A wonderful whiskies centered weekend

This past weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering to help bottle over at Big Bottom Whiskey in Hillsboro, Or.  In just about 2 hours time, 6 of us had 58 cases of bourbon bottles stickered, filled, corked, capped, and boxed. Not too shabby, considering two of us had zero prior experience. Ted, the owner and all around great guy, placed me at the corking station while Jean held down the ‘capsule’ station placing the shrink-wrap tops on the bottles after I corked them. I won’t lie, manually corking bourbon bottles takes a toll on your hands. The whole crew really rocked it: Ted’s wife Taylor took the heat shrink station, Aaron took the filling station while Ted prepped the bottles for filling and Liz ran double duty placing the stickers and helping Taylor load the bottles into the cases. For such a small crew, I have to say we were efficient and effective in knocking out nearly a full palette’s worth of whiskey!

The day was productive and it was great to be able to help a small local business and local whiskey guy. Supporting the community of producers is important to me as there aren’t many people focused on whiskey and without support no one in the community can grow. But beyond lending my support to what Big Bottom is doing, it was really just fun to spend a few hours with people who are truly passionate about the industry, have decided opinions, and love talking shop. Being able to spend time talking about whiskies, comparing notes, learning about the business side of things, and just learning more about whiskies in general was truly the highlight for me.

Even better was the fact that Ted asked me to return at a later date for some more in depth tastings than the two we got to after our work was done on Saturday. We had some small tastes of the 3 yr bourbon which we had just bottled up, as well as the 2 yr port finish which had been on the wood for 7 months… spectacular! (I’m telling you again, if you can find the port finish buy it all, and then buy it again when the next batch comes out! You won’t be disappointed.) I am really looking forward to seeing what this next port finish batch produces. If the 7 month taste was any indication, it will be even more subtle yet complex than the first batch Big Bottom bottled up. Good stuff is on the horizon!

I even got some good advice from Ted which I was able to immediately implement when I returned home on Saturday…. but we’ll get to that in a moment.

It seems that every blog thus far in which I have spoken of Big Bottom Whiskey also includes mention of Woodinville Whiskey Co. and I can’t help but find that amusing if not wholly coincidental. This case is no different, as Sunday I put their “Age your own whiskey” kit to (hopefully) use. Well, maybe that is a slight misdirection, as I really started the process the prior Thursday….

I picked up my kit Thursday afternoon from Downtown Lake Oswego Liquor (at that time they had 3 other kits in addition to the one I purchased) and brought it home with the idea that I’d get around to it over the weekend.  (I am sure you can see where this is going. 😉 )  I dug into the instructions, figuring I’d at least learn what I needed to do to get the most from this kit. Silly me, I should have known… I’d have to swell the cask to seal any cracks and make it liquid tight before I could add the distillate to begin aging. Thankfully I started reading in advance, as this swelling process takes 2-4 days! So, I started the initial steps by filling the cask with water, as directed, and waited…

While I waited, I took a longer gander at the kit, which includes not only the cask and two 750ml bottles of White Dog, but 2 tulip style nosing/tasting glasses, and of course a funnel to fill the cask. Since the cask is only about 2 liters large, the funnel is rather small in order to easily fill it. Imagine the same sized funnel you’d use to fill a flask and you’ve got the right idea here. The kit is actually really well put together and the included instructions are very well written; clear, concise, easy to understand explaining some of the “whys” not just the “whats”.

Now, I did say I got some great advice from Ted. As we worked our way through the bottling on Saturday I’d mentioned I picked up this kit earlier in the week and had the cask swelling presently. This is when he hit me with a question I hadn’t thought of: “How long are you going to let the cask rest after dumping the water and before filling it with whiskey?”

Oh…. um. Well I hadn’t really thought of letting it rest as I didn’t want to run the risk of the cask drying and re-introducing leaks. And here is where Ted’s advice came in to play: “Let it rest/dry for 24 hours, otherwise you’re going to introduce too much water into the whiskey.” You know it seems perfectly obvious now, but I hadn’t even thought of that until he’d mentioned it. And with our Oregon humidity, I don’t really run any risk of the cask over-drying in 24 hours.

