(yes, this is a very long post...it's OK, you can do it...we believe in you)
T.Mixeur went to Portland last weekend, an event so epic, so legendary, so biblical in proportion, that I thought this:
"If T.Mixeur could live there, T.Mixeur would."
However, this would require abandoning my child, so visits will have to suffice.
The purpose of this last visit was not primarily cocktails, but was, however, spirit-related. That is to say, the visit was made in order for friend Sarah and I to honor the spirit of a great mentor and friend to us both, Patrick Hill, who passed away on June 26.
Patrick described me, verbally and in writing, as "the king of integration," and with no small amount of sincerity, I report that this description has emboldened me in the construction of cocktails. This was certainly not the form of integration he had in mind, but I'm confident he would have whole-heartedly approved had he witnessed the passion and pleasure this pursuit has brought to me, and had he absorbed some of the positivity at any of our past Mixeurs.
So with my justification firmly in hand, Sarah and I plotted a bar course for the evening and stashed the car away somewhere safe. We undertook a unique element of Portland life: walking to where you need to go. And not just walking, but walking dramatically across our choice of bridges, arcing over the Willamette River, separating the city east by west. On this evening, we walked from the east, eyes to the city skyline in the west, anxiously anticipating what awaited us.
And so did Sarah and I head out on our path, and this is what we saw...
I first went to Ten01 last December, immediately after having attended the tasting/open house/whoop-dee-doo at House Spirits. This was not by accident, as both the Booze Bazaar and Ten01 were mentioned in the same Willamette Week article. I met Kelley Swenson that evening, ordered a Sazerac, and still consider it one of the best I have ever had. I've been back each time I've been to Portland, and Kelley since agreed to make a contribution to Left Coast Libations.
We were emotionally prepared for the fact that Kelley would not be there this evening, as he was catering a wedding at the nearby Armory (with a bar made of ice, no less...it was beautiful but drippy...we crashed the wedding...it's a long story).
I had communicated to him ahead of time that I'd be coming in to deliver his copies of Left Coast Libations, and he instructed me to leave them with Kara at the bar.
We met Kara, handed over the books, sat down, and promptly had a blast. The topic of the Broken Flower came up, a drink Kelley invented and is mentioned in Left Coast Libations as being the gin equivalent of the Toto, a co-creation of Kelley and Timothy Davey of Clyde Common, which instead uses Tequila.
3/4 oz Cynar
3/4 oz green Chartreuse
3/4 oz tequila/gin
stir over ice and serve up
Upon first receiving this drink recipe from Monsieur Swenson via electronic mail , I decided to make myself the gin version. I placed all the ingredients in a mixing glass, stirred, picked up the mixing glass, the bottom of the glass fell off, and my drink nestled into a nice oval-shaped, shard-ridden pool on my kitchen counter.
That's one potent drink.
I decided to name this creation, "The Broken...Hold the Flower"
I relayed this story to Kara and asked if she could fulfill my unrequited desire to have a Broken Flower. She said she would, which makes sense. When you're a bartender and a customer orders something on the cocktail menu, you usually agree, right? The only exception I know of is the Jacque Tati from Jay at Sambar. Do NOT order this drink. Unless you want to see a recreation of John Belushi's Samurai Chef.
Kara's Broken Flower was fabulous, far better than the one that ended up on my countertop (I found that the soap residue of the counter, along with the blood I shed slurping it up through the bits of glass really threw off the balance of the drink).
We also tried another drink from Left Coast Libations, The Charlotte Gainsbourg.
2 oz Italian bianco vermouth
½ oz Cointreau
1/8 - ¼ oz absinthe or pastis
Build drink over ice in rocks glass
Stir vermouth & Cointreau together
Add a slice of orange to garnish
float absinthe on top
This drink is so lovely to look at, one almost dreads having to...ah screw that. It's delicious, we drank it down. Nary a tear was shed.
During all this, Kara and we had a spirited conversation. She seemed to quickly grasp what sorts of things Sarah would enjoy (and also what I would enjoy - namely everything), and commenced with the tastes of the exciting and unusual. We tried a bit of the Pineau Charentes , a first for me after having been tantalized by various writeups. Sarah got her first ever taste of St. Germain...
There is something very special about witnessing someone pop their St. Germain cherry. It reminds me of the time I was flying back to Seattle from New Orleans after this year's Tales of the Cocktail, and we were going over the top of the Cascade Mountains (truly the most spectacular sight I have ever seen). There was a little girl from Georgia sitting with her grandma behind me. And as she looked out at the landscape, she pointed to all the fluffy white stuff below.
