House Spirits Tour and Ouzo

Posted: May 30, 2010 by bacchation in Liquor/Liqueur
Tags: , , , , ,

When you are in Portland, and it is May, you are unsure when you wake up if you should be headed to the beach, the ski slopes, or a bar for the day.  This being the wettest May in over a decade, we hedged our bets and congregated for some distillery tours.  Even if the rain hadn’t rolled in, this turned out to be a much better choice than laying face first in slushy snow or getting that ever popular first lobster sunburn of the year.  As for hitting a bar… why sit in a dark room watching the rainfall through the window when you can instead enter drinkers Valhalla and drink right at the distillery?

House Spirits was the first stop on our tour, and boy did we pick a great place to start.  Unaware that distillery tours require an appointment, we schlepped our way into the Apothecary having absolutely no idea what we were about to experience.  The guy working the counter (so sorry, didn’t catch the name) was eager to get us going on some samples, but ran into the back to see if someone was around that might be able to take us on a tour unannounced.  With just enough time having passed to sample their vodka, one of the distillers, Christian Krogstad, appeared to spirit us away through another door into their distillery.

It is likely not shocking to anyone who visits our home that I am a bit obsessed with all that is alcohol.  As a veteran homebrewer and meadmaker (200 bottles were just enough to give as favors to the guests at our wedding) the chance to learn about distillation was probably long overdue.  Christian actually apologized saying he didn’t usually do tours, and that he tended to ramble a bit… there is a chance that I had just found my new hero.  I will at this point openly thank the other people in our group that went on the tour with us, I asked about 537% more questions than anyone else likely wanted to hear answers to, but Christian was ABSOLUTELY the exact person that I needed to talk to, he knows a dangerous number of facts and was able to explain the how and why of everything in terms everyone was able to understand.

We have a ton of photos (thanks Amanda) and I am not going to plug up this review with a ton of them, but here is a great shot of House’s copper pot still with guest testers Al and Amanda to the left, and Lynn on the right to show scale.

Attempting to show restraint, I am going to save the other photos to backbone future posts about the great products that we sampled and purchased at House Spirits.  For now, let us move on to the Ouzo!

Ouzo is one of the more exotic spirits, something that almost nobody has in their bar, unless you are Greek or a sous chef for Kat Cora, and to be honest, you are not likely to find too many drinks in your bar books that call for it as a drink component, but do NOT make the mistake of passing this one over, it is essential to anyone delving into to the world of aperitifs, it exists to go into any dish with fennel, baked fish, or lamb, and should you be a fan of licorice, will probably become your favorite new sipper.

Anethol is something you have never heard of but it is responsible for what is known as “the ouzo effect.”  This essential oil found in ouzo (and absinthe) is soluble in alcohol but not water, and when water is mixed into ouzo, it clouds the liquid as it comes out of suspension.  The more technical term for this is louching (note: slouching may occur after too many ouzos, but this is not the same thing).

Does House’s ouzo louch?  It does, with the best of them.

My bottle of Oregon Ouzo is number 990/1000 and hails from the first batch produced  at House Spirits.  Clocking in at 96 proof (text book for an ouzo) it is flavored in the simple tradition of anise seed and star anise, nothing more, nothing less.  It is crisp neat, aromatic on rocks, and beautifully fragrant mixed with water.  Slightly astringent on the tongue it wraps your mouth in a warm blanket of licorice with none of the burn one would expect from a 96 proof liquor.  There are only a few libations that actually make your tongue crave another pull off the bottle, this being one of them.  I literally can not bring myself to put the cork back in it and set it down as I write this.

Bottled in 375ml “medicine bottles” which perfectly embody the private release nature of these spirits, Oregon Ouzo is labeled simply and sealed with a black wax covered stopper.  Here is an image of them all lined up behind the counter, right next to the fist pumping cat (which by the way was an absolutely essential resident of the wall).

What can you do with ouzo?  If you are Greek you would never think of doing anything with it but drink it straight.  If you have one of those fancy water droppers for absinthe you could slowly dilute it with ice water and enjoy the ouzo effect.  Most drinks that you see with it are shooters, the TKO (tequila, Kahlua, ouzo in equal parts) being the most popular, but if you are looking for a nice sipping cocktail, here is one that will take you a long way.

Appolo Cooler

1 and 1/2 oz. Metaxa Amphora Greek Brandy

1 tsp. Oregon Ouzo

4 oz. Cock and Bull Ginger Beer

1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

In rocks glass, mix lemon and brandy.

Add ice, and top with ginger beer.

Float ouzo and garnish with a lemon twist.

If you are looking for a mixer anise liquor, there are many that are far cheaper to be had where the subtle flavors and balance of the spirit are not important.  Think of Oregon Ouzo the same way you do Grand Mariner and place it where it really shows, right on top.

At $20.00 for a 375ml bottle some may balk, but remember, this is a liquor that isn’t poured into fruit juice an ouce at a time like some mixer vodka or gin, this is something that you will either sip very slowly at your next Greek wedding,   dilute to 1/2 to 1/3 strength with ice water with your highbrow friends, or you will be enjoying it a few drops at a time as a finish on your favorite dishes like a nice aged balsamic.


Five tasters sampled the ouzo, but I am the only one reviewing it.  I love anise flavors, if you do not, your numbers will be very different from mine, as I am a fan, this one truly shines.

House Spirits Oregon Ouzo – Portland, OR – $20.00 / 375ml

Sippability – 9

Mixability – 8.5

Culinary Value – 8.5

Cost to Value ratio – 9.5

Worth Buying Again – 9.5

Composite – 9 Excellent

Visit House Spirits!

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  1. Amanda says:

    I would have say the sippabillity of the ouzo was a 9.5 and only a 9.5 as I could see it may not be for everyone.

    The worth of purchasing I would review at 9.0, once again not sure it would be for everyone but could see sharing it at a gathering with rave reviews!

  2. Landis Jurd says:

    I love Ouzo!! Wish I could have joined you!

    (Psssst….Ryan, see I visited!)

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