Friends, I write to you today from the sunny side of the world's largest hangover. You might not know this, but I do NOT drink to excess often -- fewer times than once every one to two years. In fact, since I am around alcohol all the time and work with it so frequently, I don't really drink too much socially at all unless it's somewhere extremely delicious like Mediterranean Exploration Company. But today I'm here to tell you about our tour and tasting at Aria.
Well, it all started when Kayleen, Francesca and I set out for the newly-opened Aria distillery. If you've been following Mint & Mirth for a while, you plausibly already know that Aria Portland Dry Gin is my favorite gin. Not only is it local, but it's got an incredible flavor that works perfectly alone or mixed into punches and cocktails. That's why you often see us serving it at weddings and parties, because it's the best. I'd been wanting to tour the newly-remodeled Aria distillery and tasting room for a while, so we finally hauled up there!
I guess I'll start with a safety alert: before you go to a distillery tasting, the thing to do is to eat food. A thing not to do is drink only chamomile tea all day and then be all, "This tasting will be fun!"
We were greeted by Ryan Csanky, Aria's owner and distiller. He had a big kind smile and welcomed us into his new space. The front room is a splendid, clean tasting room where you can see and sniff all of the ingredients that go into the gin. He also sells a variety of craft bitters and the lovely Bull in China drinkware that I've been coveting for weeks. He told us all about the history of his gin and how he started making it; I won't spoil the surprises, if you want to find out the secrets behind Aria Portland Dry Gin you'll just have to head up to 2304 NW Savier Street and hear it for yourself! But one thing to know is that this gin has won a gold medal in every contest it's been entered into.
Now onto the tasting. A conventional gin with a Northwest accent, Aria is hand-crafted with a mix of 10 botanicals for depth, complexity and balance. There’s a reason the classics never go out of style. Gin like this was MADE for Martinis, Gimlets and Negronis. The taste opens with a botanical flush of juniper that softens and lingers through the mid-palate, with a clean, citrus finish. It's a sublime pairing for our lavender, grapefruit, and rose-based drinks which is why it's so fun to serve in the summer. A typical 750ML bottle is $24 so there's absolutely no reason you should be buying other non-local gins, this stuff is affordable with a capital A!
I'll quote another gin reviewer here, Aaron of TheGinIsIn.com, "If you’re looking for proof that American distillers can hold their own with the elder statesman in the world of gin, pour yourself a cocktail with Aria Portland Dry Gin. Fans of contemporary styles will find it to be a bit more traditional than many other American distilled offerings; however, the balanced attention to juniper means this is far from a one-note juniper bomb. Perhaps the better metaphor is a garden of juniper bushes with a few other flowers added in for color. Highly recommended."
After our tasting, we headed back to the distillery and got a demonstration of the distilling process as well as our first tastes of Ryan's other side projects with the gin. We were delighted to be able to sample batches straight from the barrels, and let me tell you, that stuff is strong! This is not the, shall we say, "softened" gin that's sold in stores. Out of the bottle it's 120 proof aka VERY strong. However, it looks and smells like regular gin, so one could logically drink it with the same expectations of normal 90 proof gin. That would not be an unreasonable mistake. And yet, it would be a mistake. Because 120 proof gin don't lie.
Then Ryan made us an insanely good stirred gin drink with Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao and Scrappy's Bitters, and a pink shaken highball with Campari and some other stuff I don't remember, and I made them extra extra dirty (olive-y) martinis, and it was an all around great time. Ryan is one of the cooler people I have met in the beverage industry.
Let's fast forward to about an hour later, after we'd sampled different batches of gin, stirred gin, straight gin, gin aged in a vermouth barrel. Sooooooo delicious. The whole time I was thinking, "Wow, I LOVE gin!" Sure, I loved gin before, but this stuff was so good and SO nuanced and the flavor profiles and layers were calling to me like sweet sweet sirens from across a gin sea.
I had about four errands and a meeting planned for just after the tasting. You know how I like to stack my schedule. Suddenly those errands seemed very un-doable. Suddenly, a wee voice in my head was saying, "Hmm, I seem to be drunk. I think half of my body is numb."
So we did what any young ladies would do, we packed up and went to P.R.E.A.M. We ordered delicious margarita pizzas and a big salad on the double. That's when I made my second mistake. I ordered one more drink at P.R.E.A.M. (below, left, my undoing).
And that was my undoing. Next thing I know, I'm sitting in P.R.E.A.M. just thinking about my life and my new found love of and obsession with gin, and trying really hard not to fall out of my chair. Every bite of delicious pizza was just, "Don't fall, don't fall, don't fall like an idiot." When I realized I'd reached the point in my life where the pizza was more likely to come up my throat than go down it, I politely excused myself and crawled to the car. After about five thousand years, I made it to that lovely passenger seat that had been calling my name, reclined, and closed my eyes. This is why you always keep a spare blanket in the car. Just in case!
As I waited for poor, sober, now-dining-alone Francesca, bless her heart, she finished up our meal and had a nice conversation with the bartender and covered for me by saying, "Oh, my friend had to go," instead of, "Oh, my friend is dying right now and didn't want to expel pizza crust all over your establishment." She even paid with my credit card that gets all the points for dining out and remembered to Venmo me. Francesca is a road warrior for life.
So she drove us to her place, and at that point we were both thinking I'd just rest up a couple hours at her place and then head home. It was still pretty early, I think about 8:30 p.m. Unfortunately, at this point, my lovely body decided to start digesting everything I'd enjoyed this day, just to recap that's one pot of chamomile tea, a bit of pizza, and around 18-20 servings of gin. What follows can only be described as The Night of the Long Knives. Essentially, I vomited my entire body (and soul) at Francesca's. For HOURS. Honestly, I'm surprised I didn't throw up an organ. But the good news is, no need to go to a hospital to get my stomach pumped! Apparently I can do that all by myself. I win.
As a final gift, I'm leaving you with a list of the best hangover breakfasts in Portland, as crowdsourced from my friends:
This is a cautionary tale and, if you can believe it, wasn't sponsored by Aria. : ) But I stand by my claim that Aria Portland Dry Gin is the most enjoyable gin in Portland. As long as you don't enjoy too much.
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