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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Extra-curricular activities at Portland Cocktail Week

Vendor drink cards feature cocktails
made from new products.
After the long school day is over at Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW), it’s time for extra-curricular activities.  As in high school, students are encouraged to participate because it will eventually help them gain admission to cocktail college.  Activities are sometimes held in the big tent at the Jupiter Hotel (a semi-permanent structure) and other times at local bars or clubs.  There is usually a band, a DJ, or some other entertainment, food, and (of course) cocktails.  On Tuesday night there were five different activities scheduled, beginning at 4:30, 7:00, 9:00, 10:00, and 11:00 PM respectively.  The first was hosted by Drambuie, who was celebrating Drambuie 15, a tasty concoction of 15 year old Scotch with the same spices as classic Drambuie, but only 1/3 the sugar.  A Drambuie punch was on offer as you came in the door, and it looked like there were three Drambuie 15 cocktails available, too.  One of the tricks to being able to navigate back to your hotel room after a number of these functions is to not drink everything that is offered to you, and not to finish every drink you accept.  Your success at doing this may vary with how much you enjoy each cocktail.

Rather than hiring a run-of-the-mill caterer for this event, Drambuie hired a food-truck to park outside the club and serve food on demand.  The food in question was poutine; the truck seemed to have twenty kinds of the dish that consists of french-fries smothered in cheese and gravy and more cheese.  Each mouthful of poutine seemed like another cholesterol-laden nail in my coffin, so I only ate a partial serving to ensure that the coffin was not firmly sealed and to leave some opportunity for escape from the tomb.  It was then, with only a little food in my stomach, that I decided to sample the cocktails.  My favorites were the Fortified Cup (Drambuie, Sweet Vermouth, Cocchi Americano, Punt E Mes, and lemon) and the After School Special (Drambuie 15, Orgeat, Angostura Bitters, lemon, and soda).  At this point I discovered another bar with three more cocktail recipes, and decided it was time to move on to the next activity.

The House of Zwack is a Hungarian firm that produces a nice Amaro named Unicum and is introducing a sweeter variation of it that is aged with plums in the barrel named Unicom Plum, and sixth generation descendant of the founder, Isabella Zwack, was present to talk about her family history.  They also were serving some Hungarian dishes that appeared to have a lower cholesterol content than the poutine.  Just looking at them made me feel healthier.  For cocktails, the House of Zwack not only had some original recipes, but had world-class bartenders serving them: Tim Philips (Hemmesphere, Australia) is Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year 2012, and Ricky Gomez (New Orleans) is U.S.World Class Ambassador Winner 2012.  Two of the cocktail suggestions had caught my eye, one was made with Scotch and Unicum, and the other with Rye and Unicum Plum.  I asked Tim for a recommendation, and he suggested the Safety Deposit Box (Unicum, Johnnie Walker Gold Label, Mezcal, and Bianco Vermouth with a twist of lemon).  It was an excellent, well balanced cocktail, and made by a great bartender to boot.

The night was still young, and there were only three more parties to go!  Even astute readers will have difficulty determining how much I had to drink, and so did I. Don’t forget that in addition to all of the cocktails and partial cocktails I had at the first two parties, that was building on the foundation of all of the damage I had done during my day at cocktail school.  While I’m sure that there were some hearty souls who made it to all five parties, I decided that I would not attempt to be among them, and caught a bus back to my hotel.  Before casting aspersions, just remember that two out of five means you’re batting 400.

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