Tasting Time at Sidecar 11

A cozy North Mississippi whiskey bar uncorks mysteries within vintage bottles.

By Rachel Ritchie November 1, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Nomad

For the bartenders at Sidecar 11, nothing tantalizes quite like a dusty bottle. The contents might be stunning (a flawless, citrusy, 99-year-old Francesco Cinzano Italian vermouth) or slightly sickening (the 1966 Chateau Talbot that was quickly tossed). But you never know until you open it. And that’s precisely why Sidecar’s bartenders keep opening beguiling bottles from unnamed local sources at their monthly “special pours.” 

It began with that Cinzano vermouth. In 1914, it began its journey from Italy, eventually landing in an unassuming Northeast Portland basement, perhaps stashed away during Prohibition. In late 2012, a mysterious wooden box tucked up in the beams of that century-old house was bravely pried open, and out dropped three bottles. Two shattered on the floor; one survived. Sidecar beverage manager Aaron Howard caught wind of this relic, made a quick offer on the bottle, and set a date to open it. Within weeks, he’d presold a dozen $40 manhattans featuring the rare 1914 Cinzano. On January 30, 2013, the drinkers assembled. “This place was packed, but you could hear a pin drop,” Howard remembers. “As soon as I popped the lead seal, all you could smell was orange, lemon, and marmalade. It was absolutely amazing.”

At special events over the ensuing months, Sidecar’s staff has opened bottles of Blandy’s Bual Madeira from 1920, compared a 1962 Sauternes with a 2009 vintage from the same vineyard, and uncorked a 1964 Chianti Classico. (They discovered, happily, that Chianti actually can age, quite well). On Veterans Day, November 11, they’ll pop a pristine 17-year Ballantine’s scotch whisky from 1940 (above) that traveled back with a GI from World War II. Twenty-four lucky drinkers will take a leap back in time, sampling one-ounce pours for $60. We suggest you take it neat. 

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