There’s so much happening on Portland’s bustling food and drink scene that it’s hard to keep up sometimes! Here’s the latest lowdown of all things delicious and delectable in the City of Roses…
Oregon Whiskey Movement Takes Shape
Though best known for its local microbrews and Willamette Valley wines, Portland has been a whiskey town since the late 19th century, when off-duty loggers would kick back in the city’s bars and saloons.
Today, buttressed by a burgeoning craft distilling scene, Portland is poised to influence the whiskey world with some unique brands, new bars and a local flavour that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Clear Creek Distillery has been making fruit-based liqueurs for more than 25 years — long before Portland’s rekindled interest in craft distilling — but its Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, a smooth Scotch with a crisp finish, is a more recent addition to its selection.
McMenamins, known for its chain of eclectic bars, music venues and hotels, has been distilling its own spirits since 1998 at the Edgefield Distillery. The American Distilling Institute named the company’s Hogshead Whiskey the ‘Single Malt Whiskey of 2011’.
Ransom has two dark spirits well worth the wait: Henry DuYore’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey, an ultra-premium whiskey that’s aged for four years in Bourbon barrels and finished in French oak, and WhipperSnapper, which is heavy on malted barley and pot-distilled for up to 16 hours at a pass.
Meanwhile, Distillery Row resident Eastside Distilling infuses its aged bottles with local fruits, tickling taste buds with several whiskeys that include Cherry Bomb and Oregon Marionberry Whiskey. And, with cinnamon and oak flavoring, its award-winning Burnside Bourbon, which is barrel-aged for four years, is spicy straight or devilish in a cocktail.
Alternatively, Bull Run Distilling’s Temperance Trader line of Bourbons is distilled with soft, mountain-fed Oregon water. The company’s double-distilled, 100 per cent malted Barley Whiskey is already making a stir, though it won’t be available until at least spring 2015.
These bottles – and many more – can be found at the newly-opened Multnomah Whiskey Library. Joining the ranks of the nation’s great whiskey bars, the 2,200-square-foot lounge in downtown Portland boasts more than 1,000 bottles of whiskey from around the world, in addition to other spirits. The elegant brick and leather interior evokes the feeling of a grand, but secret, Pacific northwest lodge. Drink service comes tableside, with custom-made rolling cocktail carts bringing the bar to the patrons.
Other Portland-area bars that have long specialized in whiskey are Branch Whiskey Bar, the Woodsman Tavern, the Pope House Bourbon Lounge and the Highland Stillhouse in Oregon City.
All this sets the stage for the Oregon Whiskey Movement, an effort by local distillers to get a federal designation – like that for Kentucky Bourbon – for the area’s unique flavors and processes. With great access to local malted barley from the Klamath Basin, water from the Bull Run watershed and Oregon oak for barrels, the ingredients are all at the ready.
“It’s a big project but I think it’s been proven,” says Bull Run distiller Lee Medoff. “Pinot Noir is made here. Big, hoppy pale ales didn’t exist in the world until we started making them here. I think we have an opportunity to do the same thing with whiskey.”
Wine Tasting In Style
Two founding families of Oregon’s wine industry have brought a new focus on architecture and design to the Willamette Valley, which is just a short drive from downtown Portland.
The Ponzi Family opened a new tasting room on a west-facing hilltop in Sherwood this spring. The building’s clean lines and large windows enhance the panoramic views of vineyards and the Cascade Mountains. The new space focuses on hospitality, offering guests the opportunity to linger over wine tastings, take a tour of the gravity-fed winery or enjoy the outdoors on two bocce ball courts and a covered terrace.
The Sokol Blosser Family built the first tasting room in the area more than 30 years ago. An excellent example of the northwest style, it is itself an architectural treasure. Now Sokol Blosser is the first to bring internationally-recognized architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture to Oregon’s wine country. The Portland-based firm has created a stunning modern structure. Its angular forms and rough wood lines are striking on the hilltop estate vineyard in the Dundee Hills. The tasting room opened alongside the family’s LEED-certified winery this summer.
New Dining Puts Culinary Scene Within Steps Of Downtown Hotels
For years, visitors have had to venture across the Willamette River to eastside neighborhoods to experience the chef-owned eateries that put Portland on the national culinary map. But the latest trend in the city’s dynamic dining scene has many of those acclaimed chefs opening new ventures in the city’s west side, just steps from downtown hotels.
John Gorham, chef and owner of the wildly popular Toro Bravo and Tasty n Sons, opened Tasty n Alder in downtown’s West End early this year. Tasty n Alder serves a brunch menu throughout the day and a more sophisticated steakhouse menu at night, both infused with global flavours.
Just down the street, chef Rick Gencarelli recently opened the second outpost of his famous-food-cart-turned-restaurant, Lardo, in addition to new venture, Grassa, which features house-made pastas in a casual atmosphere. Next door is chef Anthony Cafiero’s intimate new modern Spanish restaurant and lounge, Ración.
Several of the most recent additions to the downtown foodie scene are located inside the new Union Way Galleria, which is just across the street from the Ace Hotel. Saint Cupcake owner Jamie Curl brings a curated selection of homemade candies to her jewel-sized candy shop, Quin, while Micah Camden’s Boxer Ramen, sister restaurant to the east side’s Boxer Sushi, warms up shoppers with bowls of steaming soup under a wall of hand-painted murals. And just a block away, acclaimed pastry chef Kristen Murray will soon open her brick-and-mortar patisserie — a hybrid ‘pastry luncheonette’ that aims to go beyond a typical pastry shop with a day-to-night menu featuring sweet and savoury dishes.
Oregon Wineries Go Urban
Portland has seen a growing number of new urban wineries over the past couple of years. There are currently a dozen. Driven by winemakers motivated to move their operations closer to where they live and socialize, many of these wineries also serve food in a convivial atmosphere, dubbed ‘enopubs’.
The new Urban Winery Passport, from the same people who brought you the Portland the Distillery Row Passport, is both a guide and access pass to some of these wineries. The $20 passport provides winery information, maps, discounts on bottle sales, deals at local businesses and space for notes – and it includes tastings at members of PDX Urban Wineries, including Enso Winery, Hip Chicks Do Wine, Alchemy Winery, Seven Bridges Winery, Division Winemaking Company, Helioterra, Vincent and Jan-Marc Cellars.
Other new and notable urban wineries are Clay Pigeon, which offers samples in its café and cheese shop, Cyril’s, and Sauvage, the hip and elegant wine bar that is also home to Fausse Piste Winery.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life For Portland Breweries
With so many craft breweries serving up local suds, brewers in Portland know they have to stay nimble to compete. In most breweries, you can find variations of the standard beers everyone expects, such as India pale ales, porters, stouts, ambers and the like. But in a town known for its creativity and commitment to quality, local brewers have taken to producing constantly changing beer styles and seasonals to keep their tap lists fresh, edgy and delicious.
For example, at Basecamp Brewing, Rauch the Boat uses Rauchmalt — a malt dried over an open flame to impart a strong smoke flavour similar to the Rauchsbiers (smoke beers) of Bamberg, Germany. Alternatively, Cascade Barrel House, which is well known among beer lovers for its barrel-aged and sour beers, features an ever-changing selection of live-barrel beers that defy description. Its Vine blends oak-barrel-aged, soured triple, blonde quad and golden ales with fresh-pressed juice of white wine grapes and is then fermented in stainless steel for three months. The result is a barrel-aged sour beer that resembles Champagne.