Given that I’ve never been to a distillers festival, I didn’t realize I’d be spending my Sunday cruising through a Tiffany Center ballroom with a shotglass in my hand. Over thirty tables lined the room, covered with flyers, business cards, and tchotchkes standing guard to beautiful bottles of flavorful craft spirits. Everything from whiskey, gin, and vodka to pisco, mezcal, and a surprisingly fantastic Michigan rum. Yes, yes, and yes, please. You can pour that right here.
Throughout the weekend, Portland Cocktail Week events coincided with the sixth annual Great American Distillers Festival and the 2010 Portland Cocktail Invitational. Bartenders, brand reps, distillers, and cocktail fans shuffled back and forth between Hotel deLuxe and the Tiffany Center, with quite a few participating as competitors or brand ambassadors. On Saturday, a bevy of bar stars were scheduled into semi-final Invitational heats, nervously darting from sessions to mix their best for the competition judges, while cheerful brand folk offered distiller fest guests a chance to sample their prized pours.
When Sunday arrived, finalists in the Cocktail Invitational had been announced, with mix men Trevor Easter, Tommy Klus, Ali Tahsini, and Art Tierce securing the top four spots. Late in the afternoon, the final four took to the festival’s main stage to match wits for the final win. Emcee David Shenaut of the Oregon Bartenders Guild kept the competition rolling, chatting it up with both bartenders and guest judges during the mix off.
Fear not! Though I was most interested in the competition, I also made it through the fest with my trusty shotglass, sampling a number of the mighty fine spirits available. Seattle mixologist Rocky Yeh was on hand to pour a number of tasty beverages, including G’Vine gin, Espirit de June, Sombra mezcal, while fellow exhibitors offered everything from cucumber vodka to blue corn whiskey. A few faves in the room: Bakon Vodka (which is kind of odd on its own but quite enjoyable in a Bloody Mary), Novo Fogo cachaça, Freshwater Michigan rum (who knew they made rum in Michigan!?), Lucid absinthe, RoughStock whiskey, and Lavishmint mint-flavored vodka.
The afternoon’s main attraction came to a close with San Francisco’s Ali Tahsini coming in first in the cocktail competition, followed by Portland’s Tommy Klus and Art Tierce respectively, with San Francisco’s Trevor Easter snagging fourth place. Glass in hand, I headed for the door, ready to rest up from my weekend of choice cocktail consumption before plotting my schedule for Portland Cocktail Week 2011.
Big kudos to everyone involved in the weekend’s planning – the fabulous folks at Lush Life Productions, the lovely ladies of Portland’s LUPEC, the fine members of the Oregon Bartenders Guild, and the wonderful wordsmiths of the Cocktail & Spirits Online Writers Group (CSOWG). A big thanks to Ms. Kelly Kerbs of Drink Think for a great GADF as well.
**Photo credits: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender