The Cocktail Diaries: Backyard Sangria
Summer came early to Portland and I AM PREPARED.
Happy holidays, everyone! We’ve had quite the weather here in Portland the last couple of weeks, and I don’t know about you but that has put a serious kink into my holiday gift shopping plans!
But the good news is, I have been able to put a lot of work into the below, a comprehensive gift guide of all the best bottles I’ve tried in Oregon this year. Our amazing state is full of artisans and craftspeople, and we also really love our beers, cocktails and wines. That combination means that all kinds of amazing drinkable items can be found, gifted and enjoyed locally. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it contains lots of highlights of what I think are the best new/almost new things on offer in our beautiful Pacific Northwest home. Tell me what I’ve missed in the comments!
Old Tree Gin: I truly believe that Jaz Spirits is ahead of the curve by creating this forest-y Old Tom style gin. It is supremely drinkable just on its own, with balanced botanicals and a hint of vanilla and honey notes. But it plays well in cocktails, too, bringing fresh nuance to classic recipes. $27.95 at Oregon liquor stores.
Cascadia di Amore: For the bar nerd who already has most things, this amaro will both surprise and delight them. Primarily flavored with gentian, a splash of soda opens it up in the most lovely way. But I’ve enjoyed mixing it into cocktails across the spectrum, from old school spirit forward recipes to the tropical. $34.95 at Oregon liquor stores.
Clear Creek Distilling Reserve Apple Brandy – Most of the apple brandies I have tasted in my life take me back to my college days, where the booze burned like hell and was consumed quickly so as not to be tasted. This one, however, is a treasure. Smooth enough to sip alone, it will transport you right into the orchard, with fresh apple aromas firmly intact and a lingering light tartness you’ll remember from some of your favorite Pacific Northwest varietals. It’s been barrel aged for 8 years in French Oak, and is perfect for a cocktail lover, as they’ll be able to use it in place of Calvados. $27.95 for 375ml at Oregon liquor stores.
BG Reynolds Orgeat: Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a fool for tiki drinks. I love the tropical flavors, the carefree attitude and the way they instantly transport you away from a dreary winter day. But sometimes they are hard to make at home, because they use unusual ingredients. The good news is, the very first thing you need to get a tiki lover to make drinks at home is available and made right here in Portland: Orgeat, an almond syrup. Pick up a bottle of BG Reynolds’ and you will make the tiki lover in your life very happy. $8.99 for 375 ml. – can be found at many Oregon liquor stores. Hollywood Beverage definitely has it.
The Bitter Housewife Grapefruit Bitters: One of the most important building blocks of a great bar is a good bottle of orange bitters. The next step, though, is the incorporation of grapefruit, in my opinion – especially for winter cocktails. I love this bottle for all kinds of cocktails and all kinds of spirits – and while you’re still shopping, I love their cardamom ones too! $15 online and available at New Seasons and Providore Fine Foods
Towhnshend’s Lil Tasties: I wasn’t able to pick up one of these adorable sampler packs because of the ridiculous snow/traffic problems, but this is a gift I want for myself! Thomas & Sons Distillery is taking Portland by storm with their constant release of new and great products. Try a bunch of them at once with their adorable Lil Tasties sampler pack featuring their four tea spirits: Smoked, Sweet, Bitter and Spice. You’ll have all kinds of fun trying them out, and choosing which big bottle(s) you need to add to your shelf at home. $20 at all Townshend Tea locations.
Hazelfern Cellars Winter Rose: Frankly, whoever thinks that rose is just for summer can GTFO. I really appreciate that Hazelfern created one specifically for winter – with enough acidity to pair perfectly with winter foods. $24 on their website.
Pearl Soda Syrups: For the cocktail fan or the mocktail fan in your life, these syrups succeed where many fail. They aren’t overly sweet, and they aren’t something you could just whip up at home (Vanilla Rooibos anyone?). These adventurous flavors make for lots of fun cocktails – you’ll never get tired of playing with them! Sampler pack, $24
Migration Brewing’s Frankie Belgian Chocolate Stout – What a perfect holiday beer. Stouts always sound so good in the winter – and this one is rich with flavors of dried cherries and toasted grains. It’s been around before, but this is its first year in bottles. $12 for a champagne bottle at the brewery.
Portland Bitters Pitch Dark Cacao Bitters: Calling all whiskey and bourbon cocktail lovers: you need this bottle of bitters. I’ve tasted quite a few chocolate bitters, but this one actually tastes like chocolate more than any of the rest. I love using it to provide a new level of depth to an Old Fashioned (orange and chocolate are great together, don’t ya know). $17 online, also available at The Meadow and Providore Fine Foods
Imperial x Culmination Brewing’s Fumee de Miel Smoked Honey Saison – Yes indeed, I have a couple of beers on this list! This saison is an utter delight – don’t let the word “smoked” give you any assumptions. The honey has been so perfectly smoked that it blends seamlessly with the beer instead of overpowering like so many others do, creating what I think is one of the most balanced beers out there. I could truly drink this all day. I believe this is only available in bottles at Culmination, but you can get it on tap at Imperial.
Pok Pok Som’s holiday exclusive flavors: Leave it to Pok Pok Som to create some epic local collaboration flavors perfect for holiday libations. They are offering their Smith Tea & Cranberry, Cardamom & Tangerine and Patton Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir flavors together as a threesome. Smith Tea and Cranberry pairs fabulously with sparkling wine for the easiest cocktail of your life. Cardamom Orange was designed to go with Aviation gin (and if you are reading this you probably already have a bottle!). And the Pinot Noir flavor is just waiting to become the grown up grape soda of your dreams with a little vodka and soda.
Bull Run Distilling Oregon Single Malt Whiskey – This is one of the bottles that I am most excited to put on this list. My nuanced review: holy crap, this is a really freaking good bottle of whiskey. It’s notable for several reasons. First of all, it is actually an OREGON whiskey, distilled from barley from the Klamath Basin and water from the Bull Run Watershed. Almost every bottle of whiskey in the store, including most local whiskeys, is distilled from grain from the midwest. This one is not. That alone makes it a great accomplishment and I hope it’s an indication of more to come from this region. BUT on top of that, it is truly one of the best whiskies I have enjoyed in recent memory. The prominent fruit flavors and light spiciness make it a delight to sip. This belongs on the shelf of the whiskey lover in your life. $49.95 at Oregon liquor stores and the Bull Run tasting room.
Old Blue Raw Honey – Honey directly from the beekeeper is such a fun way to see how what bees eat impacts the flavor of the honey they make. Located in Philomath, Old Blue Raw Honey offers a fun array of samplers, so you can taste for yourself side by side! I had the pleasure of sampling their Wild Blackberry, Clary Sage, Coriander Honey Sampler along with their Pumpkin honey (that’s when the bees pollinated pumpkin plants, not when they flavored the honey with pumpkin). These make a great gift that your friends and family will love showing off in their kitchen!
Wine gifts from Van Duzer Vineyards: I took them out for the photo, but it’s important that I mention that the presentation of these gift boxes is top notch. They arrive in a beautiful wooden box cushioned with pretty packing material and tied with a red holiday ribbon. It is definitely a gift meant to impress. I’m particularly fond of the Two to Treasure box, with a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2014 Pinot Noir. $80 for the beautifully boxed set of two.