Welcome to Seattle

I landed at around 9:30 AM. I could not wait to get off that airplane and into the cool Pacific Northwest climate. The San Francisco Bay Area has been unseasonably hot as of late, so the chance to feel that cool Seattle breeze against my cheeks as I walked down Pike Place was most welcome. Pike Place, you ask? Really? I know that some people consider the entire waterfront market to be the Fisherman's Wharf of Washington, but selling the heavily-touristed area that short would be a complete disservice to what's really going on. There's a lot of exciting action in between the wandering aimlessness.

You've got the original, first-ever Starbucks, for God's sake! Don't act like you don't go there every morning.

You've got Beecher's cheese shop; along with the glass window that peers into the kitchen where the curds are actually collected. You can eat cheese while you watch it being made. I stumbled in with Westland owner Emerson Lamb this morning, as we picked up a few things for later this evening. If you haven't guessed already, I'm in Seattle this week to drink single malt whisky with the boys from Westland Distillery. Domestic, American-made, single malt whisky, that is. Master distiller Matt Hofmann is with us. We're going to show you the complete operation from top to bottom, along with a little local flare when time permits. That's my goal for this week.

There's also the Pike Brewery; the local beer mecca owned and operated by local legend Charlie Finkel—an Oklahoman-born entrepreneur who spent decades in the wine business before devoting himself exclusively to beer. Charles has been in the craft brewing business since beer geeks used snail mail to share homebrewing recipes. He works with Westland as well, taking leftover whiskey barrels and laying down some of his locally-brewed ales inside of them for extra flavor. We tasted a six-month old amber aged in sherry oak while we snacked and talked shop. It was outstanding, and I'm not normally a fan of richer-styled beers.

If you don't like barrel-aged beer, then try the the "Locale" (prounced "low-kale", I kept asking if it was made from kale before understanding the pun): a lighter, classically-styled ale made entirely from locally-grown barley provided by Skagit Valley Malting. Besides Pike Brewery, Skagit is also currently working with Washington State University and Westland to breed a line of barley particularly suited to growing west of the Cascade Mountains. The hope is to find a type that can express a sense of locality in Westland's single malt whisky. Emerson explained it to me as we sipped: there are two main terroirs in Washington. There's the dry and arid terrain of the eastern side and there's the wet, foggy, almost-Scottish style climate along the western coast. Yet, despite the vast difference in soil and weather between the vicinities, most of the barley being grown across the state is from the same line; a type designed to withstand disease and pests, rather than acclimate itself to the region. Apparently WSU has over 15,000 different lines of barley currently growing in the Skagit Valley, all being tested and cross-bred for research purposes. It's for that reason, when Emerson is asked about a possible Westland Bourbon or rye whiskey, he says: "Over my dead body."

"We've got four ingredients: water, barley, yeast, and oak," he told me, taking a pull from his pint. "There's more than enough room for experimentation and variety within that group right there."

If Pike Place were only about fanatical fish-throwing and tepid tourist traps, there wouldn't be signs like this posted upon the pillars of the down-home merchants just trying to run a local business. My favorite FAQ is number five: Why don't you throw your meat? Because we treat our customers' meats with care.

Not everything is for show, so don't avoid the market. You'd be missing out on a lot of deliciousness by doing so.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll