This week was the 3rd Annual Portland Cocktail Week but my first time attending. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t as hot, sticky or debaucherous as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Not as many crazy parties nor were there spirited dinners or tasting rooms. Just good wholesome fun…wait, I take that back, there were strippers. But since it was also my first time visiting the Northwest city I made sure to try and drink in as much of it as I can. Heh, sorry. Suffice it to say that I LOVE Portland. It’s small but it’s loaded with great places to indulge. Plus Portland Cocktail Week was the perfect time to go to celebrate with the ones I love: L.A. bartenders.
I didn’t get to stay for all of cocktail week, just for two of its days, but I was able to make a sizable dent in my PDX drink bucket list. Here are my favorite libations, not counting the Guinness and Fernet I had at Devils Point during Stripperaoke (strippers + karaoke) night. Obviously, no photography allowed there.
Rum Club Old Fashioned at the Rum Club: One of the signature cocktails at the Industrial District bartenders’ hangout. The night I went, L.A. blogger-bartender RumDood Matt Robold (320 Main) was holding court at a corner of the bar. A short time later a Rum Club bartender approached him with a glass of Rum Club Old Fashioned cradled in her hands. She offered it up as if he were a rum god, which, truth be told, he is. The offering met with Matt’s approval and was declared one of his favorite cocktails in all of Portland. Made with Bacardi 8 & Smith & Cross rums, bitters, Demerara syrup it made a damn, tasty potent Old Fashioned. Not too sweet despite the rums with the Demerara. A lovely way to end the night with LA friends and new Portland ones, shout-out to Blair of Hale Pele!
Daiquiri at Clyde Common: You can’t call yourself a cocktail geek and NOT stop by Clyde Common in downtown Portland. And if Jeffrey Morgenthaler is behind the bar, forget about it. Cancel the rest of your night’s plans and hole up there. Jeffrey is known for kickstarting the whole barrel-aged cocktail and carbonated cocktail craze, and they have a section of the menu dedicated to those. But I wanted to put my cocktail choice in his more-than-capable hands. So he fixed me up a Daiquiri. Don’t know what was in it, didn’t ask. Just quietly appreciated it, OK, not so quietly. All I know is that it was one of the most beautiful daiquiris I’ve ever had. Usually they come across as too lime-y for me, which I hate because I can’t taste anything else, or too sweet. But this was a perfect balance of all components.
Wild Country Cocktail at Kask: This newish bar, which can be accessed speakeasy-like through the adjacent restaurant Gruner via twists and turns through a back hallway past two kitchens (or through its front door), was declared by Esquire‘s cocktail historian David Wondrich to be one of the best bars in America for 2012. I didn’t know this at the time. Just had finished dinner at the restaurant and heard there was a bar next door. And what a cozy, low-key bar it was. The chalkboard wall had notes scrawled by visiting bartenders. The crowd was chill and casually dressed. The cocktail list impressive, simple and straightforward. This Wild Country was complex, making me want to savor each sip.
Flight of Drinking Chocolates at Cacao: When you are a chocolate fiend and walk into Cacao for the first time, your heart stops. The shelves are well stocked with some of the best exotic chocolates from around the world. It was a bit overwhelming so I asked the friendly salesman for guidance toward the perfect gifts to get my favorite foodist friends. Foie gras chocolate bar? Sold! The shop also has a cafe area where you can cozy up during a rainy, cold Portland day by sipping on some rich hot chocolates or the thicker, richer drinking chocolates. But the best way to enjoy anything is to order a flight of it. Here they offered a flight of three drinking chocolates: cinnamon-infused (49% Venezuelan milk and 65% Venezuelan dark chocolates), the Rivoli dark (72% Arriba dark chocolate) and spicy dark (72% Arriba , infused with cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and ginger). Even though all three were decadent and delicious, the spicy dark one with its kick of heat was my favorite.
Welcome to Portland Cocktail Week Punch at PDXCW Check-in: In the early afternoon, this punch made with Barbados Plantation rum, dry curacao and bitter lemon soda was light enough for day drinking but potent enough to be satisfying to the professional drinkers/bartenders checking in for cocktail week.
The Fitzgerald at Dale Degroff’s On the Town Show: Out of the four cocktails served during King Cocktail Dale Degroff’s jazzy one-man show this was a standout; the absinthe frappe was a close second. Made with Hendricks gin, lemon juice, honey simple syrup and Degroff’s own pimento aromatic bitters.
The Barry Wall at the Portland Cocktail Week Reunion Party: At this reunion party at the Tiffany Center, there were several liquor stands featuring various Pernod Ricard product. I gravitated toward the gin one. This Barry Wall cocktail with its mix of gin, Carpano, orange curacao and orange bitters was like a Negroni without the Campari bite.
Chemex of El Salvador Kilimanjaro Coffee at Stumptown Coffee: You can’t go to Portland without enjoying a Stumptown Coffee. They don’t seem to be big on pourovers in Portland, however. They do Chemex which costs more ($9 at Barista in the Pearl District). But after horrible diner coffee which was equivalent tastewise to licking the silty bottom of a French Press carafe, I was in need of some decent coffee. Fortunately the line at Stumptown was unusually short. I asked for a recommendation, that I was craving something full-bodied but that tasted of brown sugar and/or toffee, nothing acidic. This was the coffee they came up with and it was spot on. Its texture was creamy and buttery, making it the perfect antidote to that horrible java earlier.