Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
This week we’ve got a weird one for you, but it’s so strange and unique that you absolutely must try it if given the opportunity. In French, this rare concoction is called eau-de-vie de bourgeons de sapin — which roughly translates to “pine bud brandy.” Technically speaking it’s a bit more complex than that, but for the most part, that translation nails it. Formalities aside, this is basically a bottle of booze that tastes like a tree.
As such, it should go without saying that if you’re not a fan of gin or other botanical liquors, you’ll probably gag on this stuff — but if you dig spirits that have that natural, foresty taste to them, then by all means, dive right in.
To make this stuff, Portland’s Clear Creek Distillery actually heads out into the forest and hand picks Douglas Fir buds — the tightly-packed and highly aromatic needle bunches found at the tips of young branches. These buds are then tossed into buckets of pure grain alcohol and left to sit for a few days, where they slowly break down and infuse the alcohol with flavor. After a time, the buds are removed and the mixture is distilled — only to be re-infused and re-distilled four, five, sometimes even dozens of times more. With each distillation, many of the congeners that give the liquor its unique piney taste are lost, so multiple infusions are needed to give the spirit its pronounced flavor and light green color.
It’s a long and laborious process according to master distiller Stephen McCarthy, but the resulting eau-de-vie is most definitely worth the effort. If you close your eyes and give it a whiff, your senses lead you to believe you’re smack in the middle of an old-growth forest. Notes of juniper and pinewood are definitely there, but layered beneath them you’ll also find hints of vanilla and rich woodland dirt in each sip.
If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on a bottle, we recommend drinking it neat for the first couple pours in order to experience the full effect, but after that, it’s admittedly right on the edge of being too stiff to be enjoyed all by itself (95 proof). When there aren’t any brandy purists around to scold you for your blasphemy, this stuff serves as an excellent stand-in for gin for a broad range of different cocktails. Get yourself a bottle and go nuts.