Bartenders and booze-hounds marched across the Pearl District on Friday to protest the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's (OLCC) treatment of "high-quality agave spirits" as part of Portland Cocktail Week
. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek event, dubbed "March for Mezcal
," was sponsored by Ilegal Mezcal, whose product has been denied entry to the state by the OLCC. Although other brands are available here, bartenders claim most can only be obtained through a costly "special order" process, and supplies are regularly low.
Following an agave spirits tasting session at Irving Street Kitchen, protesters carried placards reading "Free Agave" and "Keep Your Laws Off My Liquor,"
stopping at the Teardrop Lounge and Bluehour for mezcal and tequila, chanting outside of Powell's Books, and finally culminating at Clyde Common for a well-earned drink.
"We've been really frustrated because these artisanal spirits that we're very excited about have had a hard time getting into the state through the OLCC," said David Shenaut
, President of the Oregon Bartender's Guild. "They go on 'special order' at exorbitant prices—they're very over-priced."
Although many onlookers appeared to mistake the pictures of agave plants for marijuana leaves—one cheering "Yes on 74!"—the protest did catch the attention of the OLCC, which repeatedly tweeted
"OLCC is not blocking Mezcal. You can get several kinds at liquor stores" throughout the event.
This is the first Portland Cocktail Week, which has been organized in conjunction with the Great American Distillers Festival
. After kicking off on Wednesday evening, the initial two days were dedicated mostly to "Drink.Write", an annual conference held by the Cocktail and Spirits Online Writers Group
, in which bartenders and bloggers from all over the country came to discuss everything from making your own bitters to web design.
The festival kicks into full gear this weekend, with seminars and social events all day Saturday and Sunday. For those not interested in sessions on "innovative applications of ice" and "service protocols," or splashing cash for tastings, tours or even an "ice bar" at Beaverton's Valley Ice Rink, you can still get a taste with many of the visiting bartenders pulling guest shifts at Teardrop Lounge and the Hotel De Luxe's Driftwood Room
(check out the schedule here
On Sunday afternoon, top bartenders from around Portland and the U.S. will gather at the Tiffany Center Emerald Ballroom for the final of the PDX Cocktail Invitational
, battling it out with shakers at 12 paces for bragging rights and a $1,000 prize (which I think we can be fairly confident will have flowed back into Portland's economy by the end of the night). More information here