FOR most recreational mixologists, shifting gears for warm-weather cocktails is merely a matter of making sure there’s an abundant supply of rum, vodka, and fresh juice in the pantry. But Dan Stern, the head bartender at Urban Farmer, the high-end steak house inside downtown’s Nines Hotel, has a refreshingly irreverent approach to sunshiny libations. Though his own tastes tend toward simplicity (“I drink Jim Beam rye in the summer,” he says sheepishly), Stern possesses that slightly mischievous chromosome that inspires an overwhelming urge to constantly cook up new flavor combinations. But we’re more than happy to take advantage of that Dr. Frankenstein streak. Here are his must-have bottles—including three local spirits—for springtime imbibing.
Ransom Old Tom Gin
“It’s one of my favorite things to drink right now,” Stern says of this Dutch-style small-batch spirit from Sheridan. “It’s a unique bottle in your liquor cabinet, in that it expands the palate and works great in traditional tiki drinks in place of rum or vodka. And it sweetens the drink without having to resort to sugar.”
Stern professes his love for House Spirits’ fiery, locally produced rye-based drink and its ability to subvert the standard cocktail. “I make a mai tai that uses aquavit instead of rum,” he says. “It sounds like a hideous abomination, but it’s really delicious and fun.”
Clear Creek Oregon Cranberry Liqueur
One of the newest products from Portland’s Clear Creek Distillery earns high marks from Stern for its versatility. “It’s sweet, adds tartness, and it’s a fruit flavor that you can use instead of something that’s out of season.”
“You can’t play bocce without Campari, and you can’t have summer without bocce,” Stern says. This bitter and herbaceous red aperitif is favored
by millions of Italians as a key component in negroni cocktails, and it’s so popular that more than 400 million bottles of premixed Campari.
and soda are sold worldwide every year.