The concept for Scotch Lodge, the new whisky-centric bar in Portland, Oregon, and one of our 2020 Imbibe 75 Places to Watch, was inspired by a cocktail of the same name—a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, yielding a strong but smooth sipping experience. And while a name like Scotch Lodge may conjure images of wingback chairs, cigar smoke, and plaid—the bar finds similar balance with an approachable drink menu that showcases the bar’s 1,000-plus whisky selection. “The concept aims to reduce stereotypes that can, and do, surround the category,” says owner and beverage director Tommy Klus, who several years ago helped open the similarly focused Multnomah Whiskey Library. “We wanted to make it fun, conversational, and showcase the variety that can exist not only in distilleries but in flavor profiles, cask types and strengths. By using it in cocktails, it allows us to further explore that.”
It’s an approach that results in unexpected creations like the Treasure Island, which, while not exactly a tiki drink, swings bright and tropical with a Caribbean Cask Single Malt, Scottish gin, lemon and apricot. “The Treasure Island is very much in the spirit of a cocktail that would have had a sugar cane base,” says bar manager Aaron Zieske. “The Caribbean Cask gives so much of that tropical flavor profile to the whisky.”
Meanwhile, the eye-catching Queen of the Damned gets its vibrant color and flavor from hibiscus paired with a spirited base of rye whiskey, cognac and amaro. “Hibiscus certainly carries its weight in a cocktail,” says Zieske. “In this case, think tart, almost cranberry-like flavors working alongside the spice of the rye.”
Scotch Lodge’s versatile, and sometimes unexpected, flavor pairings are also highlighted in some classic riffs, like the Burnt Orange Sherry Cobbler, which bolsters the low-abv cocktail with a pour of Japanese whisky complemented by the juice of grilled oranges. The No Sleep Till is a twist on the Brooklyn cocktail, which doubles down on earthy, smoky notes with mezcal and scotch, complemented by the bittersweet herbal flavors of Amer and a coriander-infused vermouth.
Though Klus says the menu will have some “seasonal ambitions” that highlight the Pacific Northwest, that doesn’t mean a complete menu rebuild each time. “I like to have repeat cocktails on the list as guests come to love and expect them—for that reason of familiarity.” However, special limited offerings will be created courtesy of the bar’s collection of vintage spirits, such as Amer Picon, Grand Mariner, Chartreuse and Campari, all sourced with the intention of creating cocktails like the “Dusty” Nail with 1960’s-era Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky and Drambuie circa the ’50s. “We like cocktails that highlight the ingredients used and don’t stray too far from the raw materials,” says Zieske. “We look for a certain profile that works best for the concept, and with whisky specifically, there are many expressions and directions you can go. If you want something floral and bright, grassy and herbal or something rich, peated and complex, you can find all of that in single malt.”
Beyond cocktails, the bar’s whisky selection is impressive in its breadth, especially given the space restraints. “There’s a preference for single malt here, but we’ve acquired a lot of harder-to-find bourbons and ryes, as well as Irish, Japanese, and other whiskies from various parts of the world,” says Klus. “Not as much as some other whisky bars, but we do have it where it counts.”
Taken as whole, the beverage program expertly highlights how versatile the whisky category can be. “It can be an expensive category to jump into, and without any real base it’s hard to know where to start,” says Klus. “People enjoy whisky on many different levels and we wanted a place to bring that together by creating an environment that wasn’t pretentious or stuffy but rather was welcoming and hospitality driven.”
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