Grand Master Battle of the Mystery Cocktail

Spints Alehouse owner Alyssa Gregg has come up with what promises to be one of the most fun bartender competitions to date. She’s created four secret house-made liqueurs and mixers and invited four bartenders to come into her bar and create drinks with each of them. We won’t know what they are and we’ll only have one hour to come up with four original cocktails, then from 5-9 pm we’ll be serving them up for judgment by the public for $6 apiece. Here’s the schedule if you’d like to come by:

March 18th Challenger: Jacob Grier, Bols Genever, Metrovino
March 19th Challenger: Neil Kopplin, Imbue Vermouth, Clyde Common
March 25th Challenger: Adam Robinson, Park Kitchen
March 26th Challenger: Brandon Wise, Irving St. Kitchen

More details on the Facebook page. And remember, no tweeting or posting about the ingredients until after the competition is over!


Metrovino’s new cocktail menu

Averna Stout Flip — averna, young’s double chocolate stout, whole egg, angostura bitters, nutmeg, up

Chios 75 — small’s gin, mastic liqueur, lemon, sparkling wine, flute

Cleared for Departure — aviaton gin, clarified lime, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, up

Crystal Caipirinha — novo fogo cachaça, clarified lime, sugar, up

Dirty Grandma Agnes — ransom old tom gin, dolin dry vermouth, grandma agnes’ pickling juice, up

Ethan Allen — bourbon, apple cider gastrique, smoked apple purée, angostura bitters, rocks

Lazy Bear — smith & cross rum, rye, honey, lime, spiced bitters, rocks

Mexican Train — ilegal mezcal reposado, dolin rouge vermouth, chartreuse, mole bitters, up

Seigle Sour — rye, spiced plantain syrup, lemon, egg white, cherribiscus bitters, up

Thyme in a Bottle — gin, farigoule thyme liqueur, lemon, maraschino, up

Walking Spanish — bols genever, amontillado sherry, cardamaro, st. germain, up


In memory of Don Younger

horsebrass 021

Last night Portland lost one of its legendary figures, Don Younger, owner of the Horse Brass Pub. If you enjoy Oregon beer, you should raise a pint to him tonight. As a relative newcomer here the story’s not mine to tell, but suffice to say that he and his bar did a great deal to nurture the brewing community that’s made Portland justifiably famous for beer. Imbibe wrote about that history in one of their first issues. John Foyston has more in the Oregonian, and Ezra is collecting memories of Don at the New School. Many more tributes will be rolling in.

I’d read about Don and the Horse Brass before I’d moved to Portland and made a point to visit the bar on my first trip out here several years ago. When I finally did move here the Horse Brass became one of the first local bars where I felt at home. I loved beer, but it was also one of the best places to enjoy a cigar. Knowing few people in the city, it was a place I could visit anytime and strike up a conversation with whomever else was there at the end of the bar where the cigar smokers gathered. On one of these early visits Don was holding court at his usual spot, and though I didn’t meet him then I still remember the night. There was a young guy a few spots down from me nursing a beer and reading a book alone. Don called him over: “What are you doing, you don’t come to a bar to read a book!” Just like that the guy was introduced to the group and welcomed into the pub community.

A few weeks later I tried to meet Don myself. The statewide smoking ban was about to go into effect and I wanted to talk to Don for some articles I was working on. Many bar owners privately opposed the ban, but he was one of the few who actively fought against it. I had no luck getting an interview though: The bartenders informed me that Don was sick of talking to people about it. I ended up writing about the ban in the Oregonian anyway, not expecting to hear from Don. Then I saw him at the Horse Brass a few days later and introduced myself. Amazingly, he knew exactly who I was, said he loved my article, and that if he’d known who was asking for him he would have gladly talked to me. I’ve never been more flattered to find out that someone had read something I wrote. As intimidating as he was by reputation, in person he was as friendly as could be, the perfect publican.

A few months later I noticed something that cracked me up: He’d posted a clipping of the article in the hallway of the Horse Brass, right by the bathrooms, with some patron adding a graffitied mustache to my headshot. It stayed there for about a year. I may never win a Pulitzer, but how many Pulitzer winners can say they’ve had their writing displayed outside the men’s room of the Horse Brass? I’ll take it.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to know Don well after that. I spent less time at the Horse Brass after the ban, and reportedly so did he. But I do have one more story. The final night of smoking at the Horse Brass was not, in fact, the last night one could do it legally. A few days after the ban took effect Don allowed his regulars one more chance to light up in defiance of the law. Though I hadn’t arrived for this part, I’m told by others that Don called for patrons’ attention a half hour before we lit up to let everyone know what was going on. He said he knew that smoking is illegal now, but that he’d promised his friends they’d have one last session together. Anyone could leave if they wanted to, and he gave them the phone number they could call to report him, but this was going to happen. The bar burst into applause. And, of course, nobody called the number.

What a man. What a bar. Long live the Horse Brass.