So, once we’d finished bottling and returned home, I dumped the water from the cask noting there had been no leaks past the first five minutes after I’d filled it (and kept it filled for the next two days). And then I just let it rest until Sunday.

That was a very long 24 hours. Perhaps I’m not the best person to try his (novelty) hand at aging whiskies after all… Sunday came, and I popped open the two bottles of White Dog. Luckily I was thinking while pouring and stopped after the first bottle so I could have a quick taste of the unaged spirit I was about to play with.

Tasting notes: Woodinville Barreling strength (110 proof) White Dog

Nose: Mild caramel sweetness. Heavier vegetation sweetness. Retains the smell of the mash even after distillation.

Palate: Heavy vegetation sweetness. Slight bitterness of the corn/rye mash comes through. Surprisingly heavy note of Anise.

Finish: Almost floral in tone. Light and clean, but very hot at 110 proof.

The cask itself holds about 2.5 bottles (750ml each), so there was a little ‘head room’ in the cask when I was done filling it. I replaced the bung, and set the cask in my pantry, atop my wine fridge where it sits just waiting. I do expect to lose some ‘angels share’, possibly a tad more due to not a complete fill of the cask. All told I figure I’ll likely get one full 750ml bottle, and a second 500ml fill from the two bottles I added to the cask.

And now the waiting really begins. Luckily for me, the smaller cask size actually accelerates the aging process due to larger surface area contact with the wood. The small 2 liter cask size roughly translates into an aging factor of 53 times faster than a normal sized cask. Because of this, the cask should begin imparting flavour and nose qualities within the first week of aging. Each week nearly acting like a relative year in a larger cask by my estimation. So, as you’d expect, I’ll be having a small taste every week and writing down my notes to contrast from the beginning distillate to the present week. I’m not sure when I’ll stop and rebottle, but I figure it will likely be after 3 weeks of no discernible change in flavour. That may come early in the process, or possibly months to a year from now, we shall see.

This is turning into quite a fun experiment, where I can really taste how the oak changes a whiskey from week to week… I’m really looking forward to this coming weekend when I get that first taste on oak and can report back my tasting notes to show what changes have occurred…

Until then, sláinte mhaith

-Seamus/ Jason


A TOAST event… a non-official 3DC tasting

On Friday, I had opportunity to attend TOAST, The Oregon Artisan Spirit Tasting event held in the Tiffany Center’s Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Joining me was my good friend Corey, whom also shares a taste for whiskies like myself, as well as gins and tequilas and beer.

The event was similarly structured to Whiskies of the World, so I was immediately familiar and comfortable with the atmosphere. Specifically, it was a single price entry, and the various distillers were free-pouring rather than the pour-by-ticket method employed by other events. I made an initial lap to get a feel for the offerings at each table, and begin a basic game plan. Realizing quickly that I had just begun walking around, leaving Corey in my wake, I paused to explain my intent and reasoning: I am looking for whiskies first and foremost, as well as to prioritize and make sure I got to the most interesting ones first.

There were a number of American Whiskies, bourbons, and ryes showing at this event. Enough so that I was able to focus nearly all my tastes on just the larger whiskies class and not concern myself with the gins and other liqueurs until the end. Of all the distilleries showing their wares, two really struck my interest: Woodinville Whiskey Co. and Big Bottom Whiskey.

The first of the two, Woodinville Whiskey Co. made a great initial impression on me. While their whiskies were well crafted, what made the impression was their “Age your own whiskey” kit. What a great concept! Provide some clear distillate, an oak barrel, and let the drinker manage the aging process on their own. While no one will be going into business based on the final product from the kit, it is sure to bring a new aspect to the home connoisseur, not only for what the kit will produce, but even after you’ve run the 4-5 uses for whiskey/bourbon you can likely even use the same barrel for even more experimentation with barrel aged cocktails and the like… Yes, I already have my name in for a kit once they become available.

And their whiskey? Yup, that’s darned good too… but you’d expect that from a distillery which can boast  mentorship provided by David Pickerell, master Distiller of Maker’s Mark fame. Unfortunately, I did not bring my tasting notebook and as such have only a vague recollection of the whiskies I tried here, noting only that I really enjoyed them as a newcomer to unaged whiskies, bourbons and ryes.

