Some of the best bartenders are really interesting people. In addition to being the originator of the Bone Luge trend, Portland, Oregon-based Jacob Grier is known for creating beer cocktails (he’s working on a book of them), his championing of the Scandinavian spirit aquavit, and his cocktail blog, Liquidity Preference. He tended bar at Metrovino for three years until it closed, and now he’s at The Hop & Vine, a bar with a beer and wine bottleshop attached to it.
But he’s also a writer, a magician, and an expert on tobacco policy and the emerging debate around e-cigarettes. He’s worked at both think tanks and coffee shops. And he’s been blogging for ten years—he calls it “retirement age in blog years.”
I’ve been reading Jacob’s blog for years but we started corresponding recently over our mutual interest in aquavit. He’s organized Portland’s Aquavit Week for the second year, this time enlisting eight local establishments to participate in addition to Hop & Vine. He’s a very busy man, but he was gracious enough to answer some questions and share some cocktail recipes via e-mail.
You moved to Portland from Washington, D.C., but you’re from Texas, right? How did you find your way to Portland?
Right. I was born and raised in Spring, a suburb north of Houston, and then headed to Nashville for college at Vanderbilt. I moved to D.C. thinking I wanted to work in think tanks, but after a few years realized I would probably never be happy working in an office. Portland’s vibrant food and drink scene, abundance of coffee shops, and laid-back vibe gave it a lot of appeal coming from D.C., and I’ve greatly enjoyed spending the past half-decade here.
Tell me about the genesis of Bone Luge. I always thought of it as a spirits thing but you’ve used sherry, right?
It was born in a moment of alcohol-fueled inspiration during the first Portland Cocktail Week at Laurelhurst Market. My friends and I were eating bone marrow and drinking tequila, when I jokingly suggested drinking from the bones. The bartender insisted on making it happen, which he soon regretted as the practice spread to the dining room! The owner of Metrovino embraced it and we put it on the menu.
The next year we started trying to get the Bone Luge to catch on, just to see if we could. It’s kind of pulling people’s leg about the trendiness of the food and drink world, especially with the rise of social media, but it’s also really fun and delicious. I love that it’s still going strong. Anthony Bourdain doing one on No Reservations was the pinnacle of it.
We originally drank tequila, which does work well, but sherry and other fortified wines are my favorite way to go. They’re not as hot and go well with the marrow. We also did a mix of Altos Tequila and PX sherry for a Spirited Dinner at Tales of the Cocktail, and that worked really well too.
You’re also known for your beer cocktails. What makes a good beer cocktail?
It’s all about understanding the beer and how to use it as an ingredient. For flips, big, rich porters and stouts are fantastic. IPAs can be used to add just a little bitterness to Tiki cocktails. And right now I’m doing a lot of experimenting with old beer drinks from the 1800s, in which malty, less hoppy English style ales are often served hot and with spices.
For my most successful I’d have to pick the Portland Rickey, which was selected as the official drink of Tales of the Cocktail for 2013. Here’s the recipe:
1.5oz Martin Miller’s gin
.75oz fresh lemon juice
.25oz Green Chartreuse
4oz saison or biere de garde style beer
half a squeezed lemon for garnish
Combine the gin, Chartreuse, lemon juice, and beer in an ice-filled highball glass. Drop the squeezed half lemon into the drink. Gently stir.
I drink a lot of Russian Imperial Stout. I love the heavy, bittersweet flavor. Any cocktail recipes for Imperial Stouts?
Maybe the Averna Stout Flip?
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 whole egg
Shake, serve up, garnish with nutmeg.
Speaking of cocktails, I read about the Black Glove in the Wall Street Journal. Are there any other (non-beer) cocktails you’re known for? Have you seen your cocktails on other bars’ menus?
My Shift Drink shows up every once in a while, which is very gratifying. It was the best seller at Metrovino and now it’s doing well at Hop & Vine too. It was meant to bring together the things bartenders drink after work:
.75oz lemon juice
.75oz ginger syrup
.5oz Fernet Branca
Shake, serve up, and express a lemon peel over the drink.
How did you get so involved in tobacco policy and e-cigarette regulation issues? Are you a smoker?
I started getting into tobacco policy at about the same time a friend of mine introduced me to cigars. I don’t smoke often, but I do enjoy them occasionally. This happened to be at about the same time smoking bans were beginning to spread, and I watched some of my favorite places lose their right to host smokers, over the objections of the owners, the patrons, and usually the staff as well.
Initially I came into the issue from a strictly rights perspective, but the more I dug into it the more I realized that the science used to justify the increasingly intrusive smoking regulations was very shoddy and exaggerated dangers that the press then reported uncritically. That gave me a lot of material to write about.
I have no personal interest in e-cigarettes—to me they’re the flavored vodka of the tobacco world—but I have seen friends successfully quit or substantially reduce their smoking by switching to them. I think they hold great promise as a way for getting smokers to quit, and the objective evidence for this is starting to build. I’d love to see a world where cigarettes mostly disappear, most habitual smokers switch to e-cigarettes, and premium tobacco continues to be available for occasional smokers.
Unfortunately that’s an uphill battle, depending largely on what the FDA does. The law giving the FDA authority over tobacco was advocated by Philip Morris and the current director of tobacco policy there comes straight to the job from consulting for pharmaceutical companies. FDA regulation has so far protected cigarettes and pharmaceutical nicotine products and is a very real threat to premium tobacco and e-cigs.
You’ve been a big booster of aquavit as a bartender and a blogger. How did you first discover aquavit? Was Portland’s Krogstad the first American aquavit brand?
I think Krogstad was the first and it’s the one that introduced me to the spirit. I’ve been a big fan of Krogstad since the beginning, although when it’s the first aquavit that people try I think they can get the mistaken impression that all aquavit is very anise-forward, and anise is a divisive flavor. One of the reasons I like aquavit so much in cocktails is that you have so many different botanical profiles to play with. If someone doesn’t like the anise in Krogstad, they may like the cumin in North Shore, the dill in Gamle Ode, or the caraway in Aalborg.
What’s your favorite way to drink aquavit?
I like it neat, for aged aquavit, or chilled from the freezer for unaged. For cocktails, I like mixing it in place of gin and seeing what happens. Negroni- and Collins-style drinks seem to work well.
How did Aquavit Week come about?
I joked on Twitter last year that I’d acquired all the aquavits produced in the U.S.—not much of an accomplishment since there were only three producers at the time. But the number kept growing, and I realized there was a lot of room for this spirit to grow if we could get more people interested in it. I love it, both neat and in cocktails, so it’s for me it’s a way to introduce more people to it and hopefully increase the size of the market.
Right now Oregon is one of the few states that has enough aquavit to make this worthwhile, but next year I hope to plan ahead and make it bigger. I’d really like it if the Nordic producers would start sending more our way too. As you know, Linie is the last one left standing on the current market, and there’s so much we’re missing!
Having spent three years working with Bols Genever, I know a thing or two about promoting esoteric Northern European spirits! It takes education, but once people get it, they can become very enthusiastic about it. I think there’s a lot of room for growth here.
Check out Hop and Vine’s Aquavit Week Menu on Jacob’s blog. And here’s one more recipe, the Bob Dillin’:
1.5oz Gamle Ode Dill aquavit
scant .75oz Genki-Su cranberry drinking vinegar
.75oz simple syrup
.5oz lemon juice
2 dashes Elmegirab’s Dandelion and Burdock bitters
Lemon peel, for garnish