Yeah, it’s a cheesy line, I know. But sometimes you just have to go there. In this case ‘there’ was another visit to Distillery Row, or parts of it. Since Mitch and Sharon were here, along with brother Geoff, it seemed a decent excuse to visit one of my favorite parts of town. I’m a bit of an evangelist when it comes to the things I like, and craft distilling falls into that realm. Thus, after a fortifying brunch at Davis Street Tavern (seriously, one of the best brunch places I’ve been to in Portland), we were off.
The first stop was House Spirits. Finally! After three attempts to get to this place, I made it in the door and actually got to sample their wares. This place kind of eludes me, to be honest. I feel like I just don’t get it. I really enjoyed everything I tasted there, I even bought a bottle of really amazing Aquavit in all it’s wonderful, licorice-y goodness; I liked the aged Aquavit and was impressed by the difference between the two; the first being that wonderful anise flavor with just a hint of caraway while the aged was so very different, much heavier on the caraway. The sweet and the savory being showcased by aging. I liked the white dog they do, and I was impressed by the Aviation Gin. But the place feels, I don’t know, cold? Maybe we just weren’t hip enough for the room.
From there it was over to Deco and their fabulous rums. Augustina is so sweet, and she so clearly loves their products that she is the perfect front person for this little shoebox of a tasting room. She poured us rum, tantalized us with the new holiday liqueur, made us some mini-cocktails, plied us with caramel sauce and sent us on our way. Geoff, clutching a bottle of the caramel sauce and some truffles (both from my Salem favorite, Extreme Chocolates), wondered how he was going to squeeze anything else in his luggage. Poor man, he was warned.
Then it was across the way to New Deal Distillery. I have mentioned before how I love the kind of speakeasy aspect of this place; the narrow doorway, the steps, the discrete signage; you half hope, half dread that some hulk of a bouncer is going to ask you for the password before letting you enter. There we went through the gamut of offerings, the gins (1 and 3), the vodkas (chocolate, hot and plain), the liqueurs (coffee and ginger), had a couple of mini-cocktails, took pictures. Sharon and Mitch left with some gin (1).
As it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, all three places were pretty quiet. I like it like that, finding that sweet spot in the day when it isn’t too busy, when you have a chance to talk to the folks behind the counter. The time when they don’t feel rushed, have what I can only imagine is the difficult task of remembering who is tasting what now, or last, or next. It is a time to ask about the process, ask about the craftsmen and women behind the concoction in your cup, maybe trade a cocktail recipe or two.
This area is another one of those gems, those interesting little neighborhoods, little areas, that I seem to stumble upon now and again. This one, somewhat industrial, somewhat rough around the edges, isn’t the sort of place you would look at and think – hey! I should bring my friends and family here! Because really, the office furniture place or the vending machine business don’t lend themselves to ‘tourist destination’ status. But you look a little deeper, a little more closely and there they are; the savory and sweet pie shop, the brew pubs, the urban winery, and oh yes – the craft distillers. Especially on these quiet mornings, but even really on the not so quiet ones. It’s like opening a little gift, one that went unnoticed over there, behind the tree, pushed to the back. Not as big and enticing as the others, but inside it you find one of the best gifts of all.