After the first few sips of a Corpse Reviver, Number Two, I am feeling the shock and joy of Lazarus after being roused by the magical voice of Jesus. Never mind the sacrilege inherent in comparing a morning cocktail to the miraculous powers of Christianity's main man—I'm feeling too damn good to care. Besides, I think it's fitting. It is, after all, a Sunday.
My wife, Kitty, and I are attending the first stop in House Spirits Distillery's Southeast Brunch Tour in the clean, Swedish-modern confines of Broder on SE Clinton. I heft the Corpse Reviver again and inhale a sweet high scent of fennel from a float of Pernod. Tipping the glass to my lips, the drink is cold and smooth with bright notes of lemon and the complex juniper-lavender-anise wash of Aviation Gin, one of House Spirits' best sellers. In the background I hear the constant rattlesnake shake of cocktails being prepared. The couple beside us is praying over their gravlax and I'm feeling the spirit. Or maybe just getting drunk.
House Spirits Distillery was among the first micro distilleries in Portland's now booming small-batch booze community. With three products on the market (Medoyeff Vodka, Aviation Gin, and Krogstad Aquavit) they are steadily making a name for themselves in the city's cocktailing circles as well as those outside our drunken borders. This month, they are "bringing gin back to the breakfast table." House Spirits' partners, Christian Krogstad, Matt Mount, and the amazing mixologist Ryan Magarian are making signature cocktails almost every Sunday in June at stops including Simpatico, Country Cat, and Matchbox Lounge (email email@example.com for more information).
The Friday before my lush brunch, I visited House Spirits to speak with Mount about the future of the distillery and, of course, to drink. It wasn't very long before Mount had a glass in my hand with a sample of small-batch whiskey from the "Whisk(e)y Your Way" program. For $4,900, you and a friend (or 49) can be involved in creating a whiskey specifically designed for you. After working through the entire process, including plugging the bunghole of your very own barrel, you'll be the proud owner of 15 gallons of bottled and labeled heirloom whiskey. All it takes is one to three years and a fat wallet.
The whiskey I sampled was still a bit new, but it was spicy and fruity with just a bit of astringency. It was powerful stuff. And it should be, for $65 a fifth. After getting hit with new whiskey on an empty stomach, I was up for anything. Mount put a glass under the spout of a large tank, dispensed another sample, and handed the glass to me; I inhaled deeply, getting a big whiff of star anise. This is Oregon Ouzo, one of the liqueurs that will be part of House Spirits' Apothecary line. These very small-batch liquors and liqueurs will be sold in the new retail space located next door to the distillery, slated to open sometime this summer. The old-fashioned 375-milliliter bottles with letter-pressed labels will be a kind of proving ground for new concoctions such as the Oregon Ouzo and beer schnapps.
Until all that happens, the guys at House Spirits continue to spread the cocktail gospel. It's true that not everyone wants to go to the trouble of jiggers and shakers. But there's something wonderful about a well-made cocktail and the disciples who drink them. Back at Broder I've finished off a baked scramble and a Bloody Mary. I feel like I'm floating, like I've been blessed, like there might be some grace in that bottle of gin.