Sunday, January 22, 2012

Getting the High Desert Experience at Bendistillery

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It's been a year since I moved to Oregon and joined up as a regular staffer at West Toast (of course, it was The Oregon Wine Blog then). I've had too many adventures to count, and am looking out across the expanse of 2012 hoping that I am able to have even more. So many of those adventures have been while working on articles for West Toast. Whether sipping vodka in faux-fur jackets, drinking wine while perusing lingerie by bicycle, inventing drink recipes in our nation's capitol, or living it up in the MVP section of the Steve Miller Band concert, I've thoroughly enjoyed this past year of fun, friends, and quality beverages.

I rung in the new year with a trip to Bend, OR for some backpacking along the Deschutes. The trip was fantastic - just enough snow to be beautiful without hindering hikes, and more than enough sun to fry my face. Though I will say that the Willamette Valley and Pacific Northwest are becoming nearer and dearer to my heart (apologies to those who had to endure my whinging in earlier posts), I hold a special place for the desert. It was great to be at elevation among the sage and ponderosa again. On my way back home I noted a sign for Bendistillery along the highway. This was all I needed to justify planning a return trip.

The tasting room held the space and energy of the mountain west (photo from the Bendistillery website)

Two weeks later (much earlier than anticipated), I rolled back over the Santiam Pass to the juniper flats north of Bend. Just off of Highway 20, the Bendistillery stands in full view of the 3 Sisters among the sage and lava rock. Upon walking into the tasting room we were greeted with a warm welcome and an invitation to take a seat and try the full flight of spirits, along with a sample of a mustard made with the Mazama Pepper-Infused Vodka.

We tried 5 spirits, starting with Crater Lake Vodka. This award-winning spirit is the best known from Bendistillery, and is filered 10 times through charcoal and red lava rocks. It carried hints of vanilla mid-palette, with a textured mouth-feel and a slight bitterness after the final burn. After this we moved into a taste of the Diamond 100 Vodka. Made similarly to Crater Lake, this vodka takes 100 trips through the filtration system before landing in your glass. My companion Greg started the tasting claiming he'd have little to say, but immediately began assessing the Diamond 100's overall smoothness in comparison to the Crater Lake. The same hints of vanilla were there, with a silkier mouth feel and less of a burn at the end of the sip.

We tried the Cascade Mountain Gin next. When we took the distillery tour (thanks Faith!) we were told that the Bendistillery sits in the largest juniper forest in the world. Clearly it would make sense to put forth a gin! Slightly yellow in color, this gin was dry and full of juniper on the nose. I picked up on cardamom as well, and Greg noted that he both smelled and tasted licorice. The flavor was a well-spiced juniper. The mouth feel was oily and full, which made me want to mix it into a gin and tonic with extra lime.

Greg was most enthusiastic to try the Mazama Infused Pepper Vodka, but I was generally skeptical. I've tried a number of pepper-infused spirits at this point, and what I usually experience is simply a spicy spirit with little pepper flavor. That was not the case with this vodka! The flavor was thoroughly complex, with sweet bell peppers at the start leading into a smoky burn that was not overwhelming, but allowed me to taste the full spectrum of capsicum. I also enjoyed the mustard made with this gem, and found it to be unique and flavorful. I don't know that I would sip this vodka alone, but I would certainly mix it into any beverage that requires a little heat, and would use it as a flavoring in marinades, sauces, and perhaps even in pickling.

The tastes were beautifully and kindly presented by our friendly hosts

Our final taste was the Cofia Hazelnut Espresso Vodka. Syrupy and brown, this tasted less like a spirit, and more like a flavoring at a coffee bar (this makes sense seeing as it is 50 proof). Sweet with a creamy mouth feel, this vodka struck a strong balance between the hazelnut and coffee flavors, with hints of vanilla lingering after I swallowed. This would be a lovely addition to an evening coffee, a beautiful drizzle for ice cream, or perhaps a great sauce in which to soak a cake.

We were both grateful for a chance to try some quality spirits, tour the distillery, and chat with the amazing hosts in the tasting room. Not only did we get some great drinks, but were treated to some awesome insider beta on camping and caving in the area. The people at Bendistillery love where they live, and love what they do - it really shows. Thanks to you for your friendliness, hospitality, and wealth of information!

1 comment:

  1. Bendistillery was the first craft liquor that I enjoyed in my long and storied career of drinking. I miss their martini bar in Bend, but thankfully have a bottle in my liquor cabinet!