever. It possesses a melange of botanicals, including Juniper, Cardamom, Coriander, Lavender, Anise Seed, Sarsaparilla and dried Sweet Orange Peel. All of these flavors elevate this gin above the norm, and give it a smooth taste with herbal and spice notes. Plus, the juniper is very subdued and does not dominate the flavor profile. It has a clean, pure taste which would be fine on its own or within a cocktail. This is one of the few gins that I would actually enjoy drinking.
Ping but now I got to taste it on its own. I have tasted other aquavits so I knew basically what I would encounter. This aquavit is flavored with caraway and star anise, and tastes fairly mellow, except there is a slight burn on the finish. It has a very strong caraway flavor, with underlying notes of other spices, and I could drink it on its own, though I would prefer it in a cocktail. Not everyone will like the caraway flavor profile, but in a cocktail that can be lessened.
So, look for the House Spirits label, and taste the quality of artisan spirits in Portland.
Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, in the Pearl District, for a cocktail. This is clearly a high-end, craft cocktail lounge with a true passion for artisan workmanship. They use local produce, fresh ingredients, natural sugars and produce their own specialty liqueurs, syrups, digestifs, vermouths, bitters and tinctures. Besides the cocktails, they also sell wine, beer and sake.
I would have liked to try more of their innovative concoctions, and hope to do so on my next trip to Portland. If you love cocktails, I strongly recommend you check out the Teardrop.