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Kick It Back or Sip It?

Six tips to demystifying spirit tasting



With well over 1,300 craft distilleries in the U.S., craft spirits have the potential to achieve market parity with craft beer, according to research by the American Craft Spirits Association. Bend, a city well known for rocking craft beer, also has a pretty rocking craft spirits industry. There are four distilleries in Bend: Backdrop Distilling, Cascade Alchemy, Crater Lake Spirits and Oregon Spirit Distillers; and one in Sisters, Cascade Street Distillery. You can even hit New Basin Distilling just outside Madras.

What this means: an opportunity to drink even more locally. Many Central Oregonians wouldn't think of ordering a national beer at a restaurant anymore, yet will settle for whatever gin or whiskey the bartender mixes in a cocktail. You're probably thinking that's going to increase the price, but Lexi Hale at Crater Lake Tasting Room says, "Lots of the time the price is the same." So before you start requesting local spirits at the bar, go to a tasting room and discover your favorite local spirits.

My first experiences trying new alcohol usually involved friends talking me into doing shots with them. Maybe this was your intro, too, taking a shot of tequila or Fireball. You slam it and get it done.

The first time I was at a distillery and the tiny shot of liquor was put in front of me I had a dilemma. Sip it like tasting a fine wine or kick it back? Do I need to sniff? Taste and spit? If there aren't other people in the tasting room you don't know what to do because you can't follow anyone's lead.

Of course, you can ask what to do but sometimes you want to seem more in the know. I faked it at first, with little sips that sometimes burned and I'd give what I felt was a clever feedback, "That blooms in the back of my palate." A pretty hoity-toity response, if I do say so myself.

In reality, I wasn't doing it wrong, but I could have done it better and with a bit more confidence.

How to Taste Spirits:

Choose the right order. Start from light to dark with regular spirits such as vodka, gin and whiskey. Then move onto the flavored spirits tasting in order from lightest to sweetest or spiciest.

Smell but don't get burned. Wave your glass a few inches under your nose and take a whiff. If you get too close your nose might tingle and feel a little burn.

Take a small sip. Take that sip with as little air as possible and hold it on your tongue for two seconds. That hits all taste sensors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.

Taste at room temperature then add ice. Tasting the spirits at room temperature allows you to pick up more nuances of flavor. Once you do that you can add ice or a little water, particularly with higher proof spirits, to open them up and make them easier to drink.

Cleanse your palate. To clear your palate between spirits drink water or eat crackers. Tasting rooms usually have both available but sometimes you have to ask.

To spit or not to spit? You have the option to spit out your liquor after tasting, but why? Would you spit out a brownie at a tasting? Uh, hell no! So unless you are really trying not to get a buzz forget about spitting and enjoy your drink.

These tips will help you take your time and think about what you taste, but still, if you want, treat them like a bunch of shots, do it. Once you've tasted the spirits by themselves try them in a cocktail. Some tasting rooms, such as Crater Lake Spirits and Oregon Spirit Distillery, have mini cocktails.

Keep it Safe

It's pretty easy to cumulatively drink quite a bit if you are touring more than one distillery in a day. If you're visiting Bend or want someone else to drive you around Wanderlust Tours offers a Local Pour Craft Beverage Tour. And if you find yourself out there and you didn't plan ahead you can always call a cab or Uber—brand-new to Bend and Redmond.

Want a chance to taste many local spirits in one place?

Check out the Mixology Showcase at the Bite of Bend June 23 & 24.

Bite of Bend Mixology Showcase

Fri., June 23 & Sat., June 24

Noon to 9pm

Downtown Bend

Local Distilleries:

Backdrop Distillers

70 SW Century Dr, #100, Bend (inside GoodLife Brewing)


Cascade Alchemy

20585 Brinson Blvd, Suite 5, Bend


Cascade Street Distillery

261 W Cascade Ave., Sisters


Crater Lake Spirits

1024 NW Bond St., Bend


19330 Pinehurst Rd., Bend


Oregon Spirit Distillers

740 NE 1st St, Bend, OR 97701


New Basin Distillers

2063 NW Andrews Dr., Madras


About The Author

Lisa Sipe

Food Writer | The Source Weekly

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