Of the 100 or so micro distilleries in the entire USA, Portland's industrial-eastside neighborhood is home to four of them, with three more on the way by 2009. Maybe that's why bartenders are writing their own chapter of Portland's food story. Just like the brewers and chefs, they're close to the source.
Take Ten01 bar manager Kelley Swenson: Forget that he barely looks old enough to drive—he crafts concoctions you'll remember for days. And to make some of them, it takes him days, too.
For the bartender's Oregon Anjou ($9), an infusion of Medoyeff vodka, Clear Creek Pear Brandy, pear puree and a housemade simple syrup that subs pinot gris for water, Swenson sneaks into chef Jack Yoss' kitchen and poaches up to 50 pears each week. With a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cinnamon, he delivers winter in a martini glass. And—besides the lemon—its ingredients are local right down to the vodka.
"I'm always looking for quality products, and House Spirits [which makes Medoyeff] is in Portland and makes a strong statement," he says.
House Spirits sells its Medoyeff vodka, Aviation gin and Aquavit—an anise- and caraway-infused liquor—in 16 states but welcomes locals to learn about the distilling process and sample the goods at its dinky distillery in Southeast. This Saturday the liquor house is sweetening the deal, as it hosts the second annual Booze Bazaar with infused-vodka sellers Sub Rosa Spirits and Ransom Spirits, plus chocolatier David Briggs. Expect samples as well as holiday deals on booze.
House Spirits' distillery feels like a scientist's laboratory. On a recent visit, indie rock hummed softly in the background as co-owner and distiller Lee Medoff led me from one giant tank to another. Matt Mount, who plans events and distills at House Spirits, was busy "collecting the heart" for a batch of Aviation gin. That's the process by which the distiller gathers the purest part of the spirit before it's cut with water, filtered and eventually bottled. Meanwhile a huge plastic vat of cane sugar and water fermented into rum just an arm's length away. I also saw the oak barrels that house the whiskey House Spirits will add to its repertoire by 2010. "Making liquor is alchemy," says Medoff. Later, at a tiny bar tucked into the corner of the same room, Mount married Aviation gin to fresh-squeezed lime and crafted the most perfect gimlet I've ever tasted.
Several blocks away, more experimentation is brewing. Portland cocktailsmith and regular House Spirits visitor Kevin Ludwig, formerly of Park Kitchen, will debut his own bar, Beaker and Flask, in June 2008 at the corner of Southeast 7th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard. Now that's news worth raising a glass to.
Booze Bazaar at House Spirits, 2025 SE 7th Ave., 235-3174. Noon-5 pm Saturday, Dec. 15. Free.