I love doing flights of almost anything. A “flight” usually refers to a set of small samples of wine, but can be beer, whiskey, cola, orange juice, coffee…you get the idea. In general, I differentiate “doing a flight” from a “tasting” since there’s almost always a fun, social aspect involved. Comparing notes with your slightly-buzzed nearest and dearest across a table strewn with glassware is good times, yo.
I returned recently from a vacation in Oregon (And there will be future column inches devoted to the delicious wines of the Willamette Valley. Oh yes…). As a day in Portland drew to a close, I realized I’d downed four wildly different sets of liquid tapas:
Flight #1 – The Morning Meditation
After shaking off the previous evening’s revelry, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I left our hotel (the Monaco…a cool place!) for a day-long meander around the city. While Portland has a world-class public transportation system (in the eyes of practically everyone except dillweeds like Ohio’s Governor John Kasich and U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot), the city is eminently walkable. Our plan was to have a look around Old Town and buzz through Chinatown for some lunch before heading over to the Pearl District.
After an intentionally aimless stroll, we turned a corner on the edge of Chinatown and came upon the Lan Su Chinese Garden. Portland is best known for the Rose Garden and the adjacent Japanese Garden – but we’d read (correctly) that the Chinese Garden was also not to be missed. From the outside, one wouldn’t know just how peaceful and beautiful this place plopped in the middle of a major city was. On one corner of the garden stands the tea house. Since lunchtime was still a bit away, we stopped in to discover that they offer flights of loose leaf teas. Since I had little notion of good tea beyond Celestial Seasonings, I was intrigued.
More important was the preparation ritual, which I clumsily attempted to emulate. Quiet, contemplative, peaceful – looking out across lovely intricate patterns of water and stone – we lost ourselves in tea and serenity for over an hour. Marvelous.
(We ended up checking three small ziplocs of the leftover loose tea. We were half-expecting those aromatic little packets to be confiscated by the TSA, but they made it home.)
Flight #2 – Magnificent Midday Mold
Our walk resumed, our delicious Chinatown lunch was at a pan-Asian bistro called Ping. I had a fabulous kuaytiaw pet pha lo (a Thai-Chinese combo of a duck leg stewed in mushroom broth over fat fresh noodles). The SPinC enjoyed her yam yai (“big salad” in Thai). The food was delicious, but I was mesmerized by the discovery that Ping offered flights of shochu, which I’d always wanted to try.
Shochu is a Japanese alcoholic beverage. Like sake, it’s clear and can be served hot or cold. That’s where the similarities end. Sake is generally made from rice, is brewed in a similar process to beer, and is usually around 13-15% alcohol.
|"I've smelled moldier in my sock drawer!"|
I did a flight of three shochu: one made from rice, another from buckwheat, and a third from molasses. (I think the idea of a moldy drink scared the SPinC.) How were they? None of them will replace wine in my beverage rotation anytime soon. I did like the one from molasses, which maintained a bit of that blackstrap sweetness. Next time I’ll try the sweet potato shochu. It was still a little early in the day with the Pearl’s breweries still in front of us.
Flight #3 – Beer! At last, Beer!
We hoped to hit the Pearl’s “Brewery Blocks” for afternoon flights of local beers. As my beer drinkers know, there’s some good beer from Oregon. Alas, we discovered that, like the Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, “Brewery Blocks” now apparently refers to the former tenants of those buildings. The former brewery spaces are now largely retail spaces and upscale condos. We went looking for ales. We found Anthropologie.This gentrification was nicely done, mind you – but fantasies of little beer tasting rooms were dampened.
Slightly disheartened, we headed back towards the Monaco. Rounding a corner on our circuitous route, we saw a bar-front for “Tugboat Brewing Company,” but our bubbles burst as we discovered the door locked. Frustrated, we turned around and – to our joy and relief – saw a sign for “Bailey’s Taproom” directly across the street. With a giant flatscreen menu of 20 Oregonian beers on tap, we’d struck gold. We shared a flight – a couple of IPAs, a cask bitter, a hefeweizen, and a framboise. Since we’d been doing a limited-carb diet leading up to the vacation, these were the first beers we’d had in a month. I might have given thumbs up to an Old Style at this point. They just tasted GOOD.
Flight #4 – The Plan of Attack Comes Into Focus
Before we headed off to dinner at a highly-recommended-but-ultimately-disappointing meal at a Peruvian place, we stopped at Oregon Wines on Broadway, a wine store and tasting. Wine tasting was heavily on the agenda for the remainder of the trip. We had names of a few places from friends and travel guides, but we weren’t as familiar with the geography, which winery specialized in what style of pinot noir, etc. Eager to learn, we bellied up to the tasting bar and our tastress Emily (who sported some of the most stylish body art you’ll ever see) lined up six Oregon pinots for us from producers large and small.
|This sloth loves Oregon pinot. Really.|