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Mixology Monday – August 2008 “Local Color”

Mixology Monday This month’s Mixology Monday (which happens to be the 30TH!) is hosted by Kevin of Save the Drinkers. The theme Kevin has called out this month is local flavor. As it turns out, this weekend I toured one of Portland’s several distilleries and then brought a favorite summer drink based on local produce to a friend’s party.

Mid-day Saturday I and a few friends toured Clear Creek Distillery. The distillery building is located on the edge of the remaining light industrial area north of the urban revitalization zone known as the Pearl District. There, distiller Steve McCarthy and his staff produce a remarkable pear brandy, a fine kirschwasser, and several other eaux-de-vie (and grappa) and cordials, and also a single-malt whiskey. All of their products are based on fruit that originates in Oregon and Washington (an exception is made for the peat-smoked malt for their whiskey). We walked through their receiving and fermenting area, looking at the fermenting tanks and the four copper pot stills, and the carboys of clear spirit. We stepped into the heady air of the barrel room, where their brandy (the Oregon brandy and the apple brandy) is aged in French limousine oak and their whiskey is aged in a combination of American oak and sherry barrels. And we stood around the bottling line.

A couple of points of note came up during the tour:
The distillery uses the heads of the distillation (the start of the run from the still, which contains a good deal of lighter alcohols) as a disinfectant for lines, carboys, and tanks.
The heart of the distillation (the spirit) comes out of the still at 160-180 proof, high enough to degrade food-safe plastics, and so is only allowed contact with stainless steel and glass.
The must for the grappa is a fermentation without added sugar or water.

The tour ended in the tasting room. Clear Creek’s eaux-de-vie are some of the most amazing I have had. The Kirschwasser, the Slivovitz, the Framboise all smell like the best and idealized memory of their fruit you might have ever tasted. I’m not one to appreciate the dilution of such perfection into a cordial, so I avoided that portion of the tasting table. The apple brandy is good, but the character that the wood imparts to it is perhaps not quite to my taste – I’ve not developed a taste for brandy. I tasted two of the grappas, the Nebbiolo and the Pinot Noir. The Nebbiolo grappa is earthy and funky. The Pinot Noir one is lighter in character but still rather earthy. I did not taste the eaux-de-vie of Douglas Fir, but it is a wonderful liquor that I try to keep around my bar, and this year’s is a brilliant transparent green.

That night I had the occasion to take a cocktail to a going-away party for a couple of dear friends. I had prepared bottles of the Lion’s Tail (a lovely bourbon and pimento dram cocktail) and a Negroni variant, but I wanted to mix something there. As it is summer, that hardy weed mint is easily available, and I found a beautiful pile of red bell peppers at the farmers’ market. So it was decided that I present the Pepper Delicious, with (local distillery House Spirits’) Aviation gin.

The Pepper Delicious is a cocktail by Ryan Magarian, created in 2006 for the menu of Canlis (in Seattle). It was featured (in its variant on an aquavit base, “Nr.2”) at the House Spirits 2006 open house (as reported by Slakethirst for Mixology Monday X). And subsequently featured by Food and Wine Magazine in 2006 and 2007 cocktail round-ups.

Pepper Delicious
In the shaker, muddle
◇ 2-3 slices of sweet red bell pepper and
◇ 3-4 mint leaves with
◇ ┬Żoz rich simple syrup.
Add ice, and
◇ 2oz Aviation gin (or Krogstad aquavit) and
◇ 1oz lime juice.
Shake. Sieve into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a thin slice of red bell pepper.

The cocktail has a very pretty pink hue. The vegetal aroma of the bell pepper sits in support of the fresh green smell of mint.