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the open house at House Spirits

House Spirits is a distillery in the inner SE industrial district of Portland that produces a vodka, a gin, and whatever else captures the fancy of the distillers. They share space and equipment with Ransom Sprits, producer of grappa and port, and Sub Rosa Spirits, producer of infused vodka.

Our tasting party began with brunch, then migrated to the distillery. Afterwards stragglers continued for chocolate. Yeah, it’s been a pretty good afternoon.

The main floor of the distillery has a small bar and several storage cages. Tasting stations were set up on barrels between and around the labeling equipment, the bottler, numerous tanks. We arrived in the second hour of the afternoon, and I caught sight of a couple of Portland’s notable bartenders warming up before their shifts.

I tasted the Muscat Grappa from Ransom Spirits first. Tad Seestedt, winemaker and distiller, described that the muscat grapes are crushed and drained, then the pumice (skins and seeds and some amount of pulp) is soaked and fermented. The resulting pomace wine is distilled. The grappa was clear and devoid of any oily or fusile scent. Wonderful. I passed on tasting the ports, but members of our party seemed to like them.

We moved next to House Spirits’ own station. They were pouring the Medoyeff vodka, the Aviation Gin, the Krogstad Aquavit. I have thoroughly acquainted myself with the gin and the aquavit and am a committed fan of them both. Also on offer was a yet-to-be released spirit that the pourer described as “an Oregon ouzo”. It is an anise and fennel flavored spirit (alcohol from rye), clear in color. It tastes dry, but intensely sweet from the anise. The smell and flavors are in fine balance. It was similar to an ouzo, but somehow cleaner tasting. We were told that it would louche, but I did not add any water. They expect this anise-flavored liquor to clear the Tax and Trade Bureau review early next year and be available by May.

Near the labeling machine, Sub Rosa Spirits presented their two infused vodkas. Mike Sherwood introduced us to his tarragon-infused vodka and his saffron-infused vodka. The tarragon infused vodka is pale green and smells of that wonderful herb for which its named. The taste is dead-on: reminiscent of anise, but without sweetness, perhaps a little mint after the finish. It would be a lovely send-off for a platter of oysters. The saffron vodka has a bright yellow hue, and the smell suggests curry. The taste is full of cumin and coriander. Both infusions are, in a sense, shades of gin, destinations that gin could be sent. Both are remarkable, worthy of drinking straight, and will be inspirations for mixing cocktails.

Xocolatl de David was present, offering pieces of their bacon caramel, a salt and pepper fudge (which I wished I had tasted), and their fleur de sel caramel. When was it realized that crowning caramel with finishing salt is amazing? I’ve heard it said that Fran’s of Seattle was a forerunner, but does anyone out there have hard data? It’s brilliant.

At the pocket bar, two of our party bought cocktails. One of which was the Twentieth Century. I was astounded by it. Likely it will feature on my New Year’s Eve dancedrink card.

After all that spirit, three of us went to Cacao for demitasse of strong chocolate. And one of Xocolatl de David’s dark chocolate-covered bacon-caramels with a pinch of smoked salt. My inner cardiologist shudders to imagine the method used to impart so much bacon to that caramel.