Columbia Room has played around with plenty of unusual ingredients, like fig leaf milk and potato water, in its cocktails. But “In Search of Time Past”—the third drink on its current tasting menu—is the most Portlandia yet.
That’s because it includes a tincture made of old books. Literally. Really literally.
Owner Derek Brown got the idea after visiting El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, where he encountered candied page fragments on the avant-garde tasting menu.
“He was morbidly fascinated by it,” says head bartender JP Fetherston. So, the team began working on a cocktail that would replicate the sensation of opening an old book or walking into an old library.
The idea also worked well with the theme of Columbia Room’s fall tasting menu: leaves. While other dishes and drinks use real leaves, this one is a little more interpretive.
To make the literary tincture, the bar staff collected a number of 100-year-old books. “I was trying to avoid getting anything too iconic. It probably would have been interesting to do Proust,” Fetherston says, but he felt conflicted about destroying a great piece of literature. (He doesn’t remember the titles of the books used.)
The pages were vacuum-sealed with grapeseed oil, then the infusion was fat-washed with a neutral high-proof spirit.
The result? “It has that musty, fusty old library quality to it,” Fetherston says. And strangely, it tastes like duck fat, too.
The old books are combined with Armagnac, vintage PX sherry, a porcini cordial, and eucalyptus to create a sweet dessert drink with a “savory edge.” The cocktail is served in a flask that’s placed inside a hollowed-out book. It’s paired with a chocolate shiso leaf.
As for whether you should be concerned about consuming musty old book pages? Fetherston says not to worry: “Even if there’s anything weird in it, it’s in minuscule quantities.”