Our February "Portland bucket list" activity was to visit a distillery and do a tasting. I wanted to do this one this month, as there are some outdoor or otherwise timing-sensitive activities on the list that we need to save the summer months for, so this seemed like a good time to do an activity that had no weather or scheduling limitations. However, I've been busy for work and delegated the planning to Abe, and eventually we realized that if we'd allowed more time (for planning and the actual outing), we could have done the Distillery Row Passport. So we'll probably still do that later in the year, but to officially cross the item off the list, we did visit one distillery last weekend, Bull Run.
Obviously transportation is somewhat key in planning a distillery (or winery, or brewery) tasting. Though slightly outside of what I consider downtown proper (i.e., on the MAX line), Bull Run is just a few blocks from the NS streetcar line, so we were able to take the MAX to the streetcar, and then the streetcar to our destination, no driving needed.
The Bull Run Distillery tasting room is a small but cutely rustic space. The tasting fee is $5 per person for 7 items, and you get to keep the shot glass. We also purchased a bottle of vodka, and we ended up not being charged for the tasting fees. I'm not positive if that was an oversight, or if they actually do waive the tasting fee with a purchase (which I have seen as fairly typical at wine tastings). The employee was nice, and explained a lot about each drink as we tried it. One recurring aspect with many of their drinks seemed to be aging in bourbon or wine barrels, to infuse a spirit with a strong taste.
I'm far from a sophisticated liquor connoisseur, so my comments might be more nonsense than knowledgeable. But here are the items we tasted and my thoughts:
Medoyeff vodka: Vodka is one of my favorite liquors, both because of it's neutral taste and because I went to Russia shortly after I turned 21. However, other than distinguishing really cheap vodka (that smells and tastes more like rubbing alochol) from non-cheap vodka, I admit I don't really notice a difference or distinctive taste in vodka. So this was a good, non-cheap tasting vodka, but otherwise didn't notice much about it.
Aria Portland dry gin: I'm honestly not sure I've ever had gin before (maybe in a purchased mixed drink? Definitely not on its own or a drink I've made at home), and I had no idea that its base was juniper. Apparently there's a certain percentage juniper it has to meet to be a gin, and beyond that it often includes other botanicals. The juniper and other items came through strongly in the scent; the taste however was more neutral.
Pacific rum hawaiian sugar cane: This really did have a chocolately scent, and if I'm remembering right it even came through some in the taste. A stronger drink than I would want to do a shot of on its own, but I can definitely see this being good in a mixed drink.
Whiskeys: They were four whiskeys, all very strong - as in, strong alcohol and just strong taste, and most also had some spicy overtones. I thought I liked whiskey because I like Pendleton (again, college/just-turned-21 associations - one of my college roommates was from Pendleton so we always had it around), but I can't say I'm a fan of these. If you like them, you'd probably love them, but mostly just not in the category of tastes that I enjoy. One of these had a licorice/fennel taste, which I almost liked - it was intriguing, at least.
Since we both enjoyed the vodka (and were almost out at home), we went ahead and bought a bottle of that. The tasting took maybe 15 or 20 minutes, and though the person doing the tasting was really nice and gave interesting information, I have to admit I find the whole experience a little awkward - you have an employee of the producer watching you and your reactions to their product. Not that they would take your dislike of a drink personally, but it still feels weird to me (and it has when I've done wine tastings in the past, too). I guess I need to learn to like beer, so I can sample flights of beer in the privacy of my own table in a brewery.
After Bull Run, we stopped by Rogue Brewery for lunch. Abe was starting to not feel well, so we didn't do any tastings there (but did get a sample of the day's special beer, a lighter one that I actually almost liked!). We shared the hummus plate and the mac and cheese, both of which were delicious.