Respect: Multnomah Whiskey Library

cocktail, happy, portland cocktail, multnomah whiskey libraryAt its core, a beverage experience is about respect. It’s not about looking cool, it’s not about creating the most impressive drinks, it’s not about wowing everyone who walks through your door. It’s not about finding identity, it’s not about proving you’re worth notice. It’s not about the latest spirit, the biggest gear, the fastest hands.

As I stepped through the doors of the Multnomah Whiskey Library this week, I had a unique experience and one that has forced me to re-examine the core of my thinking about beverages. I mean, they’re damn cool–of course! I love the sense of belonging that comes from actually knowing the ingredients in my cocktail, or being able to discuss the peculiar behavior of a single origin in espresso with my barista. And I’m not immune to the lure of belonging, of being part of a clique that’s so insular we scoff at the idea of being insular. Honestly, like everyone else I know, all my life I’ve yearned to be part of an inner circle, and the beverage world (with its concentric slide of connections and knowledge) is as close as I’ve come.

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But beverages are–can be–so much more than that. Long ago, in another city and another life, I took a cappuccino from the hands of a stocky barista with a red beard. We got off to a rocky start, but the beverage between us transcended our quirks and hostility and we fell into love along with the viscous drip-drip of espresso, the spit and swirl of milk. Years later, my husband and I have elevated the rituals of beverages to almost a religious status. We keep an “open coffee house”, we say, and from Sioux City to San Diego we have connected with complete strangers over coffee.

Back to my original statement. The beverage experience can’t be narrowed to one word, but for me, if respect is not inherent in the moment, I want no part of it. Respect for myself, respect for you, respect for the ingredients and processes in our hands, respect for the magical knowing that springs to life between us.

The Multnomah Whiskey Library is relatively new on the scene. It’s already known for  3-hour waits and for its 1500+ bottling spirits library, for its opulent interior and near-perfect service, and I was both intimidated and skeptical before visiting. My intimidation vanished when I saw the genuine welcome in the faces of the wonderful people who served me, and my skepticism melted through interaction with my bartender and the reception of what was truly one of the best cocktails of my life.

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It’s rare to see a beverage establishment that pulls all the disparate parts together, but the Multnomah Whiskey Library has succeeded. Succeeded not just in giving me a memorable experience, but also in bringing me back to the core of my beverage ethos, reminding me what the damn point is.

Tender me your respect and I will give you mine. Together we will create something new in this strange world. We will celebrate our beverages, we will acknowledge each other.

bartender, portland bartender, portland cocktailPortland, OR / evening / Multnomah Whiskey Library – bartender : Jordan Felix

9 Lovely Chardonnays

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In a landscape layered with shade of grey and green, deep in the Oregon Dundee Valley, reigns the Stoller Family Estate, scene of the 2014 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium. Yesterday I  covered the event for Tasting Panel Magazine, jotting notes on my program as some of the most renowned Chardonnay experts in the world gave their take on the unique question of the moment: What, precisely, is Oregon Chardonnay?

It’s clear that Oregon Chardonnay isn’t Burgundian Chardonnay, or California Chardonnay, and it’s equally clear that it has yet to earn a place in the wine conversation that allows it to, in the words of dynamic presenter and 2nd-generation Dundee vintner Josh Bergstrom, “be an independent entity that doesn’t have to be compared to another region to be defined.”

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One word that kept cropping up as the panelists discussed their work was “dynamic tension”. Oregon Chardonnay is increasingly characterized by a confident, wry acidity that dances on the palate (in the best versions) with tribute to various fruits on the citrus and sour side, not the plummy lushness of California Chardonnay. Oregon Chardonnays are, partially, aged in oak, but lack the oak-forward notes of California Chardonnays, leaning toward the “purity and austerity” that Wynne Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Wines praised in her presentation. Terroir is central.

After a faltering start in the ’70′s, Oregon Chardonnay is experiencing a strong revival. Increasingly vineyards such as Stoller are devoted prized sites to Chardonnay vines and treating them with the same care that they famously give the Pinot Noir variety. 70 local vineyard make a Chardonnay! Still, Chardonnay plantings represent less than 5% in Oregon, and the wine still labors under a negative reputation around the world.

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This sold-out Symposium is a symptom of the wonderful things that are happening with Chardonnay both in the Dundee Valley and outside it. The proof, in my opinion, of the supreme legitimacy of this variety, in this place, was the 9 glasses in front of me, each complete in its own right, and each complimentary of the others. This wine was bombastic, this delicate, this straightforward, and all were memorable. A tasting of 40 local Chardonnays after the technical panel reinforced the individuality and presence of this variety.

I stopped on my rainy drive home to pick up a bottle of Chehalem 2011 Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay, clutching the slender neck of the bottle as I pondered the dynamism of this wine, which could rear its head from local obscurity thanks to the passion and attention of talented winemakers who choose to call Oregon’s Dundee Valley home.

In the words of panel mod and renowned wine writer Cole Danehower, “Yay, Chardonnay!”

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In Which I Find I’m 29

It’s my birthday, and it’s 6:44 am. I’m in the cavernous shared showroom of Coava Coffee Roasters & Bamboo Revolution, a steaming cup of Ethiopian Kochere beside me fitfully reflecting the overhead lights on its sheeny surface. Outside, just past the old drill press that doubles as a table, cars and pedestrians splash refracted puddles as Portland starts to come down off its mount of frozen shock.

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With a sense of astonishment, I find I’ve slipped over the brink into my twenty-ninth year. The past few years have held relocation/dislocation, childbirth & mothering, romance, professional accomplishment, education, lots of Dickens novels, and even more coffee. As I lift my cup to my lips and savor its buttery mouthfeel, decipher dried blueberries and honey overlaying a mellow wine with an oaky finish, I find I don’t even have the strength to wonder what will happen next.

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You see, I am content. Though parenting a toddler had me in tears last night, though a hard deadline rides me now, and though I have absolutely no idea how this whole “two-parents-working-full-time-sans-childcare” thing is going to work out, I cam content. I have battled for love, and won. At twenty-nine I have borne my pain and know I will bear more in the future. And I have tasted my wine, sipped my magic, dabbled in miracle. I bear some scars and know I will earn more.

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Fully engaged in the sensory whirlwind that is life, I pause while past, present, and future converge here in the early morning in Portland, Oregon. I find I am content.