Thursday, 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



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Women! and Whiskey! at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club

It was a great sight to see - over 30 women sipping whiskey, chattering about what they smelled and tasted. Paula Truman of Bow Street Distributing lead the event, summing it up best when she opened her talk with, 'Women! Whiskey!' The Portland Spirits Society women's whiskey tasting had a simple premise, not meant to be bigger than women drinking whiskey, with a little bit of learnin' on the side. 

We sampled four whiskeys, an Irish whiskey, a rye, a Bourbon, and a Scotch. We learned what characterized each one, came up with a few smell and tasting notes, but then, most importantly, enjoyed our samples and caught up with friends, new and old.

Paula (left) and A. at Portland Hunt & Alpine

The Four Roses small batch Bourbon stood out, a blend of four whiskeys from the Kentucky distillery. 


I was thrilled to find that the Scotch Portland Hunt & Alpine Club's owner Andrew Volk had selected for us was a mild, not-too-smoky, honey-sweet variety. I am truthfully kind of scared of Scotch.

From left to right (but pictured in the opposite order that we enjoyed them), we drank: 
  • Edradour 10 year Scotch whiskey
  • Four Roses small batch Bourbon
  • Jim Beam rye whiskey
  • West Cork Irish whiskey


I'd love to have a night dedicated to each one of these spirits (yes, even Scotch), learning about the different styles, regions, methods... What about gin? Tequila? Rum? Let's do it all. 

The next Portland Spirits Society event is a tour and tasting at New England Distilling, where they make rum, rye whiskey, and gin, on Tuesday, March 10th at 5:30pm (RSVP on facebook). 

After the event, A. and I went across the street to Sonny's, where I enjoyed a Pisco Sour. I can't get enough of egg white drinks lately. This one was a fine nightcap.