The other distillery to really stand out for me was Big Bottom Whiskey, based locally out of Hillsboro, Oregon. Two things struck me about this particular distillery: the whiskies and the people.

First the whiskies: Offered were two bottlings; the first a 3 year aged American Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Being new to bourbons this one struck me as rather mellow in comparison to some I’d tasted earlier the same evening, and with a rather tempered sweetness followed by some distinct tannins on the finish as I’ve come to expect. The second, however, is where the impression was really made on me:  this was a 2 year Straight bourbon whiskey Port cask finished. Now, being a Speyside and port wood finish fan, I was eager to taste a bourbon finished in a port cask, and I will tell you I was not disappointed. One would never mistake this bourbon for a scotch, but the similarities were striking to me. Again, there was a tempered sweetness which brought this drink closer to its port wood finished scotch brethren than most bourbons. While unmistakably bourbon, this one showed a complexity I’ve most typically encountered only in the Speyside port finished scotches. Of course, Big Bottom share a not-so-secret relationship with Woodinville as they also used David Pickerell as a consultant when creating Big Bottom. Hey, its a small community, and when you share, everyone wins!

You can bet I will be taking up Ted on his offer to call him around the time his next batch of port finished bourbon will be ready to taste… and maybe lend a hand in the bottling as well!

I did say two things struck me about Big Bottom Whiskey, and indeed the second was the people, though that may be a bit unfair as they don’t really come second to the whiskey, rather it seems to be equal footing. If you are reading this blog, you likely already have a good understanding of who the 3 Drunken Celts are and how, as a group, our attitude and outlook can be a tad contagious if not overwhelming to some… well the fine people at Big Bottom seem to share that zeal. Ted has the same crazy “what the heck, let’s try it” attitude which is the very same reason we love Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich. Like the 3DC, Ted doesn’t take any of this too seriously; he lets the passion and enjoyment come to the forefront of his creations.

If it is one thing I’ve learned over the past ten years, and which was highlighted in the last two tasting events I’ve attended, it is that while the whiskies are a great thing, it is the people and the passions they carry which really make this a fun, interesting, and exciting endeavor for us all. From the distillers to the critics to the connoisseurs, if you don’t have the passion and can’t find the funny, well your enjoyment of any dram is going to diminish as quickly as you can drink it… keep the passion and find the funny, and that same dram will last you far longer than the simple drink ever will.

Now, I think I need to go find some bottles so I can revisit and provide better tasting notes. I am really sad now that I didn’t bring my notebook with me… But I hadn’t expected such interesting things. Ah, yes, another lesson learned. Oh well, at least I had a good time, and I know Corey did as well since our conversation lasted the entire way home on the Max line as we compared/contrasted the various drams, and discussed the overall industry with admittedly inebriated gusto. Yes, it was indeed a good evening 😉


The Gospels According to Seamus: Chapter the Sixth- Rinse and Repeat, a lesson (Whiskies of the World 2011)

Ah, March, how I’ve come to love you. But, I’ll admit, I wasn’t looking forward to March 26th and Whiskies of the World this year. Coupled with work stress, not a lot of down time, and the fact that this was a relatively last minute plan (having decided last year that we wouldn’t be returning), I found my frame of mind was such that any excitement I’d had for previous years was simply not to be found this year. Of course I KNEW I’d have a grand time, but there was still a lingering malaise which stayed with me until I was in San Francisco and checking into the hotel. After a serious power nap in the early afternoon, I was finally starting to feel the excitement.

This year was also a bit off anyway, as Raz was unable to join us, along with missing many others from prior years’ attendance. We were a small group this time round, in part due to the late decision to actually attend. That lent to us breaking a few traditions, though we kept two: dinnerlunch before the tasting on Saturday, and closing out Saturday night at the Irish Bank. But this year we didn’t live at the Bank like we have in prior years. Rather we ventured out to other places, explored new bars, and enjoyed the company we did have. (Fergus and I -did- share a drunk gigglefit just before bed Friday night, but nothing like years past…)

Suffice to say the dynamic was different this year, but neither better nor worse than other years. With fewer people it was easier to get tables for meals, and to go a bit more ad hoc in our plans in so much as we didn’t have plans prior or beyond the grand tasting Saturday night.  It was a relatively free flowing weekend which allowed us to follow our fancies and go with the flow of things. This was likely the most relaxed year for Fergus and I because of the lack of plans.