"Gramma, is that snow... or is that clouds?"
"That's clouds darlin'."
"But...they're on the earth. How can clouds be on the earth?"
"Well I guess the earth just reaches up so high some times it finds the clouds baby."
When Sarah sipped St. Germain for the first time she became a little girl from Georgia looking out across the Cascades. The one difference: in the case of St. Germain, what you are seeing is both snow and clouds.
My personal favorite discovery was the Farigoule, a French-made Thyme Liqueur. In fact, I was inspired to write a mini review just of this...
C'est une liqueur de raffinement extrême. Tandis que c'est la saveur principale est le thym, il joue plus que juste qu'une note. Ou si c'est une note, cette note est jouée comme si John Coltrane pourrait avoir, pliant et le tordant à maintes reprises jusqu'à ce que l'infini dans nous soit révélé!
After all was said and drank, we bid Kara adieu, and glided off to our next destination with happy memories, full tummies, and warm fuzzies all over. Print that on your Press page, Ten01!
Joined now by top secret Munat Brother Ben and Top Secret Munat Sister In Law Kate, we walked over to 50 Plates. This was a bit awkward in that we had to walk right past the Teardrop Lounge to get there. For one thing, walking past the Teardrop Lounge without going in just feels very wrong...in fact...it's kind of like killing a mockingbird, isn't it Atticus?
(Editor's note: The author of this blog, influenced by his recollections of little girls from the south, has again lapsed into his alter ego of Scout Finch. Please stand by while we correct the problem...thank you)
And for another thing, Daniel Shoemaker, proprietor of the establishment, was gaping out the front windows as we passed, looking like a sad little puppy. To make the moment even more poignant, he quickly pulled out a violin and played a sad tune.
Little puppies playing sad songs on the violin. That gets me EVERY TIME.
But our remorse dissipated into the trendy air of the Pearl District (yes, even the air is trendy there), as we saw 50 Plates just ahead.
I met Lance Mayhew at the Jerry Thomas seminar in Portland last March, where he made a Stone Fence for the crowd. Not literally, he had no actual stone or mortar, and the crowd was not so unruly that they needed to be fenced off.
No, the Stone Fence is actually a simple recipe from the Jerry Thomas archives, which Lance made with Buffalo Trace bourbon and apple cider from Lattin's Country Cider Mill in Olympia, WA. It was a drink so easy yet so delicious, one had to ask the question: why isn't everyone drinking this? I suppose the answer is they must not have met Lance.
Lance later acted as shepherd to us weary seminarites as we went from bar to bar in Portland. I have since become a fan of his blog, both for its expertise and its candor, and was pleased he too contributed to Left Coast Libations.
But I'd never seen Lance actually do what he does in the real world.
I wish I could better describe the full atmosphere of 50 Plates, but during the time we were there I was so completely ensconced in our own little haven I scarcely was aware of anything existing outside of a five foot radius from my heart. Suffice to say Lance was an extremely gracious host, and a true master of his craft.
Food and drink appeared to us from every direction, all of it superb. I recall oysters, seafood cocktails served in shooter glasses with the fish submersed in salsa. I recall a delicious first drink with chartreuse and...uhhmm.
Better get used to this folks, the night gets blurrier and blurrier.
Lance was excited to make me a Mint Julep in one of their authentic julep cups. I must admit, I have never had a Mint Julep in a Julep cup. It was phenomenal, evolving with each sip as the whiskey slowly gave way to the syrup, mint, and ice.
I also passed along Sarah's newfound love of St. Germain, and to this Lance made her a modified version of his own creation, The Plagiarism Cocktail. This is a drink that appears in, you guessed it, Left Coast Libations (I swear this was not planned ahead of time...at least not by me).
2 oz Clear Creek Pear Brandy
1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
½ oz Green Chartreuse
1 oz Meyer lemon Juice
2 dashes Grapefruit Bitters
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass
Garnish with one lightly bruised sprig of thyme to release some of the essential oils
This is the recipe for the original. I believe the modified version was with regular old lemons instead of the Meyer, with accompanying adjustments. But I could be wrong. Again, one can only be in a whirlwind for so long before one gets whirly oneself.
