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Captivating Cocktails: #8 at the Expatriate bar in Portland

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The run of brilliantly conceived and executed cognac cocktails continues with a recently sampled delight from the talented and imaginative Kyle Linden Webster at his Expatriate Bar in Portland.

Webster is known for approaching his craft with uncompromising precision. For him every cocktail has a context, and he imposes exacting standards on what he utilizes and how he uses it.

Although he can master every style, Webster’s particular forté is the ‘pre-Prohibition’ style of cocktail, the revered booze-forward classic style that focuses more on the expression of the spirit base than the additions. Where many cocktails nowadays feature all sorts of added concoctions---tinctures, fruit juices, exotic oils and essences---to define the drink, Webster more often than not mixes different spirits and wines together to make his cocktails admittedly powerful yet complex and dazzling in their collective appeal.

His yearn for precision and excellence also means he is seldom satisfied or complacent. As example, the highly-praised Guillotine at St. Jack transitioned to Expatriate, but only after it was modified by Webster to be closer to perfection. What was the change? He replaced the Cointreau triple sec with the richer, spicier and more complex Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao because it married well with the vanilla/molasses of the Jamaican rum, added a scintilla more weight, boosted the spice, and slightly lessened the sweetness. Thus the Guillotine became the Expatriate Shanghai.

Webster is fond of cognac, so there’s almost always a good cognac cocktail or three on his list. Currently one of the bar favorites is the #8, another in that boozy style that succeeds by blending some rather unexpected spirits with Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac to magnificent effect.

The Pierre Ferrand 1840 Grande Champagne, conceived by Alexandre Gabriel and bar guru David Wondrich, is blended to hearken back to the 1800s style of cognac, a Three Star that is more rustic, more earthy and more attuned to mixability than savoring in snifters (although that’s certainly possible as well). It’s also released at 45% alcohol by volume, rather than a more standard 40%.

Webster blends the Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac with George Dickel Rye whiskey, Dolin Génépy des Alpes (an herbal/floral liqueur reminiscent of Chartreuse), Cocchi di Turino sweet vermouth, and Regan’s #6 orange bitters and serves it up in a coupe glass. Since each ingredient contains alcohol in varying amounts, this is a heady drink, but the interplay of fruit, light sweetness, bitterness, spice and herbs, mingling with the brandy and whiskey, gives a complexity and resonance that engages all the senses.

In other words, this is an entirely captivating cocktail.

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