Since the purpose of this Portland Spirit Examiner ethernet scribbling is to focus on the incredibly vibrant alcohol beverage scene in this singular spot called Portland, Oregon, with occasional forays into other cities, I rarely turn the recording camera on myself. This is the exception, a liquid selfie of sorts, a picture of me if I were a boilermaker.
I try to keep my wits about me when scavenging for subjects for articles. I follow my own rules of always being respectful of the bartenders and service people that make hospitality, and especially liquid hospitality, work so well here. I don’t ask, and neither do I ever expect free drinks, although bartenders who love what they’re doing will often yelp “Hey, you gotta try this new fill-in-the-blank we got in!”, and I graciously accept those in the same spirit they are offered.
I look for the good things, the positive things, about the business and the people within it, and shout those out when I have the opportunity. So I’m not some pumped-up self-appointed crusading journalist, just a guy who enjoys what he’s writing about and wants to use a small and scratchy hand-held digital metaphorical megaphone to draw attention to good bartenders and good drinks.
All this is to say that my finest reward is when someone pays attention to what I write. But today I had an even greater reward, one that I’m beaming at as we speak.
This time it’s personal.
The Bit House Saloon named a drink after me! First time that’s ever happened. I think it’s a reward for all the times I’ve manfully held up the bar from the other side. But short of pulling a Sallie Field “They like me. They really like me.” I can say quite honestly that it is an honor and a privilege to be on such a menu in such a place. So thanks to Impresario Jesse Card and the crew at the Bit House Saloon.
And what, pray tell, is my eponymous drink?
The “Uncle Hoke” is one of several boilermakers—the Bit House is the kind of place that lists an entire category of boilermakers!—but it’s a boilermaker of a different sort. Jesse Card read my gushing paean to Bigallet China-China, a deliciously bitter orange liqueur, and the extolled virtues of using it in an ersatz Biere Picon. So the “Uncle Hoke” is a shot of Bigallet China-China, followed by a tall glass of…not beer, but dry cider!
Ah, the simplicity of a two-ingredient drink, with the complex surprise of two unusual but compelling ingredients! Brilliant. The Bigallet China-China is a nicely balanced, restrained bitter orange liqueur made on the slopes of the Alps in the French Savoie, not as challenging as full-blown amaro, and ideal for the Biere Picon, which is a shot and a beer with the shot in the beer, simple as that.
But with the boilermaker, the drinker gets to control the mix rather than the bartender. And subbing in cider changes the game entirely. Cider is growing in popularity and diversity now; not just sweet stuff, but delectably crisp and dry ciders from all over the globe. Using cider for a chaser is a great idea; it provides a light, lively fruit chaser that is not sweet. It also gives you a beverage that won’t bloat you up as beer can do.
Even better, when a bar companion sampled my Bigallet shot, she was so enthralled with it she asked the bartender to come up with something that had Bigallet and sparkling wine in it. So Brian Gilbert did, whipping up a gin sour with Bigallet and a splash of champagne. It was excellent, and aforesaid companion is going back to California to search out some Bigallet for her cupboard.
So now Jesse Card, Brian Gilbert and I have all done our part to promote good drinking. And I get to brag incessantly about being not-quite-famous with a drink named after me. I figure the brief flurry of attention is likely more from me than anyone else, and is so fleeting anyway that it will be gone in a blink.
So thanks, Bit House Saloon! I’ll be in for my next boilermaker soon, so better stock up on the Bigallet.
(Oh, one other thing: When you order the “Uncle Hoke”, the “China-China” is pronounced “keena-keena”. It doesn’t come from China: the name is derived from the primary bittering agent, cinchona bark, which gives us quinine. Europeans have always been wild about the stimulating powers of bittered spirits; Americans are just now figuring out how good they can be.)