February 19, 2015

Portland Spirits Society Tasting: New England Distilling

I'm intimidated by the world of spirits in a way that it doesn't occur to me to feel about food. Sure, the world of food has it's high-end restaurant with their hard-to-pronounce ingredients and arrangements made using tweezers. But in the end, we all have to eat, and that need, I think, is a great equalizer. Taste is subjective, which means a dish can be perfectly executed, and you still might not like it. And that's OK - I don't think it means you're a rube or a philistine. 

But when it comes to cocktails and spirits, there is definitely a hierarchy. Digesting a cocktail list can feel intimidating. The world of spirits is seemingly endless. I ask people in-the-know what their favorite whiskeys are, and they rattle off a long list of names I've never even heard of. Oh, and you can't even get half of them in Maine, so good luck following up on that. 

There's different styles within a type of spirit: do you like London dry gin or Genever? Do you taste the unique botanicals on the finish? Is that cinnamon or coriander? There's a whole world of liqueurs, amaros, digestifs, aperitifs... oh, you haven't had Fernet? It's an industry (read: insider) favorite. And you say "coachy americano" instead of "koh-kee americano"? *snort*

And then there's bullshit (please excuse my French) like this: Your bartender might secretly hate you. I'll spare you the rant, but after reading a throw-away piece like that, it certainly doesn't make you want to go to a bar and try something new. 

Rum boxes waiting to be filled at New England Distilling

I have hesitated to write fully about my recent experiences exploring spirits on the Blueberry Files. I know that you come here for news about the Portland food scene. But I have been thrust into the world of spirits (I won't say unwillingly), writing my next book about the history of alcohol in Maine. It's been a positive experience - I believe that we are incredibly fortunate to have such kind, approachable bartenders and distillers in Maine. They aren't the ones continuing the air of mystery around their products. 

I started the Portland Spirits Society to have a social excuse to learn more about alcohol and was very happy to find that other people are looking for a more formal experience too. I mean, hell, anyone can give themselves an "education" in booze, just plunk down at a bar and start ordering. It's what I did when my editor assigned me a piece on tequila for the Phoenix

So I've decided to give into my desire to use this blog as a place for my thoughts on alcohol. It's the only way I can continue to create content here without feeling like I'm wasting valuable time that should be spent writing my manuscript. I like writing here, but ultimately it's a hobby. And hobbies should definitely not inspire a sense of guilt. 

If you come here exclusively for food-related stuff and are disappointed that my writing has taken a boozy tack, take heart in the fact that my deadline is quickly approaching, and one day I'll have the time to go out to eat again. But until then, I hope many of you are excited to explore the world of spirits, those both from Maine and away. I've been trying my hand at home bartending, and while there are tons of fantastic cocktail blogs (even in Portland - check out Three Sheets Mfg. for the real deal), I'd love to be able to share my evolution. Hopefully you'll find that it's approachable, and we can get over our intimidation together. 

The next Portland Spirits Society event (ladies only; sorry, dudes) is out at New England Distilling, 26 Evergreen Dr. Portland, which is near Allagash Brewing. Distiller Ned Wight will give us a tour and then we'll sample is Maryland-style rye whiskey, New England-style aged rum, and his unique gin (we can learn about gin styles together!). Hope to see you. 

Barrels of rye whiskey ageing at New England Distilling