Christa was down in Portland last weekend (with Christopher, to watch Lovecraft films at the Hollywood Theater ’cause she’s a geek ;)), and visited Vinn, the newest addition to Distillery Row, while she was there. Vinn makes outstanding spirits in the Chinese tradition from family recipes, as well as some vodka. Read on for some tasting notes and cocktail recipes based on their off-the-beaten-path offerings.
We chatted with Michelle, one of the proprietoresses, when we stopped by to do a tasting, and she gave us the background on the spirits they make. We were particularly taken with the baijiu, which is sweet, creamy, fairly neutral spirit reminiscent of shochu, and their mijius, which are like more acidic cousins of sherry based on rice wine fortified with rice spirits. Their Ice mijiu is based on brown rice while their Fire mijiu is based on black rice.
- Nose: Malty, earthy, little bit of vegetable sweetness like baked butternut squash, faint miso.
- Palate: Smooth, creamy mouth feel. Sweet creaminess at the front, little bite of alcohol on the mid-palate followed by a slight miso flavors. The finish is sweet and a little cereal along with some subtle herbal notes like a restrained gin.
- Nose: Grape must, sherry, apple cider vinegar, yeast. Surprising for a spirit made with brown rice.
- Palate: Strong hit of acid to start that persists throughout and underpins everything, followed by sherry notes and a little bit of raisin. Then toasty rice starting at the mid-palate and into the finish. More acid at the end of the mid-palate, then creamy, toasty cereal like oatmeal with raisins. Hint of maltiness in the aftertaste.
- Nose: Blackberry, smoke, balsamic vinegar, little bit of brine-y meatiness.
- Palate: Cooked fruit at the front, like blackberry jam. Roasted meat, brine and smoke on the mid-palate, followed by a nice hit of acid. Tar on the finish (not unpleasant!), like the way hot asphalt smells. Subtle malty notes on the aftertaste along with a little bit of honey.
Houji (an interesting play on a Kamikaze)
- 1 1/2 oz baijiu
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/2 oz Cointreau
- 1 tsp simple
Shake ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a lime twist.
- Nose: Creamy orange, lime, faint miso with a bit of cereal earthiness.
- Palate: Earthy cereal to start, nice bright sweet orange and lime on the middle. Tannic bite at the end as well as some lime zest. Really interesting but light flavor of sweet roasted root vegetables along with some lime on the finish for Christa. Sweet and bitter lime on the finish for Shaun. Nice savory earthiness balances the sweetness throughout the cocktail.
- 2 oz rye
- 2 oz Mijiu Fire
- 1/4 oz simple
- 1 dash Angostura
- 1 dash grapefruit bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into a glass. Enjoy!
- Nose: Rye spice, dark sherry, aromatic oak, balsamic vinegar, a hint of smoke and meat.
- Palate: Blackberry and really nice caramel from the rye at the front. Toasty cereal and a little bit of smoke on the mid-palate. Dry, hot (in an alcohol, not spice sort of way) and spicy rye finish. Smoky, bramble-y aftertaste.
All of the Vinn spirits were quite tasty, and we’re particularly looking forward to trying different drinks substituting the mijius in place of sherry or vermouth. The wine-y profile is similar, but they are a bit more savory and acidic than the others. The baijiu in turn should work great as an interesting substitute in vodka cocktails to bring in some sweetness and earthiness. If you are lucky enough to live in the Portland vicinity, we recommend picking some up, or keep an eye out for when they get distributed to a liquor store near you.