Oh, those bartenders, those “mixologists”, the ones we write about, the ones we admire from the other side of the bar. They gather regularly, you know. It’s not all tips and ten-hour shifts. Sometimes in New Orleans, sometimes in Kansas City, sometimes in New York. One shining week a year in the heart of Stumptown. There are tattoos and laybacks, branded swag and local spirits.
Tally ho, drink lubbers. The 2013 Portland Cocktail Week report lies ahead.
The Cocktail Club
All camaraderie and brainstorms. Drink testing and note taking. Nearly four hundred or so of the best mixers, from across the country, around the world, stagger in from red-eyes, ready to see their friends and seize their free days. They filter in to the city’s hot spots, stopping to say hi to Junior Ryan at Clyde Common or Jesse Card at Raven and Rose’s Rookery Bar. There are great drinks and good food between classes and formal gatherings. They move around town in spirited, spontaneous assemblage. The Fernet Branca supply at the Doug Fir, Teardrop Lounge, and Interurban runs dangerously low by the time the week concludes.
Now in its fourth year, bartenders and spirit connoisseurs piled into Portland recently for a week full of learning sessions, field trips, and “after school” activities. This year, “senior” ‘tenders – the core attendees – received shiny green and white letter jackets, each annual gathering feeling more and more like a reunion. The Portland Bartenders Institute, a two-day round of lectures and sessions held at the Governor Hotel, included timely topics like health care concerns for industry members and the structures required to opening your own bar. Well-knowns including Jason Littrell, Josh Harris, Dushan Zaric, Murray Stenson, Erick Castro, Pamela Wiznitzer, and Portland’s own Daniel Shoemaker gave their thoughts on partnerships, brand ambassadorship, the business of owning multiple bars, the development and marketing of one’s own product. Students scribbled notes, attended field trips around town, and celebrated accordingly when the learning was over.
And I tagged along…
Favorite 2013 Events
What a fantastic opportunity to check out the drink talents of visiting bartenders. On the opening night of Portland Cocktail Week, I had a chance to check out Erik Hakkinen from Seattle’s Zig Zag as he held his ground behind Brandon Wise’s bar at Imperial, and had to say hello to former Portland ‘tender Jade Brown Godfrey as she brought love from New York’s Pouring Ribbons back to Rum Club. When the mashups resumed a few days later, Tim Rita from Hawaii’s MonkeyPod delivered a little extra island flair to Hale Pele, while Miami’s Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta took their Broken Shaker to Oven & Shaker.
Dinner with Bacardi and Toro Bravo at KitchenCru
I’ve become a little attached to KitchenCru lately. I think owner Michael Madigan has done wonders for the burgeoning local food industry by offering the ‘culinary incubator’ for up-and-coming food producers, chefs, restaurateurs-to-be. Seems nearly everyone in town starts in his kitchen.
The open commissary was shared by three different groups when I attended a Cocktail Week dinner featuring the food and drink of Toro Bravo/Tasty & Sons. Though chef John Gorham was away promoting his recently released cookbook, his faithful kitchen and bar staff, along with his uber-organized wife, Renee, held down the fort with a houseful of guests. Dishes included a fresh pasta with housemade buttermilk cheese and a prawn cocktail with chopped egg, avocado, and Bacardi Solera glazed pineapple. Bartender Jamal Hassan rocked the cocktails through five fantastic courses.
The PDXCW Closing Event featuring USBG
After complaints of crummy batched cocktails poured at other bartender gatherings – ironically in rooms often filled with the best mixers in the nation – festival founders laid down the law, banishing batches at Portland Cocktail Week events. The result is the glorious final gathering of the week, where representatives from each chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild have a chance to shine, delivering made-to-order cocktails with hometown flair, be it Orlando or Seattle, mescal or rhum. This year’s last get together was a hit, as always.
*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender