Sometimes all you need is Old Crow bourbon and flat Diet Coke from a 2-liter bottle. We don’t judge. But for those who want to cheaply make some of those $9 to $13 pre-Prohibition cocktails served at Portland’s libation-conscious bars and restaurants, the prospects can be daunting. A good bar might spend $15,000 on its liquor stock—and that’s just to start.
, a book by David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, is a proposed solution to this problem: a liquor cabinet of just 12 bottles that can serve to make the basic versions of most of the old-time cocktails you encounter at Rum Club or Teardrop Lounge, minus all the clever adjustments like house-made bitters. (The book’s ingredients don’t really allow for a Negroni, sadly—but you can probably buy Campari without prodding.)

This proposed cabinet is an Oregon craft-liquor version of that 12-bottle bar, consisting of liquors made in Oregon (or in one case, sourced in Oregon). The Solmonsons counsel that craft liquors often go for flavor bombs, not the consistent, classic flavors that larger companies make. We've chosen the local liquors that we believe best adapt to a wide range of cocktails—but keep in mind that these liquors are something like a distilled version of what wine companies call terroir: You'll taste Oregon in your cocktails. Here are our 12 suggestions, with advice from the Solmonsons on what they look for when selecting each liquor for a cocktail rack.


1. Brandy (pictured above)

Clear Creek pot-distilled brandy ($44)

From Oregon's longest-standing brandy-maker, Clear Creek's spirit is an amber French-style brandy distilled from five different Oregon wines and aged in new and old French oak, mild as a cognac.

Use for: Sidecar, Corpse Reviver.

David Solmonson: "We specify this isn't grappa we're recommending, or fruit brandy—Calvados—this is a traditional French style."

2. Dry gin

Aria gin ($24)

The lovely Aria is a dry gin that tastes a bit like Plymouth (one of the authors' suggested gins)—an atypical dry gin that features a lot of citric notes and blooms beautifully in a drink, without sacrificing traditional flavors like angelica and coriander.

Use for: Gin and tonic, gin rickey, martini.

Lesley Jacobs Solmonson: "The gin that we've chosen is London dry, a very specific style. With craft distillers, there's all these variations, what we call new western, new modern. They get very experimental. That juniper profile is what you find in classic cocktails. There's nothing wrong with Aviation—lavender, sarsaparilla. You need more London dry, more traditional botanicals like angelica root, coriander. It helps deliver the drink profile."

3. Genever

Oregon Spirit Merrylegs genever ($30)

Genever is the original gin—a malt-wine juniper spirit the Solmonsons describe as "potent and whiskeylike," great for martinis. Merrylegs won best in class for its genever-style gin, malty with a big juniper kick. Compared to the more subtle Dutch Bols genever, the Solmonsons view Merrylegs as a bit of a hybrid—like San Francisco's Anchor, which they recommend—with a strong Northwest juniper flavor.

Use for: Genever martinis and mai tais.

Lesley: "The Merrylegs, they call it a genever-styled gin, has the maltiness to a certain degree that genever should have. But if you're picking juniper berries—it's like walking through that forest, a conscious choice to be terroir-driven."

4. Amber rum

Cannon Beach Donlon Shanks ($42)

Aged rum—the amber comes from the wood its aged in, just like whiskey's malty color—offers a bit more complexity than white rum. Cannon Beach's amber is the other Oregon spirit to win best in class from the American Distilling Institute, a rich and almost smoky concoction with both spice and depth.

Use for: Rum shrub, mai tai, hurricane.

From The 12 Bottle Bar: "We happen to be big fans of the profile found in Barbadian rums, appreciating how the smooth, often fruity/spicy character works so well with cocktails."

5. White rum

Bull Run Pacific rum ($25)

Pacific rum is a full-bodied white that tends a little gold, but its strong notes of vanilla blossom inside a daiquiri, the drink of choice for white rums—with chocolate and oaky notes that make it similar in style to the Solmonsons' recommended El Dorado cask-aged rum. Pacific is, however, a cane-sugar instead of a molasses rum.

Use for: Daiquiri, mojito, Cuba libre.

From The 12 Bottle Bar: "[White rum's] soft profile offers a light vanilla sugar without the robust, buttery qualities imparted by amber rum."

6. Rye whiskey

Stein Straight rye ($39)

Oregon ryes tend to be young and a mere 80 proof—if you don't count Pendleton's Canadian-distilled 12-year—but of those we've tasted, Eastern Oregon's Stein shows the most promise. It's floral, fruity and spicy with a bit of heat on the nose and great for mixing.

Use for: Mint julep, Manhattan, Old Fashioned.

From The 12 Bottle Bar: "Unlike Scotch or Irish whiskeys, American rye is undeniably American…it's also far more old-school than bourbon, no matter how much the bourbon folks will try to tell you otherwise."

7. Vodka

House Spirits Volstead Vodka ($18)

House Spirits' Volstead is beautifully clean and neutral, with vodka's characteristic hints of coconut accentuated by filtering through charred coconut husks—a fancy form of charcoal filtering. This is a lovely vodka made for cocktails.

Use for: Moscow mule, lemon drop, bloody mary.

David: "Simply go with the vodka that is the least specific; it should taste neutral. A lot of vodkas insist on creating a more aggressive profile, but the way we use vodka, we pick it for that neutrality."

8. Orange liqueur

Monarch triple sec ($5)

This will be the weak link if you're looking for spirits distilled in Oregon. Indio Spirits has a lovely and interesting curacao-infused rum, using rum from elsewhere. But here's the low-cost, industrial bar staple: a Monarch triple sec from Hood River Distillers.

Use for: Sidecar, kamikaze.

Lesley suggests: Making your own by infusing midshelf vodka with orange peels. (Try D.L. Franklin.) 


9. Dry vermouth

Ransom dry vermouth ($28)

Ransom dry vermouth is made from a Clear Creek wine. It's floral and herbaceous with plenty of acidity—wormwood, anise and cardamom, while remaining well balanced.

Use for: Martinis, duh.

Lesley: "Dry is harder. You want a very dry vermouth for martinis, but you can get really metallic qualities in the cheap ones, too herbal in the wrong way. Look to ABV. Try to find the higher ABV, which is dryer."

10. Sweet vermouth

Imbue Bittersweet vermouth ($27)

This is Oregon pinot gris fortified with a splash of Clear Creek brandy and lathered with bitter herbs, clove and orange peel. The complexity is balanced with sweetness on the palate, with chocolatey notes as in Punt e Mes, which the Solmonsons recommend.

Use for: Manhattans.

Lesley: "Antica is a tobacco bomb; look for something that's sweet but has a balance."

11. Aromatic bitters

These locally made bitters sport a heady mix of aromatics from gentian to mugwort to the familiar allspice and cardamom—you could just about spice (and spike) your eggnog
with them.

Use for: Old Fashioned, the original Cocktail.

Lesley: "Look for Christmas spices, basically. Lick it off the side of your palm. If it tastes like Christmas, there you are."

12. Orange bitters

Scrappy's orange bitters ($26 at the Meadow)

We couldn't find a maker of Oregon orange bitters—oranges are a weak spot for local-obsessed Oregon—but Scrappy's, a Seattle company that was one of the first and most prominent craft bitters makers, sources all of its herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene. The bitters are a sweet and lovely tonic.

Use for: Martinis, Manhattans, bijou.

David: "Orange bitters is one of those things; they're the easiest to make."


Five Bottles to Try: Whiskey | Rum | Gin | Vodka | Fruit Liquors