2010 Portland Cocktail Week: First They Educate You…

I’m just as intrigued by bartenders as I am by chefs.

Masters of their own craft, mixologists are a group surprisingly similar to revered kitchen dwellers. A crew of creatives with a bit of show technique. Whereas a cook offers up his or her best via plate or bowl, relying solely on what can be assembled on a dish, a bartender has to have a trick, a step to impress, between the order and the delivery. It is a dance of a different kind.

Much like chefs, too, barmen (and women!) are just as curious and driven to create the next great offering, incorporating fresh ingredients, unique flavors, and new techniques. Many have even taken to distilling their own alcohols, creating a fast-growing independent spirits market in support of the exploding craft cocktail scene.

This past weekend, under cloudy Pacific Northwest skies, drink masters from around the country came together for the inaugural Portland Cocktail Week. Hosted by the glamourous Hotel deLuxe, the three-day event featured mixologists at the top of their game, with distillers, mixers, and writers alike meeting up to learn and teach, compare notes, and showcase their behind-the-stick swagger.

Interested in gaining insight into the burgeoning cocktail scene, I signed on to attend, keeping my schedule manageable with the assumption that spirits would be involved in every step along the way – and you best believe I assumed correctly. While the festivities kicked off with a dinner at Spints Ale House earlier in the week, I was able to make it to a few of Friday’s events, including a fun cocktail blogging panel with Alcademic’s Camper English and Art of Drink’s Darcy O’Neil and the late night, tiki-themed Shipwrecked event with a divine spread of pig, poi, and Don Q cocktails. (Quite a few made it to the spirited (harhar), and much-discussed, March for Mezcal as well.)

None the worse for wear, I rejoined the roving band of merrymen on Saturday for a full day of events. After guest writer Brandon Wise’s recent post on Imbue vermouth’s Neil Kopplin, I made sure to sit in on the afternoon’s ‘Enter The Distologist’ panel, where Kopplin, Ryan Magarian of Aviation gin, and Duggan McDonnell of Campo de Encanto pisco talked about their experiences behind the spirits scene. From the costs and steps of starting a distillery to flavor profile decision making, Kopplin, McDonnell, and Magarian spoke to a full house, with tastings passed throughout the session.

Writer Ted Munat’s ‘Left Coast Libations’ session was certainly the most entertaining of the day, with Munat reading excerpts from his book of the same title, prior to showing an illuminatingly funny slideshow on the differences (and the oft-discussed rivalry) between West Coast and East Coast bartenders. In a room full of left coasters, New York mixologist, and 2010 Star Chefs Rising Star, Jason Littrell was met with a roar of laughter when he jokingly voiced his dismay over the tongue-in-cheek presentation. “You guys are being real jerks right now,” he panned from the back of the room.

My day ended with Juniperlooza, featuring Magerian, Bols Genever’s Tal Nadari, gin maven Audrey Saunders, and brand man Simon Ford discussing the growth of juniper-based spirits within the cocktail world. I had an incredible time tasting the different brands, from Bols to Hendrick’s to Ransom, while Liquidity Preference’s Jacob Grier kept session guests happy by delivering signature juniper cocktails.

While most of the party headed out to the old school-themed ‘Ice Ice Baby’ event (ice bar! ice luge! ice cube carving techniques!), I made a beeline for home. I figured, it’s all about pacing yourself, right?

Tomorrow on Daily Blender – part 2 of my Portland Cocktail Week events, including Sunday’s Great American Distillers Festival and the 2010 Portland Cocktail Invitational finals.

Interested in seeing more pics from favorite DB food and wine events? Check out the Daily Blender Facebook page. I’ll also be launching a new e-newsletter in November, so stay tuned!

~Jennifer Heigl

**Photo credits: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender

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