We recently spent an evening sampling cocktails and nibbles at Double Dragon in Portland. We were served two versions of their whiskey toddy, one hot and one cold. The bartender, Dan, was kind enough to share the recipe with us.
Double Dragon Toddy 2 oz. Rye 1 oz. Honey five spice syrup 1 oz. Lemon juice Whiskey barrel-aged bitters
The cold version is the same but with the addition of an absinthe rinse. While we preferred the hot version on a chilly evening, the cold cocktail was quite tasty and we always appreciate how an absinthe rinse can amplify whiskey.
We were also delighted to witness some cocktail demonstrations. Dan walked us through how to make two drinks. We’re going to share with you our favorite and the drink that had all our companions reaching for second sips, too.
No Name No. 5 2 oz. Dickel rye 1 oz. Sweet vermouth 1 oz. Italian amaro Chocolate bitters
You might notice the similarity to the Little Italy cocktail, but the chocolate bitters that Dan at Double Dragon used take this to the next level. It is off-menu, but if you ask for it (and we recommend you do), he will make you one.
Michelle Ruocco has been shaking up cocktails at The Bent Brick since February and already the bar has seen a revitalization of its cocktail menu. The Bent Brick uses only domestic spirits in the bar, so Ruocco has supplemented the inventory with her own house-made liqueurs, cordials, and syrups. She changes the menu seasonally, pulling ingredients in from the kitchen’s stock of local farm produce, as well as harvesting herbs from The Bent Brick’s own patio garden.
For fall, Ruocco made an infused bourbon with butternut squash and mixed it with Root, herbal liqueur, and spices to come up with The Fall Back cocktail. To be honest, we were skeptical of a butternut squash bourbon, but after tasting the drink, we are converts. It is well balanced, with the squash taste hitting the palate first, then mellowing into the Root and spices. The bourbon flavor doesn’t get lost, and it’s the oaky vanilla notes that pull this cocktail together.
Being limited to domestic spirits hasn’t posed much of a problem for Ruocco, who noted that America is great at bourbon and other whiskies and Portland produces a number of delicious gins. At the time of our visit, half the drinks on the cocktail menu contained bourbon, which is just what we like to see. The Bent Brick’s well whiskey is Henry McKenna, a Heaven Hill Distilleries bourbon known for its high quality and low profile.
One of the greatest things about The Bent Brick is that they have an old fashioned on tap. Yes. You read that correctly. Old fashioned on tap. And it’s delicious! We asked for just a sample (pictured above), so it wasn’t served over the usual large ice cube, but since Ruocco pre-dilutes the drink, it didn’t really need the ice. She mixes up a big batch of bourbon with carefully measured sugar and bitters, then stirs it all with ice and strains it.
The Damson in Distress is one of Ruocco’s most recent inventions and she’s proud of its low alcohol content. Ruocco said “People aren’t looking to go out and get smashed anymore. They just want to enjoy themselves and enjoy the beverage.” This drink is really tasty and would be nice as an aperitif because it is bitter, tart, and juicy. It is made with whiskey, damson gin liqueur, blueberry syrup, lemon, egg white, and Angostura bitters.
We only tried one item off the food menu and it was one of the best charcuterie plates we’ve ever had. We’ve honestly never enjoyed paté and rillettes more than at The Bent Brick, possibly because they were lightly dusted with flakey salt and pickled shallots. The plate also included two lovely ham slices, pickled cucumbers, and surprisingly tasty pickled celery.
We’re always looking for an opportunity to expand our knowledge, especially when it comes to cocktails, so we jumped at the opportunity to attend Portland Cocktail Week's The Story of Bitters class with Dale DeGroff. If you ever get the chance to learn about mixed drinks from a guy whose alias is King Cocktail and makes bitters with his face on the bottle, you should open your mindgrapes to some booklearnin’.
The class began with a brief history of bitters, including the creation of Angostura bitters in the 1830s as a stomach tonic and how the inclusion of bitters defined a cocktail. He then led us through a bitters tasting, which was essentially the same familiar process as tasting wine or whiskey (if you’d like to try this on your own).