I have to say, and I already have said to the creator of this drink himself, that this was the best use of St. Germain I've ever witnessed. Sarah, if your reading, there's nowhere to go but down from here. But not to worry. Down is a relative term, and down when it comes to St. Germain is still relatively high. As they say, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you still are amongst the stars.
(Editor's note: Aside from the Sun, the closest star to the earth is Alpha Centauri, which is 4.3 light years away. The moon, on the other hand, is on average 384,000 kilometers from the earth. Therefore, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you are still not significantly closer to any star. In all likelihood, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you will end up careening wildly off into space like that guy from 2001 that HAL blasted off, and if you're lucky you'll just die of fright or something like that).
Finally, Lance brought us out some tastes of his own smoked whiskey. The process for making this sounds highly illegal. It involves using some sort of bong-like apparatus to trap hickory smoke, then using a tube to run that smoke into a bottle with whiskey in it, shaking it up, repeating, etc.
If Lance had been a 19th century chemist, he'd have injected himself with deadly virus to see if his experimental tonics would save his own life. I just know this is true.
Apparently we left 50 Plates, since we're not still there. That must have been sad. And we went back down the road to ask Daniel for forgiveness...and possibly a drink as well.
What can I say about the Teardrop Lounge? C.Mixeur calls it the best bar in America. And while he's prone to some pretty nuclear-force hyperbole, I can't disagree. Of course, I've hardly been to any bars in America because, as everyone knows, I am broke. In fact, I am the brokest dude in the whole damn cocktail scene. Everyone feel sorry for me.
We sat by the lovely bitter trough seen above. We tried tastes of some of them. We said hello to Emilee and met new bartender Evan. Daniel made us some lovely drinks.
I think I am doing pretty damn well to remember all of these immaculate details. In fact, I'll even venture a guess that my drink was an If At First...
Wrote a book about it, called Left Coast Libations. Like to here it? Here it go!
If At First...
1 ½ oz Mae de Ouro Cachaca
¾ oz Carpano Antica
¾ oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
½ oz Yellow Chartreuse
Rinse glass w/ Habanero-Green Tea Bitters (house recipe)
Stir & strain into cocktail glass
Want to know how to make the Habanero-Green Tea Bitters? Buy the book!
Or, you know, ask Daniel. Or ask us for a book and if we have any we'll give you one. Or email me and ask me, and I'll send it to you. Yeah. That'd probably be the smart thing to do.
Having pillaged the West for all it was worth, we headed back across the bridge to the east to witness the seedy underbelly of Portland. We did this in the form of a Pierced Arrows show at the Eastside Club. Pierced Arrows are the new project of Fred and Tooty, who finally disbanded Dead Moon recently. Fred and Tooty are grandparents, Clackamas county homesteaders, die hard DIY proponents, about 70 years old I think, and still out-fierced every fierce little whippersnapper at the club that night.
And in a funny way. the DIY ethic that Fred and Tooty have been so closely associated with in Portland for the last 30 years (and which they helped to create), feeds directly into the Portland cocktail renaissance. There was already such a unique sense of community in this town, and such a passion for DIY, that few places on earth were so fully prepared to embrace the brave new cocktail world.
Portland is truly a spectacle to behold on the cocktail frontier. There is talent, creativity, passion, and originality bursting from the floorboards here. Not enough people seem to be grasping this fact.
It was sad to see so few from Portland make it to Tales of the Cocktail this year. But hey, they're busy! While your city's top bartenders were whooping it up at Tales, Portland's were honing their skills, lurking in the reeds, plotting their world takeover. They're like a city full of Clubber Langs, training for their shot at Rocky while he poses for pictures and does interviews with magazines.
And in just over a week, they'll be hosting the Great American Distiller's Festival. Will T.Mixeur be there? Oui bien sûr!
I have deviated away from Patrick Hill, but let's go back to him for a moment. Patrick was my teacher in college, and Sarah and I were his students for a semester abroad in rural Ireland. Of my final paper for the experience, Patrick wrote this:
“It is an ode to joy. It embodies a Jungian and Taoist embracing of the interconnection of loneliness and love, of dark and light; and moves towards a 'sentimental technology' of personal happiness and true community...It is a critique of the limitations of language and objectifying studies, and it is a hymn to the power of nature and music to bind us together lovingly. Ted has written something that will forever inspire and/or haunt him if he deserts this memory.”
I hope, for my own sake, I have done the same regarding my late, great weekend in Portland.
Thank you again to all who participated.
Until next time...