Bar News

Glass Precision

On a quest for the perfect old-fashioned? Take a page from the Oregon Bartenders Guild.

By Tom Colligan May 19, 2009 Published in the May 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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IT’S 1 O’CLOCK on a balmy Sunday afternoon in February, and while most Portlanders are dusting off their bikes, 25 people crowd the dark, librarylike bar of Carlyle restaurant on NW Thurman Street for an afternoon of serious drinking. Ranging from twentysomething East-Siders to white-collar types from the West Hills, the note-taking attendees have paid 50 bucks apiece to partake in the second public seminar hosted by the Oregon Bartenders Guild, a newly formed fellowship of more than 30 Oregon barkeeps that aims to restore the public’s appreciation of their craft.

“We wanted to support the high level of expertise that we have here in Oregon, and to share this knowledge with bartenders throughout the state,” says founder Lance Mayhew, former head bartender at Meriwether’s.

And how will they spread the word of their mixological acumen? By sharing recipes and bartending tricks with members and delivering a hefty afternoon buzz to a public eager to learn how to mix better drinks. Of course, the guild maintains other goals, such as making group health insurance available to Oregon bartenders and convincing the state liquor commission to procure an ever-broader selection of artisan spirits, but during their classes, it’s all about stirring and shaking.

Headed up by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, of Eugene’s Bel Ami; Neil Kopplin, who mans the bar at the Carlyle; and Matt Mount, a distiller at House Spirits in Portland, this afternoon’s session is dubbed “Lost in Translation”—a revisiting of cocktails that have been watered down over time: the sidecar, the margarita, the daiquiri. After exemplary preparations of each drift through the room, the seminar fortuitously wends its way toward my drink of choice. The old-fashioned, explains Mount, is merely the latter-day name for the original “cocktail,” defined in 1862 as, simply, a mixture of liquor, sugar, water, and bitters.

But before we receive the familiar whiskey preparation, a tray of glasses appears, each holding a swirling ghost of pink—a gin old-fashioned: two ounces gin, a quarter-ounce simple syrup, one dash Regan’s No. 6 orange bitters, and another dash of anise-tinged Peychaud’s bitters, brightened by a strip of lemon peel and served over ice. It’s spicy, barely sweet, and clean—an exquisitely simple formula that instantly conjures visions of summer. In fact, if this were to be its sole contribution to the repertoire of area barkeeps, the burgeoning guild would have more than proven its worth.