You can’t make a list of the city’s best cocktails without talking to OG, put-Portland-on-the-map, barrel-aged-his-drinks-before-it-was-cool bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. He’s famous for soverymany drinks, so I couldn’t wait to see what he would choose as his finest. The answer: an Amaretto Sour ($14). Made with amaretto, overproof bourbon, lemon, egg whites Morgenthaler froths with an immersion blender, and a teaspoon of simple syrup, it’s been on menu since Pépé Le Moko opened six years ago. Morgenthaler said it came from trying to make a guilty pleasure drink more balanced, and he landed on the extra-boozy whiskey as the way to do it. Soon, the recipe caught fire, and Morgenthaler says it’s now the industry standard for how to make a good amaretto sour. “I’ve got a few drinks in contest for my best, but this one latched on so quickly and so deeply,” he says. “I get people all the time telling me it’s on the menu in their bar. It’s not even mine anymore. It’s just what everyone does now—it’s kind of awesome.”
“As always, Jeffrey tells it like it is, and we cover a range of topics including:
- Why the craft cocktail movement is due for change
- Why everyone should strive to contribute
- Why bartenders should stay behind the bar
- What drinking Manhattans at breakfast signals to others
…And so much more.”
Perhaps the most annoying response to “I don’t like that” is “You’d like mine,” but that’s exactly what Jeffrey Morgenthaler said to me when I told him I hated eggnog. Even more annoying? He was correct. Jeff’s nog is the only good nog, and it is made with tequila.
Thousands of miles from the cocktail hotbeds of New York and San Francisco, Jeffrey Morgenthaler still managed to connect with his peers through a blog informed by his work behind the stick. “He has a website that’s not for cocktail nerds, it’s a bartender’s site,” [Giuseppe] Gonzalez says. “With Jeff, he was the first bartender to tackle the problems we all face and speak about it in an intelligent way.” And that meant driving innovation behind the bar and then having an open source ethos where he’d share what he found. “Living where there weren’t really cocktail bars yet, there was no place to go and sit in another person’s bar and watch, so reading that blog helped me,” Kilgore says. “And he had strong opinions, which challenged me to develop my own opinions on how to do my job.”
But at Clyde Common, there was innovation happening on top of teaching the basics. “He’s just a crazy creative guy. He’s one of those dude that created a lot of trends,” [Erick] Castro says. “When you look at things like barrel-aged cocktails in the modern era and bottled cocktails, that was him.” He’s also turned Disco-era drinks like the Long Island Ice Tea, Grasshopper and Amaretto Sour into respectable cocktails. And as Repeal Day celebrations happen around the country now every December 5, drinkers everywhere can thank Morgenthaler for creating that boozing holiday too. “Jeff is the people’s champ,” Gonzalez says. “And he’s still bartending so you can’t fuck with him.”
Since the early days of the cocktail revival, the Amaretto Sour has been regarded as little more than the butt of a joke. In fact, the widespread ridicule of the drink quickly became a banner cause for the movement, which was defined by fresh ingredients and a rejection of any cocktail created after 1950. For Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the blanket derision of what was once “just a drink that nobody had an opinion on” never sat well with him.
“I didn’t get into this business because I wanted to make fancy drinks. I just liked working in bars,” says Morgenthaler. “I thought it was pretty stupid to just say that all these drinks that we’d been drinking and making for the past however many years was just pointless.”
But even the staunch defender of the Amaretto Sour saw room for improvement. “What if,” he ask, “we applied everything that we’ve learned over the past 10 years of quote-unquote mixology and just make the drink the way it should be?” His updated version first appeared on the Pepe Le Moko menu five years ago and has since become something of an industry standard.
I really enjoyed this interview with my friend Claire Lower over at Lifehacker, about something different than the usual bar stuff: how I like to eat. I’ve always been very, very into cooking at home, and here I get to share some of my habits – including uncensored photos of the inside of my fridge! Click here to read it!