But enough of that… here’s Seamus’ tasting notes from the Grand Tasting Saturday evening. I’m going to caveat this right now, however… I noticed a trend in my notes from nearly the start and think my nose and palette may have been off a bit as I am suspect about of few of the notes which kept recurring in various pours which I’d expect to be dissimilar. So, consume these notes with a hint of suspicion, as I may need to revisit some of the drams to confirm the validity here… You’ll also note the last 4 tastings were from the Craft Distiller’s Master Class panel and are bottlings not commercially available at present.

 

With that said: Seamus’ Whiskies of the World Grand tasting notes

Distiller/bottling: Bulleit Rye

  • Nose: Mild coffee and toast notes
  • Flavour: Green grape, hefeweizen, and slight anise
  • Finish: Long slow burn, rich with the crispness of apple
  • Viscosity: 4
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 2.5
  • Personal Taste: A

Distiller/bottling: Edradour 10 Port finish, Signatory bottling

  • Nose: All toast with some iodine and a hint of port
  • Flavour: Bite of caramel and cherry chocolate
  • Finish: cherry syrup and reprise of toasted malt
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B+

Distiller/bottling: Aberlour 1990/20yr, cask strength, Signatory bottling

  • Nose: Heavy iodine and caramel
  • Flavour: pear, toast, then leads right into peat.
  • Finish: caramel into a very long burn.
  • Viscosity: 5
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B

Distiller/bottling: Aberlour 18yr, sherry cask

  • Nose: Complex wine and toast with a hint of iodine then moves into caramel.
  • Flavour: bitter, chocolate covered espresso bean and caramel.
  • Finish: more bitterness.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: C+

Distiller/bottling: Amrut Fusion

  • Nose: Heavy smoke and iodine
  • Flavour: Peat followed by more iodine.
  • Finish: Vanishes. Moves from the peaty iodine, straight into a heavy Laphroaig style in the middle, but finishes quickly with lingering caramel on the end.
  • Viscosity: 2
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: C

Distiller/bottling: Highland Park, 1991, Signatory bottling

  • Nose: Oak then slight iodine.
  • Flavour: Heavy, heavy peat into caramel
  • Finish: Sweet, but mellow caramel
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: C

Distiller/bottling: Pritchard’s Tennessee Whiskey

  • Nose: Typical sweet and sour of a bourbon but with a bit of anise
  • Flavour: oak heavy, sweetness of maple syrup.
  • Finish: heavy on the tannins from oak, a surprise of chocolate just at the end.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: B+

Distiller/bottling: Copper Fox Applewood Whiskey (14 months)

  • Nose: Toasted pear and a tad bit of cherry on the end
  • Flavour: fruit forward then a great balance of fruit and mash
  • Finish: long finish lasts into perfect apple.
  • Viscosity: 1
  • Boldness: 3
  • Length of story: 4
  • Personal Taste: B+

Distiller/bottling: Balcones Brimstone Texas Blue Corn Whiskey

  • Nose: A little iodine into toasted oak, but ends with a brine of corn sugars
  • Flavour: sweet and oakey, more vegetable sugars.
  • Finish: Tortillas right at the start of the finish, toasted corn and balanced sweetness.
  • Viscosity: 3
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 5
  • Personal Taste: A

Distiller/bottling: St. George Bourbon (4 months)

  • Nose: Sour corn and a hint of iodine again
  • Flavour: Young. Bites hard, but has solid sugars.
  • Finish: Toasted malts, but not pleasantly so.
  • Viscosity: 1
  • Boldness: 4
  • Length of story: 3
  • Personal Taste: C+

So there you have it. Not many tastes this year for me as I focused more on a few particulars I was interested in and had some multiples to try and get a clear understanding of them. Of course after a few cask strength/51%abv drams, it became more and more difficult to find that clarity.

