Despite traveling all over the world to taste and write about cocktails, up until now I haven’t written much about the cocktail scene in my hometown: Portland, Oregon.
Portland has a fantastic food and beverage scene, and I feel lucky to never want for choice when it comes to snagging an expertly prepared drink.
But for all of the really good bars that are here, there are only a handful of spots that truly embrace the inventiveness of many of the bars recognized in the top 100 in the world.
While there are certainly a handful of bars that have made a name for themselves by focusing simply on creating solid cocktails, without going over the top in terms of preparation and special ingredients (Satan’s Whiskers in London and Attaboy in NYC come to mind), most of the top 100 create things that go a bit beyond simply creating a delicious classic cocktail.
They’re able to give you flavors that you’ve never tasted and would never expect in a drink.
And when it comes to bars in Portland? Deadshot is hands down the best in the city at embodying that side of the cocktail world.
Why Deadshot is So Unique in Portland?
Part of the reason that I think Deadshot is so unique in the city, comes down to the background of it’s owner, Adam Robinson.
Adam spent a year as bar manager at another one of my favorites in Portland, Rum Club, before taking off for Taiwan where he spent a couple years as bar manager at Ounce Taipei.
It’s that global experience that I think has made Deadshot different when compared to other bars in the city.
When he returned to Portland, Deadshot started out as a Monday night popup. I tried to get there for months – yet never made it.
So when the bar opened, I was stoked.
First off, many of his ingredients have an Asian flare that you simply don’t see at many other places in town. Bitter melon, galangal and to a more common extent pandan, are all featured in drinks on the current menu.
But being exposed to something wildly different than what we see in the US, and specifically Portland, has allowed him to create something truly unique.
I’ve found that for all of the great bars in the US, it’s usually the European and Asian bars that really take things a step further in terms of uniqueness in their drinks. So it’s nice to see a little of that here at home.
The Drinks at Deadshot
Ok, I’ve talked a lot about the drinks being unique – but what does that look like?
The Crystal Daiquiri
For starters, let’s look at one of their signature drinks: the Crystal Daiquiri.
Globally we’ve seen a trend of more scientifically inclined bar tenders to use a rotovap or centrifuge to clarify drinks that you’d never expect to be clear. I had a clear old fashioned at the Artesian in London, and a clear Manhattan at 69 Colbrooke Row.
But the very first clarified drink I had? The crystal daiquiri at Deadshot.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, you can take say, lime juice and put it in a centrifuge to separate out the juice and the pulp.
This ends up giving you clear lime juice, and allows you to make a drink you otherwise wouldn’t be able to easily create.
The crystal daiquiri messes with your head the first time you taste it. It essentially looks like a coupe glass full of water, but it tastes like a complex sipping daiquiri – a little reminiscent of a ti’ punch.
The drink has strong flavors of Martinique Rhum, and is stronger and much more dry than your typical classic daiquiri.
This makes for a wildly unique drinking experience, and a great introduction to the bar.
Deadshot Clarified Milk Punch
On my most recent trip I had what might have taken the crown of my favorite drink I’ve had there: the clarified milk punch.
Again, clear, but with this time a slight hint of tea layered on top of the drink added just enough color to intrigue you.
In my review of Danico in Paris I talked about how pandan was a trend I was seeing a lot of in the cocktail world, and personally I love it.
But I have yet to see much of it in Portland. Well this drink was what I needed. Strong notes of pandan on the nose are complimented by rice and cinnamon toast crunch.
Yes, they took my favorite childhood breakfast cereal and somehow infused it not only into a drink, but into a clear drink.
And it works. It works so well.
You get a hint of subtle sherry and tequila on the backend, as well.
For me this is truly one of those drinks that I wanted to nurse all night, and order another immediately after finishing.
Casper’s Ghost Coctkail
Some of my favorite drinks are ones that evolve from smell, to sip, to finish.
The ones that create a distinctly different experience within each sip.
The Unexpected Negroni at Dante in NYC, or the Hurr at Little Red Door in Paris, are two of my favorites that exemplify this.
And my other favorite drink on the menu at Deadshot, Casper’s Ghost, fits right along with those.
One of the originals on the menu, and one I imagine will be a mainstay, well, forever – it’s one of the most unique and interesting drinks in Portland.
As long as you like, bitter.
Like really bitter.
The drink looks a bit like a daiquiri or a Last Word at first glance, it’s a beautiful shade of green and served up in a coupe glass.
It smells sweet, and for a couple seconds on first sip it tastes sweet as well.
But then it hits you: the bitter melon.
An ingredient he brought to the bar from his experience in Taiwan, and one I’ve never seen used in any other cocktail.
The strong bitter favor lingers forever, but has a sweetness to it, that helps make it a wonderfully complex cocktail.
It’s an acquired taste, but if you were to ask me what my top 3 cocktails in Portland were, this was always on the list. Although after trying that milk punch for the first time – it may take it’s spot as my favorite at the bar.
Why I Love Deadshot So Much
Every drink at Deadshot is wonderfully prepared and crafted.
Guaranteed there will be a drink or two that isn’t your cup of tea. For instance the Who is Jack Nance featuring mustard, sesame, and egg yolk among other things – might be a bit of a turn off (but I’m willing to bet you’ll love it if you give it a chance).
But this is exactly what I think makes a bar great.
A place that is willing to push the boundaries and create drinks that are intriguing, will appeal to different palates and styles, and is unexpected.
They do the same with the food, which is excellent. The cornbread madelines are one of the best bites of food in town, and the “nachos”, while not really nachos, are wonderful.
Bottom line, Deadshot is the place I recommend most often when someone truly passionate about cocktails comes to town.
If there were any knock on it, it’d probably be that the space itself isn’t anything to write home about. I remember walking into Coupette in London, and saying “there is no way this will live up to expectations as one of the 20 best bars in the world,” simply because the bar itself was very pedestrian.
Then I had the drinks, and was floored.
Deadshot is a little bit like that. The space is nice, but there’s nothing overly memorable about it.
But once you try the drinks?
You’ll be a fan for life.