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In Character with Karen Foley

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: Courtesy of Stuart Mullenberg, Karen Foley is keeping tabs on Oregon and the nation's cocktail culture as publisher of Imbibe. And if you want to get on her good side, offer up a Mint Julep.

Karen Foley is a gal with a lot of spirits. She's the local publisher of Imbibe, a 6-year-old national magazine about drinks of all kinds, hard and soft, and occasionally the customs that surround them.

Portland Tribune: What's the absolute worst drink you've ever had in your life?

Karen Foley: It was probably an Old Fashioned. I got it in an airport, which has since become the drink that I order to test any bar. It's a pretty easy drink to make. I remember it had soda water in it.

Tribune: No soda water in an Old Fashioned?

Foley: Old Fashioneds should just be sugar or rich syrup, a piece of orange peel, bourbon and bitters. On ice. That's it. This one had all kinds of fruit in it. It was really sweet, and it was totally watered down.

Tribune: Did you say anything?

Foley: I just said, "Could I have a Manhattan instead?" Which is pretty impossible to screw up. At an airport bar, where the standards are pretty low, I wasn't really too worked up about it.

Tribune: Do you have a favorite drink name?

Foley: It's called the Monkey Gland. It has a bizarre back story. It was inspired by a surgical process that transplanted monkey testicles into older men to renew their sex drive.

Tribune: Wait a minute. Let me get my head around this. That really happened?

Foley: It was a Russian doctor, and I believe it was back in the 1920s. Somebody was so inspired they just thought, "Why not name a cocktail after it?"

Tribune: So what's in a Monkey Gland?

Foley: Gin, orange juice, grenadine, simple syrup and absinthe.

Tribune: Oh, I get it. It works because the absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.

Foley: A lot of the Tiki cocktails have fun names like a Zombie or a Painkiller. A local bar had a drink called Daddy Issues, for no particular reason.

Tribune: Why is it that cocktails can have these creative names but you don't see them on food or other drinks?

Foley: There are some beers that have clever names. There's a beer called Arrogant Bastard. Brewers tend to have fun. I guess foods are just branded differently. When you buy a box of cereal it's not like you need a clever name on it unless you're a kid. Count Chocula. There you go.

Tribune: But what about grown-up food at a restaurant? I can't look at a menu and say, "I'll have the Monkey Gland, but hold the cheese."

Foley: Monkey Gland on a food menu could be a very literal thing.

Tribune: Good point. You once said classic drinks tend to have good stories behind them. For instance?

Foley: The Hemingway Daiquiri was inspired by Ernest Hemingway, who needed a daiquiri without the sugar. The person who came up with the original daiquiri tweaked the recipe for him, and it became known as the Hemingway Daiquiri, and you'll see it in bars around the world.

Tribune: If you could have only one drink the rest of your life, what would it be?

Foley: Probably a Mint Julep. I'm from the South, so it has a special place in my heart. It has become the quintessential Southern cocktail.

Tribune: So what is the quintessential Pacific Northwest cocktail?

Foley: The Pacific Northwest has a much newer cocktail culture. I would say what defines the Pacific Northwest is the same thing that defines the food scene, which is drinking seasonally.

Tribune: So you don't drink year-round?

Foley: Drinking cocktails that have seasonal ingredients. When it's berry season, you're going to see berries in the cocktails. When it's winter, you're going to see a lot of spiced cocktails. I definitely drink year-round.