Since my return from this year’s tasting, I’ve have a non-trivial number of friends and acquaintances ask me how to start learning about whiskies. Most of these people have only had a tenuous introduction to whiskies by way of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, or possibly Johnny Walker; not exactly a proper introduction in my book, and likely why most have never followed further down the whiskies walkway. So, in an effort to help some of the newcomers I’d like to provide a quick start guide to learning more about whiskies and enjoying it in the process.

Seamus’ 4 step starter course on whiskies appreciation:

  1. Find a friend who also wants to learn.
  2. Go to a bar, start ordering whiskies, neat.
  3. Sip, and discuss.
  4. Rinse and repeat… practice, practice, practice.

While there ARE more subtleties to the above 4 steps, the key is to drink whiskies you’ve not had and compare them. Soon you will find that you are able to discern particular flavours you like, and some which you don’t. One of the biggest lightbulbs for me was the realization that knowing what you don’t like is even more important than knowing what you do like; and the only way to figure that out is to try a many as you can.

A decent bar is a great place to start learning as it is cost efficient and you aren’t going to be stuck with bottles you don’t enjoy. Heading to a bar with a friend and ordering two whiskies (neat, so you can actually taste the whiskies as ice/cold dulls the taste buds) will give you both opportunity to talk through what you are tasting and compare your notes with each other. Don’t be afraid of price or to order glasses of bottles you’ve not heard of; in fact seek them out! Remember you are here to learn and sip, not shoot and get drunk. Try not to order the same dram twice unless you really want to revisit it to see if you really liked it. After all, practice does make perfect, and the more whiskies you taste, the more you will refine your particular preferences for your drams. That doesn’t mean you’ll be a snob, it means you’ll learn more about what you like in your whiskies and will soon be able to articulate the flavours you enjoy and the ones you don’t.

Of course you can also ask a friend who has been doing this for a while to help setup and guide you through a starter tasting. I know a number of us have enough bottles in our private collections to run a brilliant personal tasting and many would be more than happy to share a dram with a friend who wants to learn! Heck, if there’s enough of a demand, a few of the 3DC may even be swayed into hosting a starter class for you and help you get your feet wet with your first foray into the world of whiskies beyond Jack, Jim, or Johnny!

You’ll soon come to see why we’ve been attending Whiskies of the World for so many years now: there’s always something new to learn, and you can never get enough practice to improve your skills and enjoyment of the liquor of life we call Whiskies.

 


Call for Information on Melrose Rare Diamond Whiskey

I was recently contacted by an individual in search of some information about a particular bottle of Whiskey. If anyone has heard of a whiskey named “Melrose Rare, Diamond 12, Blended Whiskey”, please send off a note via the Contact link.

Unfortunately, the person requesting the information had a break-in last year. During the robbery, six bottles which had been his late father’s, were stolen. While we are certain this is no longer made or sold retail, the gent is trying to get an idea of its value.

Some of the details of the bottling can be seen in the two photos below:

Melrose and Company
Successors in Business to Records and Goldsborough
est’d. 1885

Melrose Rare Diamond Twelve
12
Blended Whiskey
Bottled by Melrose and Company, Aladdin, Fl.


Oregon whiskies highlighted in Food & Wine Magazine

I knew there was a reason I was drawn to the Pacific North West. In the latest issue of Food & Wine magazine, I ran across an article highlighting “America’s Best New Whiskeys” which, to my surprise, focused entirely on four Portland area distilleries. The full article can be found here: Food & Wine America’s Best New Whiskeys (and don’t forget to check out the side-bar for the contact info for the distilleries: Food & Wine Oregon’s Best Places to Buy Local Spirits )

Unfortunately, only two of the four are at a point where they are selling finished products. The other two are still (get it, STILL, ah, I kill me) working and waiting for their respective whiskies to be completed before putting them on the market. In either case I am dying to go visit the distilleries and hopefully get a taste of their various products. Rest assure when this happens there WILL be articles posted!

Since Clear Creek Distillery looks to be holding an Open House on Thanksgiving Weekend, I think this may be a good time and excuse to get John, Mary and Colleen (who will be visiting that weekend) into the city and enjoying something entirely new: Oregon peated whiskey!

So, it looks like I have some tasting work cut out for me in the months ahead. But I’ll jump on that grenade for you all and report back with my findings. I’m a giver like that.


