Portland Cocktail Week won’t be back until next year, but hopefully 12 months will be enough time for everyone’s livers to heal from all the spirits and shenanigans of the past week. With multiple events happening every night from the 10/21-25, reality at present still seems to be shrouded in vertiginous visions of bitters, flair, and clinking glassware. The week kicked off with salutations to the visiting mixologists from across the nation on Sunday evening, then Monday morning commenced with the seminars that make the great bartenders of our nation even greater.
A seminar hosted by Tad Carducci (mixologist, restaurateur and Tippling Brother), and Todd Richman (corporate mixologist at Sidney Frank Importing) entitled “Blinded by the Dark” not only got Bruce Springsteen stuck in everyone’s head, it also introduced attendees in the Kennedy School’s small but hipster chic Cypress Bar to the history of bitters. Bartenders were challenged to test their palates and attempt to sniff out and identify as many herbs as they possibly could in mystery spirits (Jägermeister, Amaro Averna, and Fernet Branca, among others). Here are some fun facts:
- Distillation began as a means of making medicine, and alcohol began as a way to cure maladies such as stomach problems, headaches, depression, and cramps (to name a few).
- Monks took over the distillation of alcohols around 1000 A.D. They intended to do it as a way to serve mankind.
- Over time sugar was added to spirits because people found that they could taste very good in addition to curing illness. The sugar caused the medicine-like taste to become much less bitter, and distillers would also subsequently lower the proof of the spirits.
- Caramel is used as the primary sweetener in bitters, and it is revered to the point of there actually being “Masters of Caramel” in Italy.
- Things were originally chosen to add to spirits based on what grew in the areas immediately surrounding the towns of the distillers.
- Helpful hint: In between tasting different alcohols, smell your shirt fabric or your neighbor’s shoulder so that you can clear your nose of the previous drink and be better prepared to smell the next alcohol you try.
Organic cachaça makers Novo Fogo attempted to wake up the hard-partying bartenders with breakfast and Brazilian beer bright and early Thursday morning before a “friendly” game of soccer—Portland vs Seattle—at the Portland Futsal. Seattle and Portland bartenders like Ricky Gomez, Tommy Klus, Robert Rowland, Art Tierce, Nick La Porta, Jacob Grier, Matthew Bailey, Mary Bartlett, Sean Hoard, Chip McLaughlin, Kyle Webster, and Jay Kuehner took to the indoor field to duel it out with some fancy footwork. Though Seattle may have come out victorious in this epic sporting battle, we’re just going to blame it on the two missing Portland bartenders who were “sick” (bartender code for an epic hangover). Next year, Seattle, next year…
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based cocktail and spirit consulters The Bon Vivants brought Pig & Punch to the public in a rainy parking lot outside of Yale Union, offering up beer, six different kinds of punch, dunk tanks, old-timey string music, and a huge spit that rotated massive pigs for general consumption. The event saw the public shivering as they consumed glass of punch after glass of punch, with bartenders shivering even more as they took short, repeated baths in the dunk tank all in the name of charity and a good time. Alcoholic hot chocolate and infused Voodoo doughnuts were consumed whilst fiddles were fiddled and shirts were handed out to commemorate the inaugural collaboration between Pig & Punch and Portland Cocktail Week.
The main event of the week was undoubtedly the Red, White, and Booze event at the Jupiter Hotel Thursday night. All 34 chapters of the United States Bartender’s Guild were slinging drinks that represented their home states. There was a Polu & Storm from Hawaii, Burnt Ends from Texas, Big Apple Buzz from New York, and, the most glorious drink on the face of the planet, a 5th & Broker’s from Connecticut, made from Broker’s Gin, Skinos Mastiha (a flowery Greek liqueur made from tree sap), fresh lemon, honey, and apple foam—an alcoholic orgasm for your taste buds). Attendees wandered around reading chalkboards of ingredients at each stand and eagerly handed over drink tickets in hope of something life-changing. The only downside of the event was heading home and coming to the realization that the next time I’m feeling thirsty for a signature cocktail from Colorado, I might have to book a flight to Denver.