Dear Drinkers, Longtime and famed bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler has some advice for you about drinking. Also, Morgenthaler has absolutely no advice for you.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the bar manager of Pépé Le Moko and Clyde Common (also in Portland), is arguably the high priest of this populist trend. His new-and-improved rendition of the lowly amaretto sour, now served at bars around the world, began as a secret, under-the-bar special he would serve only to friends.
“It wasn’t cool to say you liked amaretto sours,” Mr. Morgenthaler said. “I didn’t want to be excommunicated from the cocktail world for serving it.”
When Pépé Le Moko opened in 2014, however, he let his democratic colors fly. “We had reached the maximum density on cocktail snobbery,” he said. “People were getting fed up with the cocktail nerd who would judge your drink order.” Joining the amaretto sour on the menu were reimagined recipes for the Grasshopper and the Blue Hawaii.
Just referring to any cocktail as bad is enough to get Mr. Morgenthaler’s back up. (“There are no bad drinks, only bad bartenders,” he has said.) But generally speaking, in mixology circles, cocktails are deemed subpar for any number of reasons: a lack of subtlety or balance; an overreliance on alcohol or sugar; the past use of poor ingredients, including spirits with artificial colors or flavors; silly names; or just a negative reputation as a favorite of undiscriminating bars and drinkers.
Getting a great cocktail at a great bar is a wonderful experience. But getting a cocktail of noted repute, at the bar where it originated or from the bartender who created it, contributes a certain extra level of special. There aren’t that many places where you can pull off this trick, but the modern cocktail revival has added to the number of such destination bars. For the intrepid boozehound with some frequent flier miles to burn, here’s a list of a few to hit.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is a gentleman and a scholar.
At least that’s the opinion of his drinks-industry peers, who named the Clyde Common bar manager both America’s Bartender of the Year and the country’s Best Cocktail & Spirits Writer at the 2016 Spirited Awards.
Morgenthaler, a household name among Portland’s cocktail set, can claim some responsibility for several American drinks trends, particularly the barrel-aging of cocktails. Several of his drinks are among Portland’s best-known cocktails, including the Barrel-Aged Negroni and Bourbon Renewal at downtown Portland’s Clyde Common and the Grasshopper at his subterranean Pepe Le Moko.
Bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s favorite spot to stand while building cocktails at Clyde Common in Portland’s Ace Hotel is in front of the tavern’s large window. One wonders if—as he looks out onto Stark Street contemplatively stirring a cocktail—he’s dreaming up the next big thing.
Clyde Common is tucked into the Ace Hotel, home to flannel and beard sporting locavores who look like they’ve just come back from cutting their own Christmas tree year-round. Head barman and avid cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler soothes the Portlandia set with his eminently balanced, seasonally inspired concoctions; his surprise ace in the hole is a 1970s throwback: The Amaretto Sour.
Scottish Breakfast: The saltiness of the Scotch cuts perfectly through the perfume-y, dessert-sweet Sherry. A cask-strength Speyside Scotch like Glenfarclas 105 works best… From Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common, Portland, Ore.
“Fruit preserves have always been a reminder during colder months of the previous summer’s bounty, and there’s no quicker or lovelier path to those memories than with a cocktail. I combine tequila and black currant jam, mix rum and fig jelly, and, best of all, shake orange marmalade into my whiskey sour where it adds texture, sweetness, and an extraordinary touch of citrus-peel bitterness.” –
Award-winning mixologist and bar manager at Portland, Oregon’s Clyde Common, Jeffrey Morgenthaler likes to get more conceptual with his sherry cocktails. For the Andalusian Buck, he was “riffing on what I thought would be a very popular drink in Spain,” says Morgenthaler. “Most people don’t know this but Spain is one of the biggest gin-drinking countries in the world. And we have this really beautiful ginger beer that we brew in-house. It’s a really dry ginger beer, and it just sets up so beautifully with the nutty sherry and the strength of the botanicals of the gin.”
And in the Land of the Microbrew, are customers receptive to that whimsy? “We have a pretty sophisticated clientele here in Portland,” Morgenthaler replies. “It doesn’t freak people out.”