6 days to Portland and back, 2 new Whiskies!

Be warned, the following post is long. It encompasses all 6 days worth of our trip to Oregon as part holiday and part scouting trip for relocation areas. Keep in mind the grammatical “tense” of my writing below will change dramatically and without warning as I wrote some of it on my laptop at the end of the days… then came back to it today to clean up a bit since I was very tired when originally writing.Day 1: 4am comes way too early. At 5am sharp and we were on the road. With just a few stops for gas (averaging around 35-40 mpg) by noon we had made it to just south of Weeds, Ca. about 45 minutes south of Redding, Ca.

This picture was taken while heading up into the hills through Shasta Lake:

By 4pm, we were crossing the Oregon Ca. border. At 6pm, we had stopped for the night in Roseburg, Oregon. We were no where near as tired as we expected to be (I could have easily made it all the way to Portland), we hit a brew pub called McMenamin’s for dinner and drinks… Get this; they not only brew beer, and ferment wine, but distill a whiskey (and rum, and gin) as well! It is called McMenamin’s “Hogshead” Whiskey from the Edgefield distillery. From the menu: “this rich, amber-hued whiskey is slightly smoky, with hints of vanilla. Hogshead is distilled from 100% malted barley & named after the oak barrels in which it is aged. $6.59 per glass.” So of course I had to order it! My take on it: very light nose of mild smoke and a hint of sweet vanilla. Palate has an immediate burn which fades out into vanilla again with short but fun story, then a smokey finish so light it stands as just a reminder of the charred barrel. Viscosity is light. Say 2-3 Boldness is the same 2-3 Story is a 3. Fairly short, but worthwhile. I give it a solid “B” rating.

The people we have met thus far (hotel reception, wait staff at the pub) were all amazingly nice. As it turns out one of our servers is a transplant from Brea who recognized the distinct bank card I use since she used to belong to the same credit union.

By the end of dinner, we adjourned back to our room, caught an episode of Lost and passed out. Seems we were indeed a bit tired from the 13 hour drive. We had decided to not try to get to Portland on the first night (tonight) as we wanted to take our time driving in to allow us to wander off the beaten path if the fancy struck. So we opted to bed down about 150 miles outside the city and wander in during the light of the next day….

My initial impression of the state thus far is one of wonder at its beauty. We have driven through only rural areas to this point, and have been surrounded by lushness of evergreens and other native foliage. Everything here is so wonderfully green! Still some yellow areas of dry grass in the southern part bordering California, but that just adds contrast to make the green even brighter.

Into Oregon; not exactly indicative of the beauty, but much greener than California!

I can’t wait to make the journey into the city tomorrow… if today is any indication, we will fall in love with a city that has lured us in before we even got there.

Day 2: Day 2 started out well enough. We checked out of our hotel in Roseburg, grabbed the complimentary continental breakfast, and got back on the road by 9am. I got a fair enough’s night sleep but not quite enough to really get me going in the morning, so this 170 mile drive was almost as rough as the previous days 800 miles.

Portland is only 105 miles away now!

We got into Portland at noon straight up, as we didn’t find any place between Roseburg and the city which was worthy of stopping at. Salem was on the radar until we actually passed through… really it is just another blue collar town just like all the rest, or so it seemed from the freeway. We wouldn’t know any differently since we didn’t stop to see.

Luckily our hotel allowed us for an early checkin, so we didn’t have to find ways to waste time. Once checked in we headed straight out for lunch at Henry’s tavern (the old Henry Weinhard’s brew pub). After a nice satiating lunch, and some orange wheat beers, we took the long way back to the hotel on foot just to see the sights and to visit Powell’s Books, a must do for any visitor to the area.