Bols and the boozy side of brunch

My friend Brandon Wise at Irving Street Kitchen is hosting a series of hands-on booze and brunch events in collaboration with local bartenders. On January 8 Dave Shenaut comes in for some hangover-curing cocktails, on January 22 Neil Kopplin whips up drinks with local ingredients, and to kick things off this Saturday I’m joining Brandon to talk holiday classics. We’re featuring Bols Genever, Damrak Gin, and Galliano in a welcoming wassail, a New Orleans Fizz, and a rich hot cocoa. $40 covers all the drinks and brunch from chef Sarah Schafer. Details for making reservations are in the press release.


Entertaining with cocktails in the O

I have an article in the Oregonian today and amazingly it’s not about smoking bans. It’s about how to entertain guests at home without spending the entire night behind the bar. Of the three drinks included, only one is a individually mixed cocktail. The other two are a liqueur-spiked hot chocolate and a punch excerpted from David Wondrich’s forthcoming book, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.

I can’t recommend Wondrich’s book highly enough. He’s done a tremendous amount of work tracking down punch recipes, obtaining obscure ingredients, and translating incomplete instructions into methods readers can reproduce at home. This is a fascinating part of drinking history that’s been largely forgotten, and Wondrich’s research into the culture surrounding punch is of even greater interest than the drinks themselves. The book is a game changer. If you want to serve punches at home, be sure to pick it up a copy. It comes out November 2.

I should also mention that I’m joining the amazing staff at Metrovino. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Portland, with fantastic food and an amazing wine list. Their cocktails and spirit selection have also been very good, but up until now they haven’t had a full-time bar manager. I’m happy to say that my friend Kyle Webster, formerly of Noble Rot, has come on board to take over that role and put even more focus on spirits and cocktails. I’m coming in to join him once or week or so. Kyle’s first menu is already live, so stop in soon to check it out.


Get your tix: Portland Cocktail Week and GADF


My liver is already threatening to leave me as Portland Cocktail Week draws near. Next week the Great American Distiller’s Festival gets bigger than ever, preceded by several days and nights of fun events organized by the Oregon Bartenders Guild and the Drink.Write cocktail writers conference.

I’m personally involved with several of the events. First up is Thursday Drink Night Live, in which participants will improvise cocktails and compete for a spot at the Portland Cocktail Invitational. Somehow they’ve talked me into emceeing the event live on camera with no script and lots of alcohol in the room. This could be dangerous.

If I’m still alive on Saturday morning we’ll kickstart the day with coffee cocktails. I’m moderating a panel with guests from Intelligentsia, Water Avenue, and possibly a couple other roasters, discussing all aspects of coffee and its role behind the bar, and serving up a drink or two. They’re passionate about great coffee and promise to bring some fun things to demo, so I’m very excited to hear their thoughts. (Relatedly, here are my suggestions for seven spots to caffeinate during Portland Cocktail Week.)

On that same day is the first round of the Portland Cocktail Invitational. It’s a great group of bartenders competing and I’m thrilled to be invited back. This time I’m fortunate to be mixing with Encanto Pisco, which opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities. We’re changing the format to allow more sampling of the drinks by the audience, so this is guaranteed to be a good time.

Bols will be involved in a few events as well. On Wednesday, mixologists Chris Churilla and Adam Robinson will be pairing cocktails with a four course meal prepared by Chef Alyssa Gregg at Spints Alehouse, including cocktails made with Bols Genever and Galliano. This is not to be missed. Then on Saturday, experience the history of gin and genever at the Juniperlooza! seminar.

That’s just the beginning of events going on next week. There’s also a masquerade ball, a March for Mezcal, a tiki party, a full slate of informative seminars, and much more. Go get the full schedule and tickets here.


Bols at the NW Spirits and Mixology Show


If you’re in Portland today, consider stopping by the inaugural Northwest Spirits and Mixology Show at the Jupiter Hotel. Admission is free with proof of hospitality industry affiliation, otherwise $10 with registration here. The show is industry only from 12-4 and open to everyone from 4-7.

The Oregon Bartenders Guild is contributing to the show with a few mixology demos. I’m working the “classic to contemporary” slot, tweaking a classic cocktail. I’ll be making and serving a Bols Boulevardier:

1.5 oz Bols Genever
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth

Stir, serve up with a cherry or orange twist. This drink is traditionally made with bourbon, so I’ll be using Bols to tie it into the trend toward white whiskeys (Bols is made from about 50% malt wine, an unaged grain distillate). This has been one of my favorite genever cocktails to order when I’m out at bars that are still developing their own drinks; the ingredients are widely available, it’s easy to make, and it’s really tasty. My demo is slated at 5:25 and I’ll be sampling the cocktail from the OBG booth for sometime before.


Ron Zacapa, good cigars, and Portland summer

Scotch and cigars are a classic pairing, but lately I’ve been turning more and more toward rum as my spirit of choice when enjoying a cigar. One of my favorite rums for smoking is the incredibly rich Ron Zacapa Centenario, a Guatemalan rum distilled from sugar cane “honey” and aged for 23 years via the solera method. In short, this means that rum lost to evaporation one year is replaced with rum from the next, meaning that each barrel contains a blend of rums from each year. The rum is smooth, sweet, and very cooling, which can be an agreeable feature when having a cigar. For people who haven’t paired rum and cigars before, Zacapa is an eye-opening experience.

