GSN Author Interview: Karen Locke Shares High-Proof PDX Secrets

I first met Karen Locke at Tales of the Cocktail a few years ago during a “Spirited Dinner”. At the time we talked about trends in the bartending community, the burgeoning craft cocktail movement and the rapid growth of the distilling industry.  She recently released her book High-Proof PDX and I took the opportunity to ask her to share some of the behind-the-scenes details behind her publication.

How did your Midwest bartending experiences prepare you for the west coast scene?

My time serving and bartending in the Midwest definitely opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of spirits. Alcohol can be transformed in a way that beer and wine cannot, and that has been endlessly intriguing to me. It was moving to Portland though, that really opened my eyes to alcohol production and distilling. 

To what do you attribute the phenomenal growth of the spirits industry in Portland?

Perseverance and hard work of distillers, and our love for top-notch food and drink in the Pacific Northwest. The laws in Oregon aren’t necessarily in our favor yet (distilleries can’t as easily serve full-size cocktails and servings as other states can) but the producers and the consumers here are committed to supporting the local spirits scene. Cheap real estate in the early 2000’s helped too. Distilleries could once find large, affordable spaces. As Portland grows in popularity, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the average business owner to find space in the inner city. 

How are local bars assimilating local craft spirits into their bar programs?

Since I started writing about booze in 2011, a lot more bars are highlighting local spirits. Local isn’t inherently better but I do appreciate when bar menus specify the name of the spirit when it is local. I’ve seen bars do pop-up happy hours with distilleries, which is a great way for patrons to drink AND learn about spirits made here in Portland. 

If a visitor had only one day to spend in Portland, what are the spirited highlights you recommend they sample?

Distillery Row has the largest geographical concentration of distilleries I’ve seen in any city. Here you can visit distilleries and get around on foot. Distillery Row is made up of eight independent distilleries. If you had to choose one distillery in the Row, I’d recommend Baijiu from Vinn Distillery for something new and different.

The NW Distiller’s District has three great distilleries as well: sip on single malt whiskey at Bull Run Distillery, pear brandy at Clear Creek Distillery, and Martin Ryan Distilling Company (try the Aria gin).

House Spirits has a tasting room at the Portland airport. Don’t miss out on tasters and mini cocktails before getting on your flight home! 

Where do you see the industry headed in the next 10 years?  Are there too many choices for the average consumer?

Craft spirits will continue to grow as the wine and beer industries have. The distilling industry could use a few laws in its favor in certain states—but with perseverance and a growing consumer knowledge of craft spirits—my hope is that craft industry will have grown substantially in the next ten years.

Consumers have so much to learn about booze as compared to beer and wine, so I don’t think too much choice will affect consumers until the overall knowledge of spirits in the U.S. has caught up to production. There are still so many categories of spirits made in the U.S. that people haven’t experienced: eau de vie, amari, and grappa are just a few examples of little known spirits being made at U.S. distilleries!

Can you share a cocktail recipe that you’ve created?

Pyrus Bird is an adaptation of the Jungle Bird that uses McMenamins Frank High Proof Rum instead of Jamaican rum. This rum available from McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery is aged in Cognac barrels for six months, giving it the exotic fruit and spice aromas perfect for this tropical cocktail.

In addition to Oregon-made Frank High Proof Rum, Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano Rosso is used instead of Campari and pear juice is used in place of pineapple juice.

The Pyrus Bird is named for Pyrus communis also known as the common pear. While there’s no garnish on this version, you can add a pear garnish to this laid back version of the classic.


  • 1 oz. McMenamins Frank High Proof Rum
  • 1 oz. Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano Rosso
  • 5 oz. BG Reynolds Rich Demerara Tropical Syrup
  • 5 fresh lime juice
  • 3 oz. Looza pear juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass.

On an non-alcoholic note, what is the origin of “PDX”?

PDX is actually the airport code but we’ve adopted it as a nickname for the city.

Interview by Blair Frodelius, Good Spirits News

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