The masters of mixology
The first cocktail party was hosted by a Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. in 1917 in St. Louis, Mo., according to an article that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press at that time. Walsh invited 50 friends to her home for a pre-lunch celebration that "scored an instant hit," and within a few weeks, cocktail parties had become a St. Louis institution.
Cocktails are any alcoholic mixed drink that contains two or more ingredients. Traditionally they include some combination of spirits, sugar, water and bitters — though by the 1860s cocktails also frequently included a liqueur.
Two years after her smash hit, socialites like Walsh would have had to take their revelry underground in speakeasies when Prohibition hit the United States from 1919 to 1933. During those days, with the quality of liquor tanking, many bartenders switched from primarily using whisky in their cocktails to gin, as it was easier to produce without the aging requirement. Honey and fruit juices also became more popular as it masked the foul taste of the booze.
The initial popularity of cocktails peaked in the 1960s, but a 21st-century renaissance — sparked through exploring new ingredients and flavor combinations, as well as the ubiquity of speciality cocktail menus at bars and restaurants — is well underway.
While East Multnomah County doesn't have quite as lengthy of a history backing its cocktail culture, local master mixologists are perfecting mainstay recipes and concocting innovative new drinks of their own.
And what better time is there to wet your whistle than during the dog days of summer?
All in a name
Naming cocktails can be both an art and a science. Sometimes preexisting names already stick, while other times a rebrand is necessary to better capture the essence of the drink. For some, like Troutini's Portland Sunshine martini, the name hits like a flash of inspiration.
"When we got done creating the drink, which tasted great, it had this purplish-grey color," said Elizabeth Baker, managing bartender. "After adding a slice of orange on the rim of the glass, one of our servers realized it reminded them of the sun fighting through a rainy and cloudy Pacific Northwest sky."
Thus a name was given to one of Troutini's more popular summer concoctions, which is made with Crater Lake vodka, Crème de Violette and fresh-squeezed lemon.
Baker has worked at the Troutdale restaurant and bar for more than a year. Her first job as a bartender was during the graveyard shift at a casino in North Tahoe, where she would tend bar from 12:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
"I was really excited for my first day of training, but I was just thrown into it," Baker said. "I ended up self-teaching by reading books on cocktails."
Now with Troutini, Baker is a master at her craft, coming up with many of the cocktails on the menu, including some of the summer drinks currently on the menu.
"Every season we change our menu and try to showcase drinks that use fresh ingredients," she said. "I spend some time researching what drinks will work with the items we have access to, and then use the kitchen staff as guinea pigs."
The bartenders at Troutini said the best summer cocktails are very cold, and feature fruit and citrus flavors, which temper the sting of the alcohol. They are refreshing and colorful, perfect to hold while sitting out on a deck enjoying the afternoon sun.
Any liquor can be used, though vodka is versatile and takes on the aspects of what its mixed in — and you also can't go wrong with rum.
"Rum is great because drinking it makes you feel like a pirate," Baker said with a laugh.
Troutini's Peartini is a mainstay on the menu — a sweet and tart drink to enjoy. It's made with pear and vodkas with fresh squeezed lemon and a pear garnish.
There are also several drinks that utilize the house-infused vodkas that Troutini makes to ensure the best flavors shine through. One example is the Chocolate Blackberry Truffle, which is house-infused chocolate vodka, raspberry liqueur and Kahlua with muddled blackberries.
"A big part of this business is presentation," Baker said. "If a cocktail looks bad no one will want to drink it."
One day a man went into Happy Hour in downtown Gresham and asked for a drink that used grapefruit-flavored gin, something the lounge doesn't have, as it focuses on using fresh fruit. After talking with the customer to figure out what he enjoyed drinking, bartender Randee Hyneman came up with a solution: a whisky cocktail with fresh grapefruit juice — an instant hit.
"When customers come in with requests, you have to be able to create something on the fly," Hyneman said. "It was a drink I never would have thought to make, but I was inspired by his request and by the fresh ingredients we had behind the bar."
Happy Hour seeks to bring the cocktail culture more commonly found in Portland into East Multnomah County. Hyneman, who has 13 years of experience, and Randy Jeffers, who has tended bar for nine years, both help create the delicious concoctions found on the menu.
"The important part of creating a cocktail is playing to flavors people want to drink," Jeffers said. "It's fun out here because people have different tastes and things they like, so we have to find a way to invent the drinks they have in mind."
Local residents soon will be able to taste some of Happy Hour's inventions when the summer cocktail menu is released. The menu will include an iced Spanish coffee, mojito, mai tai, and about half a dozen lemon drops which will feature different flavors such as lavender.
The summer menu will also feature a drink by Hyneman that was created to utilize the fresh produce being grown locally. Her blackberry basil margarita passed the required taste test with flying colors. The drink is sweet with nice herbal tones from the basil, and the contrast between the purple-red and green is beautiful.
"Blackberries are really popular, so I wanted to make a drink with them," she said. "I also love basil, and it's a summer ingredient you don't often see."
In addition to the summer menu there are also the mainstays including the Happy Hibiscus, Happy Hour's most popular cocktail. The drink comprises vodka, fresh-squeezed lemon, hibiscus syrup, and champagne float and is garnished with a hibiscus flower and served in one of Happy Hour's famous stainless steel martini glasses that keep the drink cool.
For the nondrinkers in the group, Happy Hour has several "mocktails" that have all the fun and pageantry of a normal cocktail sans alcohol. The bartenders also enjoy working with customers, so even those with no mixology experience can have a good time and find something they will enjoy.
"We try to be more than accommodating to everyone and help them discover flavors they'll love," Jeffers said.
Visit the locations featured in the story for fun atmosphere, tasty food, and, of course, summer cocktails.
101 W. Historic Columbia River Highway
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
344 N. Main Ave.
3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday
9 a.m. to midnight Saturday
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday