Hand-made drinks, local flavors, seasonal ingredients, infused booze – cocktail culture has arrived
Story and photos by DWIGHT CASWELL
Call it cocktail culture: a growing interest in the endless variety of cocktails, a locavore emphasis on fresh ingredients, and a curiosity about the classic cocktails of a century ago. Why we call these libations “cocktails” is disputed, but it was in 1806 that a New York newspaper first defined them, with a political twist: “Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters…and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion … a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.” These ingredients – spirits, sugar, water, bitters – are the ingredients of an Old Fashioned, which 19th-century bar patrons ordered to distinguish it from the newfangled punches, sours, slings and such. Most cocktails, though, remained variations of the Old Fashioned until Prohibition, when fruit and sweeteners were added to mask the flavor of illicit hooch.
Fruity cocktails remain popular, but there has been a swing back to cocktails in the traditional style, and there is no better place to sample traditional cocktails than the snug local pub of the Shelburne Inn in Seaview, Wash. (4415 Pacific Way). Seated next to the stained glass windows of this 1896 hotel, an Old Fashioned or a Sazerac (invented in mid-19th century New Orleans) feels appropriate. “You have to get the basics right,” says bartender Jode Wortman, opening a bottle of cranberry and lime-infused vodka. “We make it ourselves with cranberries from Starvation Alley,” a USDA-certified organic cranberry farm in Long Beach, Wash. Infused liquors are a new trend, and at the Shelburne you can have anything from a Margarita made with jalapeno tequila to a Bloody Mary made with garlic vodka – and garnished with celery and local carrots.
Not far away, the Pickled Fish Restaurant (atop the Adrift Hotel, 409 Sid Snyder Drive, Long Beach, Wash.) has a more modern aspect, but the same emphasis on traditional cocktails. “If I was going out,” says bartender Rebecca Charles, “I would go to a place with classic cocktails. I wouldn’t trust anyone who couldn’t do a good Old Fashioned.” Charles explains that Pickled Fish “does a lot of classic cocktails, names that come down from forever,” although, “there’s always something new, you’ll never know it all.” Her favorite? “I’m very partial to a Drowned and Saved,” a concoction of rye, sweet vermouth, artichoke liqueur, and lemon.
Drive south and continue on across the river to Albatross, at 225 14th St. in Astoria, a nanorestaurant with five pre-Prohibition-style house cocktails. Owner Eric Bechard has spent seven years “developing my own original cocktails based on a traditional formula. I like the idea of blending spirits together, getting a balance of sweet and bitter and the taste of the spirits.” The result is cocktails like Alsternixe, Bechard’s take on the martini using barrel-aged Old Tom Gin and named for a vessel that came to grief off Cape Disappointment. Or the WC Scranton, named for another shipwreck, which is reminiscent of a Drowned and Saved.
A block away from Albatross, on the 12th Street Pier, is Baked Alaska, and the bar – called the North Lights Lounge – looks out at a Columbia River Pilot boat moored a few yards away. Most of Baked Alaska’s signature cocktails are based on classic recipes, and many of the spirits used are crafted by Oregon distilleries or house infused in a variety of flavors. Bartender Fester (he goes by one name only) can prepare for you an Old 300 Manhattan (Burnside Bourbon, cherry, orange, Oregon honey, soda) or – are you ready for this? – a FIGhattan, which is a must-try cocktail made of figs, Knob Creek bourbon, sweet vermouth and cherry bitters that have been aged together. There are other takes on tradition – the Baked Alaska Mojito, Basil Martini and Berry Drop come to mind – that make a visit rewarding. The origin of the martini, somewhere around the year 1900, is shrouded in mystery, but writer H. L. Mencken called it “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” You’ll find it celebrated at Clemente’s Restaurant Wine and Martini Lounge (1198 Commercial St., Astoria), in 20 versions from Honey Bear (grapefruit juice and honey) to Geisha (grated ginger). “We want the flavor of fresh squeezed fruit,” says owner Gordon Clement. He notes the “big boom” in artisan distilleries, making it possible to source rum from Cannon Beach Distillery and Temperance Trader Bourbon from Sheridan, Ore. Even the peppers for the pepper-infused vodka are grown in a local greenhouse.
Cory Teubner at the Astoria Coffeehouse & Bistro invented one of the restaurant’s most popular cocktails, the Jalapeño Smuggler, when wondering what would go well with huevos rancheros. “I try to do lots of local things,” he says. The Jalapeño Smuggler has a rim with pink sea salt, brown chipotle, and Aleppo chili, all from Pat’s Pantry, a few blocks away. Teubner also likes Mud Puddle Bitter Chocolate Vodka, made by Portland’s New Deal Distillery: “It’s not sweet, and it has a deep chocolate flavor. “Good ingredients, fresh fruit, local liquors,” says Teubner, “It’s hard to go wrong from there.” In Seaside, you’ll encounter Maggie’s on the Prom (581 S. Promenade), a local favorite for dinner and a drink. There you can find a Silk Chocolate Martini or an X-Rated Vacation Martini (Peach Schnapps, a lot of tropical juices, and a cherry), or a Peach Margarita served Cadillac style. If you want to watch the sunset, Maggie’s is the only place with an outdoor deck for happy hour cocktails.
Twisted Fish Steakhouse (311 Broadway in Seaside) serves 17 specialty cocktails in both the restaurant and sports bar. Mixologist Jessica Applegate is enthusiastic about their drinks: “fresh ingredients, juices and berries. We don’t like mixes; we build them ourselves.” She’s developed several new cocktails for Valentine’s Day, including the Colada-Tini (pineapple and coconut) and a Cucumber Fizz that “is so flippin’ good.” Twisted Fish manager Steve Keszler says their biggest hit is the Blood Orange Margarita, “but we try to change the cocktail list seasonally. We’re always searching for that special twist.” A few blocks way, at 724 Broadway, is McKeown’s Restaurant and Irish Pub. There’s a Guinness sign in the window, a pool table, and an impressive cocktail list at the bar. There’s Irish coffee, of course, and something called a Razzleberry Bikinitini. A lot of variety, made fresh.
The Driftwood Restaurant and Lounge (179 N. Hemlock, Cannon Beach) is famous for its margaritas, bloody Marys and Spanish coffees. “We make ‘em good,” manager Kyle Genin declares, and “it’s a local place, with a deck and a fireplace, for communal talk and chat.”
Not far away, at 124 Third St., is Lumberyard Rotisserie and Grill, a comfortable place where bartender Alan Hendricks says, “Priority number one is to make customers happy.” One way he does this is his invention, Happy Monk (Frangelico, peppermint schnapps, coffee and chocolate). Other specialties include Hot S’mores (“goes with the dessert skillet”) and Vanilla Mochatini (with Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur). “They’re kind of fru-fru,” Hendricks admits, “but that’s what they’re supposed to be.” If your taste tends more toward the fruit-and -um drinks of the tropics, try another place that’s a favorite Cannon Beach hangout, Castaways Tini Tiki Hut (316 N. Fir St.). In fact, no matter what kind of cocktail you prefer, you’ll find it somewhere in the area. Don’t be surprised if your local pub adds creative cocktails to a list that used to be beer and hard liquor. Cocktail culture has arrived.