It's a drizzly overcast afternoon in Portland, Oregon, and I've just about finished digesting an excellent Middle Eastern-inspired brunch at Tusk. I'm about to drive north to hit Interurban, a bar in the Boise neighborhood northeast of downtown. A few days prior, I had passed by the front window and noticed a substantial selection of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons displayed in the front of the bar, which I've been conditioned to ignore over the years, having learned they're often just overpriced bait for business travelers. In the case of Interurban, however, this conditioning was misguided.
Interurban lies in the gentrified Boise neighborhood of Portland, right off I-5
Interurban resides in the Boise neighborhood of Portland, adjacent to Lovely's Fifty Fifty a fantastic pizza and ice cream establishment, which emerged from the ashes of Lovely Hula Hands in early 2017. Interurban opened in 2011, the second bar from owners Dan Hart and Chris Navarra, and claims to have one of Portland's most extensive whiskey lists.
As I ask to see their menu, I notice a small set of shelves in the back of the bar containing a sizable collection of rare whiskies, none of which appear to be on the menu I have in my hand. Asking the bartender to clarify, I'm presented with Interurban's leather bound reserve spirits menu.
Pulling rare spirits from the cabinet in the back of the bar
The menu offers great presentation and fairly competitive pricing for the (1 oz) offerings contained within it. There's the excessively rare 25 year old Pappy Van Winkle offered at $200, which doesn't seem so bad given the $1,800 MSRP, and secondary market value of around $9,000. I'm intrigued, just not $200 intrigued. Judging from the fill level on the bottle I'm not alone, as it looks like only a small handful of people have made that purchase before me. I continue searching the menu until I see a Vintage 17 year old bourbon for $18, a price point that would be difficult to match in most US bars today.
A pour of Vintage 17 year old sourced bourbon, likely from the Old Bernheim Distillery
The Vintage 17 is much better than I remember it, having tasted it years ago when it was more readily accessible. A boar sausage slider seems an appropriate accompaniment, so I order one of those as well. The afternoon vibe is quite nice at Interurban, with only a handful of guests coming and going, making it easy to make smalltalk with the brunch time bartenders. We talk a bit about the bar's collection of whiskies, which apparently originated from Mr. Hart's extensive collection.
The bartender inspects a 23 year old Willett bourbon
Upon finishing my Vintage 17, ask for an ounce of a 23 year old single barrel Willett bourbon from the main bar menu. It's a bottle that was only released in Oregon, selected by Vinum, a spirits importer serving Oregon and Washington. I'm a bit surprised to still see this bottle on the shelves, as it was originally released in September of 2014. The barrel number on this bottle is 3606, and was bottled at 99 proof, which is fairly low by Willett Family Estate standards. Nosing the whiskey, I find it to bear a striking resemblance to the Vintage 17 beside it.
The 99 proof 23 year old Willett Family Estate barrel number 3606
This Willett bourbon is not only remarkably difficult to find, it also just happens to be a phenomenal whiskey as well. As I pay my bill, I'm already thinking about when I'll be coming back to Interurban to explore the remainder of their offerings.
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