Nothing cures the rainy day blues like a good whiskey. As my luck would have it, Saturday, November 5th was wet and gloomy. Tucked away between Seattle’s Safeco and CenturyLink Fields, Piranha Shop hosted The American Whiskey Experience, a benefit event supporting Northwest Folklife. The venue offered an intimate space away from the dreary Autumn weather, most notable for its simple-yet-quirky decor (I’m looking at you, mounted deer head wearing a tie). At the back, guest Chef Dezi Bonow of The Carlile Room served up a delicious array of Southern-inspired foods that complimented the beverages perfectly. In total, there seemed to be about 20-30 attendees throughout the entire event.
Of the 27 brands listed in the program, I had the opportunity (and stamina) to try about half of them:
Redemption: Redemption had three rye whiskeys at their tasting bar: their flagship Straight Rye Whiskey, Straight High Rye Bourbon Whiskey, and Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The Straight Rye was my personal favorite of the three, and was specifically designed with cocktails in mind. The flavor is spicy with apricot notes, and sits in the center of your tongue. This would be an excellent option for making your next Manhattan.
The Straight High Rye Bourbon offered a very different taste: it was smoky, and rose in the nose after sipping. The spirit is incredibly smooth, and offers a slightly herbal aftertaste.
The Straight Bourbon took a while to rise in the mouth, and was light on the nose. But once the flavor peaked you could distinctly taste the same apricot notes as the Straight Rye. The Straight Bourbon is decidedly drier, though, and best sipped alone.
Knob Creek: Knob Creek’s offerings had a uniquely ‘salty’ taste to them, that reminded me of the way sea salt and caramel compliment each other. The extra savory kick really added something to these drinks: Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and the Straight Rye Whiskey.
Of the four, the Straight Bourbon Whiskey was the most impressive. The bottle I tasted from was a limited edition from 2001, that had sold out the first day of the tasting. I considered myself lucky to get a taste, and was not disappointed: the taste was light but packed a serious punch. The way I described it in the moment was a “gentle smack in the face”. Hints of caramel, molasses, and spice gave the drink a complex flavor palette, but one that did not overwhelm.
My second favorite was the Straight Rye, which immediately reminded me of one of my favorite brewed teas: lapsang souchong. Anyone who has had this particular tea can tell you it is like drinking a campfire; the Straight Rye was just as smoky, but smooth with a slow burn. This was definitely one I would be interested in tasting again!
Basil Hayden: Basil Hayden had one bottle of Old Granddad Rye, which I found hard to describe. The liquor had less body than most of the others I had tried before, with spiced fruity notes that were hard to pinpoint. The closest I could come to was a raspberry-peach flavor.
Bookers: Bookers Bourbon was one of the selections I immediately understood would be best served over ice. Full bodied, it has a sweet and slightly smoky edge to the flavor, which rises slowly in the mouth. You really have to let the drink sit on your tongue for a moment; as it warms, the taste moves from savory to something like ‘smoked creme brulee’. This was one of my favorites from the afternoon, and comes with a high recommendation.
Templeton Rye: Templeton Rye boasts its Prohibition-era recipe, touting that they were the favorite drink of mobster Al Capone. If that is true, the man had good taste. Their 4-year standard Rye is sweet and fruity, with raspberry undertones. It is bold and full-bodied, and smooth on the tongue.
The 6-year standard Rye takes the flavors of the 4-year and kicks them up a notch. Heartier and richer, the fruit notes mellow out in favor of a dry smoky edge.
Rebel Yell: Rebel Yell’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey was purportedly patented in 1936, soon after the Prohibition ended. Light-bodied, it offers some of the same creme brulee taste that Bookers Bourbon had, but much softer. The flavor washes over your tongue slowly as you sip.
Their biggest seller is the Small Batch Rye, which is still as light as the Straight Bourbon, but much smoother. The burnt smoky flavor of the former, however, disappears in favor of a wash of dark currant.
Something new I hadn’t seen before was their new line of infused whiskeys, that include flavors like ginger and root beer. Obviously meant for mixed drinks or boozy floats, they were interesting none-the-less. The ginger was the best of the options available, and retained a lot of the ‘spice’ of most ginger drinks.
Yellowstone: Their Bourbon Whiskey is a blend of 4, 6, and 7-year bourbons, and offers a complex citrusy taste, while staying smoky on the nose.
Their limited edition blend takes 4-year and 12-year bourbons, and brings them together for an incredibly smooth and balanced drink. This was perhaps the most well-rounded selection of the many that I tried. Lightly smoky, it takes about 15-20 seconds for the flavor to fully blossom on the tongue.
Four Roses Bourbon: Four Roses had several options at their tasting bar, including their Yellow Label Bourbon, which smelled sweet and offered caramel notes in a light body. The brand has reportedly been actively expanding into the Seattle area, and can be found at most local bars these days.
Their Small Batch combines four corn recipes into one drink, giving it a strong spicy kick at the tip of your tongue. The body is light, but the taste complex.
Their Single Barrel OBSV is their most balanced and accessible whiskey; one I would highly recommend to anyone interested in learning to enjoy whiskies, who has not found ‘the one’ to get them started yet. The heat lasts on the tongue, but isn’t overwhelming. The body is also smooth and robust, and has enough sweetness to appeal to anyone.
Bird Dog: Bird Dog offered two Bourbon Whiskies: an 8-year and a 10-year. They are the same recipe, with one benefiting from an additional two years of aging. Of the two, the 10-year was my favorite. The smokiness was up, and had a much richer body. This was another expression I would recommend sipping over the rocks.
Buffalo Trace: Buffalo Trace was my second-to-last stop on the tasting tour. Their double gold Bourbon impressed me with its balanced body and taste, but I felt the drink would be better served on the rocks. The Sazerac Rye is made from a pre-Prohibition recipe, and can be described as an “excellent, smooth, and rich-bodied” whiskey that gives hints of apple on the nose after sipping. The bottles are relatively affordable, and would blend well in any drink.
2bar Spirits: I ended the afternoon at the only local distillery represented at the tasting: 2bar Spirits. Located in the heart of Georgetown, they operate a small storefront that showcases their unique flavors. The whiskies are mostly corn-based, giving them a much stronger kick than many of their competitors. My initial reaction upon tasting their flagship Rye was “refined moonshine”. Though heavy with corn flavor, the drink is incredibly smooth, and just slightly ‘sour’. I would highly recommend a taste to any adventurous whiskey lover, looking for something different!
GSN West Coast correspondent Noel Ozma Celeste Frodelius-Fujimoto attended the 12pm session of The American Whiskey Experience in Seattle, WA on November 5, 2016