The sequence of bitters we tasted were (from left to right) Angostura bitters, Boker’s, The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters, DeGroff’s Pimento, and Fee Brothers Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters. After tasting the bitters on their own, he then had us sip each one mixed with rye whiskey. Then we were served a couple different manhattans (made with rye or bourbon and one of the sampled bitters) to taste how the different bitters interacted with the other ingredients to create variations of the classic Manhattan. While it might be tedious to get into the minute details of each cocktail and bitters, we did notice a wide variation in flavor. (For the record, our two favorite Manhattans were mixed with the Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters and The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters.) Since we’re sure you’re curious, the Manhattan recipe used by DeGroff was as follows:
1½ oz. George Dickel rye ¾ oz. Sweet Dolin vermouth ½ oz. Dry Dolin vermouth (bitters)
The general takeaway was that knowing your bitters will make you a better bartender. The Angostura bitters made a much sweeter Manhattan, while the Fee Brothers and DeGroff bitters made much for a much smoother overall texture. Every drinker will have a different preference. Our class of about 30 people was pretty evenly split on which of the five Manhattans was our favorite.
The event took place at Portland’s newest whiskey bar, the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library. As wordnerds and whiskey lovers, we feel this place was created almost specifically for us. Not only does it have an extensive catalog of whisk(e)ys, but they accounted for every detail from library ladders on the back bar to dimly lit accountant lamps to create a very classic library atmosphere. Any library where drinking is encouraged is our kind of place.
Last week we received an exciting invitation from Alma Chocolate in Portland to taste their boozy bon bons. Obviously, we wasted no time heading over to their shop, where we learned all about Alma’s history and its decadent products. Not only do they sell chocolate but also hot chocolate, ice cream, caramel sauce, and toffee. Plus, they host a regular dinner series featuring local chefs. This is our kind of place, but we were there specifically for the bon bons, and we got right down to business by sampling the bourbon bon bon made with Maker’s Mark. This is a bitter, complex dark chocolate shell covering a soft, smooth center flavored generously with bourbon. It is a home run and the perfect lead-in to Alma’s cocktail-inspired bon bons.
In what they call “the best game of ping pong ever,” Alma’s founder, Sarah Hart, worked with mixologist Kyle Linden Webster (opening bartender at St. Jack, and now behind the newly opened Expatriate with wife Naomi Pomeroy of Beast) to trade chocolate tasting notes and cocktail recipes back and forth until they developed a line of bon bons that actually taste like some of our favorite drinks.
In our carefully wrapped to-go packages, we found bon bons containing prunes soaked in Madeira and House Spirits rum, filled with lime anise ganache, and dipped in dark chocolate. This candy was really intense. As one might expect, the prunes soak up the alcohol like sponges, but it was nicely balanced by the citrus spiciness of the ganache. Our favorite bon bon was the Pegu Club, which is a dry gin ganache with a honey-lime caramel, dipped in dark chocolate, and finished with Angostura-soaked coconut. The flavors in this bon bon are so layered and complex. Each nibble brought a new experience, and we can’t wait for our next trip to Alma Chocolate.
Even though this post was sponsored by Alma Chocolate, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free products don’t automatically taste better.
I love a good Bloody Mary. Unfortunately, I’m often hesitant to order one when I’m at a bar or restaurant because a bad Bloody Mary is absolutely terrible. There’s no in-between with these things. A good Bloody Mary can be refreshing and can cure some of the worst hangovers, while anything less tastes like the worst liquid in the history of liquids. By now you’re probably wondering why I’m waxing pathetic about a vodka-based drink, so I’ll get to it.
This weekend, Rachel and I had brunch at Five Horses Tavern, which is a local bar with a great selection of beer and (you guessed it) bourbon. So when I saw they had a “Bloody Bourbon” variation on their brunch menu, I had to set aside my inhibitions in the name of research. The Bloody Bourbon as it appears on the menu is: Four Roses, house mix (which I assume to be some variation of V8 or tomato juice), A1 sauce, dash mustard, and a splash of a dry stout. The result is a tasty bourbony version of a Bloody Mary that we will try to recreate at home in the future.
