There’s a farmhouse spirit dating back pre-1600s that you can secure a taste of right here in the Northwest. Don’t worry, it is not an underwater discovery that will set you back thousands of dollars to try. Not at least since Tualatin Valley Distilling began producing Morewood’s Usquebaugh in 2015.
This revival spirit is made with natural spices and botanicals and is the only known product of its kind in the world, according to Jason O’Donnell, co-owner and chief distiller at Tualatin Valley Distilling in Hillsboro, Oregon.
Why develop such a rare and unique spirit? O’Donnell had researched usquebaugh (pronounced us-kuh-baw) for nearly 11 years before producing the spirit two years after the distillery had been in operation. With the equipment and the knowledge under his belt, he knew the only way to try this spirit he had read so much about would be to produce it himself.
While sifting through the comprehensive and historical “Holinshed’s Chronicles,” O’Donnell found that usquebaugh pre-dates whiskey and was used as an overarching term for all compounded spirits of that era. The term “usquebaugh” was documented as far back as 1587 but it wasn’t until he found work from 1838 that O’Donnell discovered a recorded recipe for usquebaugh by Samuel Morewood, an old-school spirits writer.
The uniqueness of this spirit comes not only from its rarity, but in its tasting notes. Morewood’s Usquebaugh is herbaceous and rich in botanical profile, making it comparable to gin. Instead of a juniper-forward taste, usquebaugh is balanced with notes of saffron, anise, citrus and savory spice. With a hue similar to Italian Galliano liqueur but unlike most anything else on the market, there’s a visible yellow color from saffron, which also provides predominant flavor.
While it’s completely palatable on its own, the traditional method for serving a sweeter version of the spirit is with “the finest lump sugar,” according to Morewood himself, O’Donnell recommends drinking it at a room temperature (60-64º F) for an authentic experience but ice cubes are also an acceptable approach. Although Morewood’s Usquebaugh pairs nicely with tonic water and a lime, a few bars and restaurants in the Portland area have used the spirit’s savory and spicy profile on their cocktail menus, including this recipe from Raven & Rose for you to sample and savor at home.
Recipe by Estanislado Orona of Raven & Rose
Makes 1 cocktail
2 ounces Tualatin Valley Distilling Morewood’s Usquebaugh
½ ounce saffron syrup (recipe follows)
¼ ounce lemon juice
Garnish: lemon peel, ground cinnamon
Combine usquebaugh, saffron syrup and lemon juice in a mixing tin. Shake and pour over crushed ice. Garnish with lemon peel and a dusting of ground cinnamon.
Makes about 1 1/2 cup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon saffron
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Let cool completely before using in cocktail.