Back in the hotel, I took a bit of a nap, after which we decided that we would cut our stay here in the hotel short. You see, we realized what I had already known for a bit: we are not city people. I know this isn’t a shock to anyone who knows me, but the real breakthrough was with Jean. She realized as well that she just doesn’t want to live in the city either. The IDEA of a city loft is cool, but the realities of city living just aren’t our gig. That and the hotel was exactly what we were expecting. But that’s fine, you win some you lose some… so we decided that we’ll take Friday and look around the parts of the greater Portland area which we had scouted as potential living sites, and then head out to Astoria on Saturday for a bit of actual vacation. From there the itinerary is a bit open, to say the least… we’re not sure where or when we’ll end up, but it should be a fun adventure to fly by the seat of our pants so far away from home…

Once we got that all set with the hotel (cutting the reservations short, etc), we headed out for dinner at Kells:

Kells is a nice Irish bar that boasts an extensive whiskies list. I have to say the wall of whiskies is impressive to see, but the list left me a bit wishful. I only found about 5 I hadn’t had previously.

Following is a quick tasting note on the one I ordered: Tamnavulin Stillman’s Dram 25 year. $21.25 per dram at Kells in Portland.

Nose… Light caramel. A faint hint of oak. Palate… Caramel first then a nice mellow char (slight burnt taste) overall sweetness. Viscosity… 7-8 thick! Boldness… 6-7 Story… good solid 5. Not too short but not long either.

Personal taste… B+. I could drink this for a good long while. A nice initial sting flows into an easy to drink dram. Despite its viscosity, not chewy at all.

After Kells, we took the long way back to the hotel again to see a bit of the city. Once at the hotel we made our way to the top floor to hang out on the roof top garden patio area. We took in the view for a while, then headed back down to catch CSI before going to bed.

Day 3: We arose at about 8:30am and were out the door by 9. After another Hotel breakfast, we headed out to do our reconnaissance mission to see the areas around Portland.

We started with Gresham to the east of Portland. The city itself was nice, but the drive in was through some minorly depressed areas in all sorts of states of disrepair. Not exactly what we were looking for… so we pressed on.

Next up was Tualatin. A nice area which we began to see a trend in the homes… it seems that in most areas everything looks like the stereotypical middle American neighborhood with one added benefit: trees, and lots of them.

Beaverton and Hillsboro kind of meld together in look and feel. These two cities are true suburbs and show it. They are fairly self sustaining, with light industrial, commercial, and residential zones, with a population to support it all. We could see ourselves living in these two areas very easily.

Last on the list was Forest Grove, which is more of a rural area than a suburb. We loved the feel, but probably couldn’t handle the upkeep which the lots would require… we’ll see about this one. (As the days passed after our visit, the more Forest Grove is really looking appealing to us.)

While in Forest Grove, we found a nice winery and stopped in for a taste, which is how the afternoon began.

We ended up at 4 different wineries which all seem to specialize in Pinot Noirs, which isn’t too surprising for the area. They were all full of character in their own rights, but nothing special enough to warrant write ups here. Though we did buy 6 bottles…

While traveling through the different towns in the morning and then between wineries in the afternoon, Jean and I had a great chance to really discuss what we wanted, needed, and what fit us in terms of living arrangements. It was a great chance to really think and discuss what the right place for us really is.

After the last winery, we opted to take a slight detour through Lake Oswego to gawk and gander at the million dollar plus homes around the lake. Wow, what a DRIVE! These places would rival Newport Beach’s homes on the cliffs and in balboa. GORGEOUS.

From there we headed out to catch dinner at the local, ubiquitous, McMenamin’s. It is here we got our second detour… you see I asked where I could pick up a bottle of the whiskey distilled specifically for them by the Edgefield distillery (as a founding member of the 3DrunkenCelts I am obligated to do so). Turns out you have to go to the distillery to buy the bottles. So we got a brochure, entered the address into our GPS and got back on the road. Turns out it was only another 25-30 miles away, so it was an easy drive after the 100 miles we had already put on earlier, and the 1000 from the days prior.

We arrived at the Edgefield and found it to be entirely more than expected. The water tower at the Edgefield:

It was a hotel, and veritable campus of buildings housing the winery, brewery, distillery, restaurant, bar, pub, and other odds and ends which escape me. We got the bottle from the distillery bar, and then headed back to the front to take a look around the grounds and get a feel for the place. With European style rooms (no private toilets) I don’t think well be spending a night there anytime soon, though I may be wrong about that… perhaps I’ll save that judgment until tomorrow.

