What’s your longest stay at a hotel?
In April, I spent 10 days at The Benson Hotel in downtown Portland, and I did something I’ve never done before in a hotel room. I put my clothes in the drawers. Jeff made me do it, saying my suitcase would get too out of control if I lived out of it for 10 days. He was right, but, still, my clothes … in not-my drawers? I’ve always thought that was creepy.
But then The Benson started to feel comfortable — like, I kind of felt like I lived there — and I wasn’t so uncomfortable with the idea of my clothes in strange drawers. The Benson was delightful: Old and grand (check out that chandelier) but not stuffy (a cuckoo clock hangs in the bar). Cozy (fireplace in the lobby) but cool (the lobby bar is a destination for locals).
The Benson is pet friendly, which means I saw a lot of cute pups like this guy in the lobby. I think the hotel should make a coffee table book called, “The Dogs of The Benson.”
So, why 10 days in Portland? Jeff and I helped the American Distilling Institute put on its annual conference for craft distillers. It’s like any other trade show, but with moderate day drinking and drinking-like-there’s-no-tomorrow evening drinking.
Judging of spirits is a big part of the conference. This year, judging was open to whiskey and brandy, and more than 100 spirits were evaluated by eight judges. Craft distilleries in the U.S. are small and fairly young, so there was a lot of questionable entries. Why would the distillers even bother to enter a mediocre — or just plain bad — product? Because the judges written comments are valuable for tweaking the spirit into something delicious and marketable. They evaluate everything from taste to packaging, which is my favorite part. A few that caught my eye:
The staging area for the judging looked like a small liquor store. There were bottles everywhere. It was so interesting to see the variety of bottle shapes and labels. I’ll admit, I do judge a liquor by its cover.
The overall winner in the whiskey category came from McMenamins Edgefield Distillery, a Portland distillery that we got to tour as part of the conference. McMenamins rehabs old buildings into hotels and breweries. Edgefield Distillery used to be a poor farm where people were sent to work rather than collect welfare. Now, it’s a distillery, winery, brewery and hotel. Artists in residence give the property an offbeat feel.
Edgefield was, say, the Disneyland of distilleries compared to a handful of other places that we toured. Stone Barn Brandy Works is a smallish one-room warehouse in downtown Portland where employees peel apples by hand for the apple brandy. Sebastian, the owner wearing the plaid shirt below, told the crowd: “There must be a better way, but I can’t afford it yet.”
After the conference wrapped up, we had a few days to explore Portland and, what else — drink some more. We grabbed a beer at this low-key brewery called Tugboat:
After shopping on Saturday afternoon, we ducked inside Clyde Common, the restaurant/bar attached to the Ace Hotel. Naturally, it has that same industrial-polished look going on. We sampled a barrel-aged Negroni, which means that the whole cocktail, alcohol and mixers, sat in a Tuthilltown whiskey barrel for two months. It’s the crimson drink below:
Am I losing you? I’m losing you. We’re almost done. I’ll use simple phrases from now on to sum up our trip.
Stumptown Coffee = big deal in Portland. Delicious.
Food trucks. Porchetta sandwich. Amazing.
Nature, including waterfalls. Gorgeous.
In short, Portland is every bit as awesome as everyone says it is.