On Tuesday, July 13, my friend Ed Ryan from the Portland Cigar Club and I putting together an event at Alu Wine Bar and Lounge to bring together Ron Zacapa and cigars on the Alu patio. Ed’s bringing in two cigars, the Honduras Caribbean Honduran Puro Maduro and the Kinky Friedman Kinkycristo, which is a blend of Honduran & Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a Costa Rican binder and a Honduran wrapper. These will be matched with Ron Zacapa served neat and in two cocktails. This is a fantastic deal, but space is limited, so buy your ticket on PayPal to reserve your seat.


Beer cocktails for Oregon Craft Beer Month


A while back Ezra from the New School blog and I started talking about writing a post about beer cocktails. Then the drinks sounded so good that we decided they deserved more than a blog post, they needed a whole event! So in collaboration with Yetta Vorobik of the Hop and Vine we’re “Brewing Up Cocktails” to celebrate Oregon Craft Beer Month, creating drinks featuring some fantastic beers. Mark your calendars for July 17 and head over to The New School for all the details.


A smoky homebrew

This weekend I became a little more native Portland with my first experience brewing beer. Courtesy of my friend Paul, we set aside a few hours to try our hands at making rauchbier, beer brewed with smoked malts. In true locavore tradition we took advantage of his abundant backyard rosemary to smoke the grains:


Rosemary smoke is delightful. The smokiness carried over into the wort nicely pre-hopping. We’ll find out soon how it ends up in the finished product.


Chefs smoke marijuana and they like it

I initially wasn’t going to link to this New York Times piece about how marijuana has “fueled a new kitchen culture” focused on delicious, casual food that stoned back of house staff like to eat. As causality goes that’s a bit of a stretch and it’s not news that people in the service industry like to light up now and then. However I agree with Radley Balko and Will Wilkinson that the more successful people who come out as marijuana users the better chance we have of changing our disastrous drug policy, so for that reason alone the article is worth pointing out. The main reason I’m linking though is this appearance from Portland:

Duane Sorenson, the founder of the coffee roaster Stumptown, said that fat buds of marijuana often end up in the tip jar at his shops.

“It goes hand in hand with a cup of coffee,” he said. “It’s called wake and bake. Grab a cup of Joe and get on with it.”

This happened to me once even in the staid atmosphere of Carlyle. A customer (service industry, of course) left me a large bud along with his cash tip. According to my coworkers it was a generous gift but unfortunately it was wasted on me. Not knowing any better I took it home and put in my humidor. It turns out this is not the correct way to store it, which is apparently common knowledge among my friends who would have gladly taken it off my hands. It turned into a big ball of mold that went straight into my trash can the next time I opened the lid.

I consider this story karmic revenge for all the times people have told me about the fantastic Cuban cigars they’ve been saving for a special occasion without keeping them humidified.


Climbing Jacob’s Ladder


I don’t plan on writing about every Bols cocktail around town but when a drink is named Jacob’s Ladder of course I’m going to post it. My friend Andrew at Branch Whiskey Bar came up with this one combining three of my favorite things: genever, Fernet-Branca, and single malt Scotch:

2 oz Bols genever
.25 oz Fernet-Branca
.25 oz simple syrup
A few drops of Talisker
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice, strain, and serve up with an orange twist.

It’s an imposing list of ingredients but they come together nicely and the cocktail is very smooth. If you’re in Portland stop into Branch and give it a try.


Portland food and drink events

Apologies for the light posting last week, I’ve been hard at work with my new job and preparing for a few fun events coming up in Portland. First up is tonight’s Taste of the Nation event benefiting Share Our Strength. I’ll be there not as a mixologist but as a magician. This will be my first public performance since moving to Portland. Tickets are still available and there are lot of great restaurants involved, so there are plenty of reasons to come aside from watching me drop cards all over the floor trying to do tricks I haven’t done in years.

Then on Wednesday we’re celebrating Bols Genever’s Oregon launch with a punch party at Clyde Common with Jeffrey Morgenthaler. We’ll have two giant bowls of Bols punches out from 4-6 pm. Come join us for what’s sure to be a fun evening!


Genever comes to Portland


If you follow my Twitter feed you saw that I posted cryptically last week about having a job interview on April Fool’s Day. It was a real interview and I’m pleased to announce that I’m now working with Lucas Bols as the Portland brand ambassador for Bols Genever, Damrak Gin, Galliano, and the Bols line of liqueurs. I’ve been a fan of their products ever since helping out with the Oregon launch event for their genever at Carlyle a few months ago, so I’m excited to be on board introducing people to this classic spirit that’s been unavailable in the US for a long time.

There’s no better way to kick things off than with a cocktail, so here’s one from Charles Baker that my friend Evan Zimmerman has on the menu at Laurelhurst Market, the Holland Razor Blade:

2 oz Bols Genever
.75 oz simple syrup
.75 oz lemon juice
pinch of cayenne pepper

Shake the first three ingredients with ice, strain into a coupe, and finish with the pinch of pepper. This is a really cool drink and I love the way the spice, sweetness, and citrus balance one another. Stop in soon to try it out.