Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Tastes at New Deal

Sure, it did not look like much from the outside...but that is generally where I find that expectations get confounded.  Lessons gleaned from my life experience once again did not fail me when my out-of-town friend Jen and I dodged early fall raindrops on our way into the New Deal Distillery in Portland.  We entered by walking through a massive garage door, up a loading ramp, and onto the distillery floor where a rustic tasting space greeted us, backlit by frosted windows.  Still feeling the cool, damp, Oregon air bellied up to such a bar certainly gave me the sense that I was perhaps in 1920's speakeasy.  Fresh air and a sense of bucking authority - this was my kind of place.

New Deal opened in 2004, and offers a range of organic vodka, and gin, each lined up for us on the bar to taste.  We wasted no time in sampling the Portland 88 - their brand of vodka.  I really enjoyed the almost sweet vanilla in the nose.  It sipped smoothly with a slight burn at the center, lingering light-vanilla finish, and silky mouth feel.  This vodka would do well on its own, but would be equally tasty in mixed drinks.

We next were treated to two different kinds of gin -the first, dubbed No. 1, presented uniquely with a cloudy yellow color.  Distiller Matt explained that this gin, as well as the other we tried No. 3, were juniper-only gins.  No 1. had a strong start and was full-on juniper throughout with a rougher mouth feel than I'd experienced in a gin.  No. 3 also was very juniper-forward in the nose, clear, and strong.  I enjoyed the silky mouth feel and smoothness of the finish.  Jen, a big gin fan, was complimentary of both, stating that despite the simplicity of the gins, they were flavorful and much more enjoyable than most gins one can get at the bar.

After that we tried two flavored vodkas.  The first, a chocolate vodka, Mud Puddle, that Matt shared was made with house-roasted cacao nibs.  It had a beautiful nose that made me think of cocoa baking powder.  Only slightly sweet at the front, the cocoa flavors were rich and malty with a delightfully bitter finish.  Unlike many chocolate liquors I've tasted, this one had not a hint of vanilla.  It was chocolate throughout.  I would sip this alone, mix it into a latte, or cook it into desserts.  I imagined pouring a shot over vanilla ice cream to balance the bitter and the sweet.

Hot monkey was the second flavored vodka we sampled.  Sporting the flavor of five different Southwestern hot peppers, the nose was smoky and intense.  The front also carried smoke into a spicy center that crept up on me and led me to need a chaser of water (hot may or may not be something I can handle).  I don't think I could manage to sip this one, but it would be amazing in fruit juices (pineapple comes to mind), and I would love to use it to marinate a steak about to go on the grill.  Jen was very excited about Hot Monkey.  An organic farmer who specializes in growing peppers, she spent some quality time trying to pick out the flavors.

The staff were friendly (Matt, one of the distillers, spent our entire tasting entertaining us with information), the space unique and comfortable, and the liquors amazing.  Check out New Deal at 1311 SE 9th Avenue in Portland!


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