The other picture here is the whiskey portion of Five Horses’ bar. That’s all (or at least mostly) bourbon under the TV. I’m a big fan of their whiskey chalkboard up top, too. Finally, you probably can’t see it in the picture, but there’s a bottle of Pappy 20-year hanging out in the top right shelf. (Here’s another photo from their website.)
You may be wondering why anyone would pair bourbon with sushi. We would have asked the same question before we had dinner at Oishii and discovered their ginger manhattan. It was so good! Its flavors were much lighter than one would find in a traditional manhattan, and it still maintained quite a complex profile. Think of the basic bourbon and ginger flavors, then add in the smoothness of Domaine de Canton and a bit of the dryness of sake.
We will be trying to replicate it at home, so stay tuned for updates on that endeavor.
We also tried the emperor’s old-fashioned, but our memories got a little fuzzy as the night wore on and we failed to capture all of the ingredients in this cocktail. Rest assured that it was delicious.
Please forgive the lack of mouth-watering photos. The restaurant lighting, apparently designed for romantic mood-setting, rendered our attempts atrocious.
On our last day in Virginia we stopped to have lunch at Comfort in Richmond, which we highly recommend if you are in the area. Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout from Bluegrass Brewing Company has been on our radar for a while, and we were delighted to see it on tap.
Its first impression left a bit to be desired, as the head on the glasses we were poured was small and rapidly dissipated to near nonexistence. It is a fragrant beer with quite a boozy smell, actually. The oak and vanilla from the barrel came out strongly in both fragrance and flavor. Notes of chocolate, malt, and coffee were strong mid-palate (it is a stout, after all) and the finish is very smooth, almost too smooth. I would prefer a bit more carbonation in this overall, but I found it a very enjoyable accompaniment to our Southern lunch of ham sandwich with potato salad (me) and catfish sandwich with french fries (Patrick).
While wandering Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall (thanks to the recommendation of Rob Iracane), we stopped into Commonwealth Skybar for a quick drink. Naturally we sat right in front of the whiskey section, as you can see above.
I ordered the one cocktail on the menu that explicitly said bourbon was included, the Fuego.
I forgot to take a picture of the drink because we were more focused on relaxing after the flying, driving, getting lost, and getting found of the day. At any rate, the drink was delicious. It seems like a pretty simple adaptation of the classic whiskey and ginger combination. They used Jim Beam Devil’s Cut bourbon, which lends its cinnamon spice to the drink nicely. I believe they added a bit of actual cinnamon to the drink as well. So, next time you’re putting together a bourbon and ginger, think about spicing up your drink a bit with some cinnamon.
Also, this drink + this review made me really want to check out Devil’s Cut. Also, they got Kid Rock to make fun of blogfriend Seth, who drove me around hunting for House Spirits whiskey last time we were in Portland.
Before this weekend, I’d never had chicken & waffles before. Crazy, right? I mean, I love fried chicken and I love waffles. Who doesn’t? Crazy people, of course. I’ve also been curious about bourbon maple syrup, since I love maple syrup, and we already know bourbon and syrup are a great combination. So in the name of research, Rachel and I got some friends and said, “Hey! You guys! Meet us at Tupelo for brunch! They got chicken and they got waffles!”
This is the plate of heaven that was presented to me. Not pictured is a delicious bowl of cheddar grits, which I ordered despite knowing this would fill me up BECAUSE BRUNCH THAT’S WHY! The chicken was fried chicken deliciousness, the waffle was waffley tastytimes, and the bourbon maple syrup was perfect. The bourbon flavor really stood out. At one point, one of our friends said the bourbon flavor reminded him that he was still hungover. I took this as a good sign, because who doesn’t like a little bourbon flavor with their brunch? CRAZY PEOPLE, of course!