Sunday, October 25, 2009

Food and Spirits on Portland’s Distillery Row

We duck into the austere building, narrowly escaping a typical Pacific Northwest rain shower. The room is small and simply furnished. The glass display counter is framed with distressed wood and several large barrels are arranged throughout the room. A collection of what appear to be medicinal bottles neatly line one shelf. Other shelves display bottles that are tall, sleek and frosted.

We are standing in “The Apothecary,” the tasting room of House Spirits Distillery at 2025 SE 7th Avenue in Portland, Oregon. Our host is Matt Mount, a distiller at House Spirits. He lines up two shot glasses and pours us each a sample of Medoyeff Vodka. My sister-in-law, Ramiza and I gaze at the strikingly-clear liquid in our glasses as Matt begins to spin a few tales of the craft distillation movement in Portland.

“You swallow spirits,” advises Matt. “Don’t taste and spit as if you were tasting wine.” He gets no arguments from us. The swallowing technique allows you to appreciate the full flavor of craft spirits.

Matt Mount is a distiller at House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon

Matt describes the characteristics of Medoyeff Vodka, made from rye grain, and referred to locally as M Vodka. The taste is subtly-sweet, bright and bracing. Medoyeff is the family name of owner Lee Medoff. M Vodka is a Russian-style vodka filtered through charcoal and limestone, meant to be served ice-cold with food. In Russia, vodka is typically consumed with small bites of meat and cheese.

The founders of House Spirits were brewers, who wanted to make whiskey. In addition to existing lines of gin, vodka and aquavit, House Spirits Whiskey will be released in the spring of 2010. Matt says that once you master brewing, distilling is a logical next step. He says the curiosity and willingness to experiment that inspired House Spirits is all part of the indefatigable Portland entrepreneurial mind-set – We do world-class wine and we have great microbrews, so now let’s make our own spirits.

The movement is growing. Seven spirits companies in the Southeast Portland industrial area have banded together to create a district called Distillery Row, an area that is 16 blocks long and five blocks wide. Together the companies produce over 20 different types of liquors including vodka, gin, rum and whiskey as well as absinthe, aquavit and flavored liqueurs. Matt says the partnership is good for everyone’s business and good for Portland.

House Spirits Apothecary Line is small-batch, limited edition spirits.

House Spirits also collaborates with local restaurants to explore the sensory pleasures of food and spirits pairings. Matt, a former bartender, says the focus at House Spirits is on appreciating the extraordinary flavors, the culinary experience, and the communal effect of food and spirits. “It’s all about family, community and socializing,” he says.

We watch as Matt pours a sampling of Aviation Gin and inhale a delicious potpourri of floral and spice aromas. Aviation Gin is a Dutch-inspired 100 percent rye grain spirit made with juniper, cardamom, coriander, lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla and dried sweet orange peel. “We’re bringing the juniper down and the botanicals up,” explains Matt. The taste is exhilarating. Ramiza takes a sip and has an idea. “This would be an amazing match with Indian food,” she says.

We purchase a bottle and the following night she prepares a feast for the family – Split Pea Vada, Tomato Chutney, Mango Chutney, Cucumber Riata and Chicken Curry. We sip Aviation Gin from colorful tea glasses and the floral and citrus flavors do an exotic dance with the aromatic curry and spice. The inspired pairing is just the kind of creativity and ingenuity that Portland is famous for.

I sampled the food, wine and spirits of the Portland, Oregon region September 27 through October 2, 2009.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


~~louise~~ said...

I don't know which sounds more exciting, the notion of hand crafted spirits or Distillery Row. What a wonderful blend of community.

I sure would like to see a "distillation revolution" grow out on the east end. I can just imagine "our" Vodka and their "Apothecary" joining in sweet collaboration.

Thanks for sharing, T.W.

Helene said...

That feast sounds amazing.

Fresh Local and Best said...

It's exciting to hear the level of experimentation at House of Spirits and along Distillery Row. I wouldn't even know where to start with the Aviation Gin, the blend of spices is just so exotic. Exciting!

Amanda said...

Love those limited edition bottles. And the curry? Oh I could eat that every night. Sounds like a fun time.

Very interesting post...

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I've never been to a distillery before. How fun. I love how they are collaborating with the local restaurants. What a great idea.

veron said...

wow, what an interesting tour. I've never known about handcrafted distilleries until I bought a hangar one vodka which is out of California. Now you bring us Portland's! :) Great job!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I hope you had a designated driver! I'd love to take a tour of a distillery. Other than enjoying a gin and tonic with lime, my knowledge is pretty limited in that arena.

Lori Lynn said...

Sign me up for the vodka tasting.

When I was in the wine business I had a difficult time spitting, I didn't feel that I was tasting the wine as well. I think you do get another dimension when swallowing it. Have to be careful though, naturally.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Louise - you really could get a sense of the Portland community from Matt's comments.

Helene - nobody makes Indian food like my sister-in-law!

Fresh - That's exactly it - the taste is exotic, before you've even added a mixer.

Amanda - the apothecary theme was great on so many levels!

Sam - There's a whole "culinary cocktail" movement in Portland which really focuses on the recipes and blends.

Veron - just doing my best to keep us all informed, hydrated and well-fed!

Susan - fortunately, we were able to walk to Distillery Row!

Lori - I always feel like spitting is such a waste ...

Jann said...

Aviation gin~that could get me flying! I love the vodka I drank in Russia, so different and not biting! It went down really easy....sounds like this was similar. I am delighted to hear this is a growing industry.

Velva said...

The Restoration Farm, The spirit distillery, the fabulous meal-All handcrafted. I don't think it gets any better. Great blog post!

I have been wanting to learn to can for years. I still have not embarked on this endeavor. If you do, get the courage up, please blog about your experience.