From the Edgefield, we headed back to the hotel for our last nights stay. So I sit here now, watching Dirty Jobs, drinking a nice gewürztraminer we picked up this afternoon, and logging the events of the day. Tomorrow is out to Astoria, then who knows what, our plans are REALLY open after that 🙂

All in all today was going to be the deal breaker for us if there was one. If we didn’t fall in love with the area today, we had no idea what we would do. Luckily, the more we find out about Portland, and the more we see of it, the more we love it and are SURE this is indeed the place for us. The people are amazing and the scenery is beautiful!

We KNOW that not only will we fit in around here, but many of our friends would as well if we can convince any of them to come up and live here…

Day 4: This morning started just fine… same as all the other days with a continental breakfast provided by the hotel.

From there we drove out to Astoria. The drive along the Columbia was gorgeous. We stopped in Astoria for lunch and then headed across the Astoria Bridge to Washington and back, for the simple reason that I just love bridges and this one was staring me down, demanding I drive on her.

We had left the day open in case we found stuff to keep us interested, but alas, Astoria is just a small port town. So we headed on south to Tillamook, Newport, and then on to Coos Bay.

Tillamook was a bit disappointing in that it was a bit more commercial than we had expected. The cheese factory parking lot was PACKED, so we decided to drive on and bypass the tasting/gift shop experience. It was far from the boutique type shop we had hoped for. This was pure American commercialism; which I can’t deny too much, but it still seemed a bit odd for the area.

We were, however lucky enough to find two separate lighthouses to stop at along the way. The first being the lighthouse used in the move “The Ring”:

And the second being a still in service lighthouse at the mouth of the Umpqua River:

The drive down the Oregon coast is the best part of today’s 400 miles as we were disappointed by Coos bay as well. What we expected to be a quaint little town like Astoria, was really just a depressed little shit-hole of a bay town with little to offer in terms of decent restaurants or accommodations.

So we pressed on to Roseburg for dinner and a night’s hotel stay just like the first night in Oregon. Not exactly to plan, but then again, it is better than Coos bay.

So here I sit, with a belly full of IPA and McMenamin’s American Dip sandwich, drinking another 22 oz. IPA I got “to go”. Tomorrow is our start down south, with a hopeful stop over in San Francisco to meet up with some friends. Then it is on to Santa Maria to hang with George and Kathy for a night before our return home… Stay tuned.

Day 5: Overall, this was just a boring day of driving and recapping what we had seen. Unfortunately and were both at a wedding in Sonoma the night before and wouldn’t be back in the city until well after we had already passed through/by. We were bummed we missed them, but such is life, especially since we hadn’t planned prior to the night before since we didn’t know when or if we would even be passing by the city.

This diverted the plan once more and we actually ended up at George and Kathy’s a night early, which turned out to be a good thing since it allowed us to take all of Monday and do some wine tasting in Paso Robles which we hadn’t done since at least 6 years prior.

Since I didn’t write up this at the end of the day and rather am attempting to recall from memory, I’ll cut this short and just say that we had a wonderful time visiting with Kathy and George. We very rarely get to spend time with just the two of them, and even more rarely do we spend much time with only Kathy, so it was nice to be able to take her to dinner Monday night while George was in a meeting.

While it was my intent to head home n the evening on Monday, the wine tasting had taken a toll on Jean and she didn’t feel like driving (read this as riding passenger in the car while I drove) and so we imposed on George and Kathy for one more night.

Day 6: We were up and out by 8:30 am, back on the road, this time headed straight home with no more detours. By this point, I was both ready to get home and sleep in my own bed, but at the same time I felt like I could drive for another week and just continue on discovering new places and people and food and drink!

Luckily we arrived home before I could commit to a hard left turn and keep on going. Home by Noon, and unpacked by 1pm, we took a nice nap at 3pm and ordered pizza for dinner so we could just sit on the couch and do nothing. That was very nice after a week of always doing something or planning something for the next hour/day…

The grand total mileage for the trip is 2,733.7 miles. With 900 miles up and back to Portland, that still left us with an additional 900 miles drive around the greater Portland area and Oregon Coastline. I think I’ll be riding my motorcycle for the next few weeks exclusively, just to get out of the car! The GPS doesn’t lie… unless you are looking at the max speed, in which case it does.