I was lucky enough to be in Portland, Oregon for less than twenty-four hours for work last week. I got in late from LA on Thursday night and sought out a quick bite to eat and a cocktail with a coworker. Naturally, I suggested we go to Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, given how much I enjoyed it when I was there last fall. It was a great choice, as we enjoyed a few of David Shenaut’s original creations. After a round or two, Jeffrey Morgenthaler came into the bar. Jeffrey is a bartender and blogger who I’ve met a few times on his trips to hang with cocktailians in DC. Jeffrey rightly gave me grief for not giving him a heads up that I was coming into town and that I hadn’t yet been to his bar, Clyde Common. He said that he wasn’t going to be around the next day, but strongly encouraged me to go by for lunch if I had time (I was flying back to DC the following evening).
Since we’d come for lunch, we quickly started off by ordering $3.5 happy hour beers (I had a porter native to Oregon whose name I forget). Both my colleague and I had absolutely delicious cheeseburgers, as well as orders of pickles and olives. The food was great – perfect for snacking on a rainy Friday afternoon with the only thing in front of us being a long trip home on a red eye flight from the Pacific Northwest to the Mid-Atlantic. While I was enjoying my porter, I immediately regretted not ordering a cocktail. Their happy hour had a selection of $5 craft cocktails, a few of which looked great.
After the food was done and it became clear we didn’t have much work to do prior to heading to the airport, we hunkered down to sample a cocktail or two before we left. I started off with a Tonga-Tonga, a Tiki drink made with Smith and Cross Traditional Jamaica rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and Trader Tiki’s orgeat. It was pretty fantastic, with great balance and spice. Smith and Cross is a really interesting rum – with lots of savory vegetable flavor and a good kick of vanilla-caramel. The Tonga-Tonga is a great example of how Tiki drinks can balance out multiple juices and syrups and still be, well, balanced.
For my next drink, I was debating between the One-Trick Pony (Pelinkovac bitter, maraschino liqueur, house-made tonic water, lime juice) and a Barrel-Aged Negroni. Obviously I’m a fan of potable bitters and the One-Trick Pony sounded like the sort of digestif that would be right up my alley. Pelinkovac is a spirit that I’ve seen in used on every Portland cocktail bar menu that I’ve seen, though I’ve never seen it used in the DC cocktail scene. It remains a mystery to me as the bartender, Johnny, talked me into trying the Barrel-Aged Negroni. Now since the Negroni is one of my four or five favorite cocktails, it didn’t take much to convince me to try it. Clyde Common’s Barrel-Aged Negroni is the sort of cocktail that just jumps off the menu at me. They make it with Beefeater, Cinzano Rosso, and Campari, which is totally reasonable so far. But the beauty of this drink is they buy Tuthilltown Spirits used bourbon casks, fill it with sherry and age it about a month, then drain the sherry and fill it with the Negroni, which they then age for another six weeks. The result is amazing. It’s still a Negroni, with a nice bitter orange and gin spice, but the aging in the sherry and bourbon soaked oak really mellows out its edges. It doesn’t have the sharp spikes a Negroni has and instead is rounded with sherry tones and on an even lower level, hints of whiskey. It was one of the most interesting cocktails I’ve ever had and it makes me want to go out and buy a used bourbon cask to try some aged cocktails of my own.
Before we ended our session, I noticed that there was a bottle of Amer Picon on the back bar. It’s hard for me to be at a bar that has Amer Picon and not order a drink with it. I asked Johnny to make me anything he wanted as long as it included the Amer. He made me a cocktail that was right in my wheelhouse – gin, Lillet Blanc, and Amer Picon, stirred and topped with a float of Amer Picon. It was dry and had a terrific mix of the bitter orange Amer Picon. I’m not sure what Johnny called this drink, but it was a good one.
We had a great time hanging out at Clyde Common and, to me, it’s another example of how great the cocktail and food scene in Portland is. Yet another evidence point for me in my considerations of finding an excuse to live in Portland at some point in my life…