McMenamins is a very successful brand. It does what it does with panache. From brewing to distilling, wine-making to movie theaters and concerts, the brewpub chain’s hospitality is well-rounded. Just so was the Oregon distillers’ festival held on the grounds of the McMenamins resort at Edgefield, just outside of Portland, last weekend.
By invitation, 20 members of the Oregon Distillers’ Guild were present once again to pour out close to 100 local spirits in the welcome shade of the Fir Grove, a venue quite different from the Washington State distillers gathering we attended earlier this month. From absinthe to pear brandy, organic rye to Chinese rice whiskey, the offerings were an electric example of the creativity of Oregon distillers.
On the hunt for Oregon whiskey in particular, there were plenty to sample. First in line was Big Bottom’s Barlow Trail, with its secret blend of aged and younger spirit, flaunting a high rye content and a big burn.
Tualatin Valley Distilling, meanwhile, was showing off its 50/50 American whiskey, with a mash bill of 50% rye and 50% barley. It was a bit on the young side (aged mere months in 5 gallon casks), but with a natural sweetness that could make it an intriguing contender when it reaches maturity.
Temperence Trader’s Straight Bourbon Chinato Barrel Aged, brought forth by Bull Run Distilling, offered a unique edge, with its resting time in ex-vermouth barrels provided to the distillery by Cana’s Fest, a winery in the neighboring Willamette Valley. When the barrels leave Temperence, they return to the winery, for another round of aging what one would guess to be an even richer vermouth. Fascinating.
The Snake River Stampede Canadian blend, bottled by Indio Spirits out of Portland, made an appearance, as did Edgefield’s own Monkey Puzzle – an unexpected offering of a four year old single malt made with teamaker hops (a non-bitter cultivar from OSU) and the addition of blackberries after maturation. We tried this latter one at the recent WhiskeyTown USA festival, finding it to be “a blue-cheesy, astringent tannin bomb.”
Immortal Spirits offered an off-white spirit that if let to rest for a few years has the makings of a pleasant whiskey. Their absinthe, on the other hand, was mature. It was surprisingly smooth and rich for so high an alcohol content, with a complex blend of herbs. In fact, to balance the bitterness of the wormwood and the traditional masking agent of fennel, they also used every mint they could forage. This is creativity, folks.
To be honest, my favorite drams of the evening were not, actually, whiskey. Out of all the tastings, two stood out as exceptional representations of their kind: Aria Portland Dry Gin from distiller Ryan Csanky, and the Ginger Liqueur from Chris Beatty of Spiritopia. Look them up, as a present to yourself.
Another successful night of hospitality from McMenamins, and Oregon has once again proved itself a producer of world-class spirits.
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Tish Lester is a former restauranteur whose love of good flavors led her to the world of whiskey, where she is an avid participant, having attended nosings, tastings and master classes throughout Europe and the United States. She has recently discovered the truth that for every moment in our lives,...