F.X. McRory's Steak Chop and Oyster House in Seattle has enough whiskey bottles across the bar to require three ladders to reach them, and our bartender, Matt, gamely climbed up and down them seeking the right ones for our tasting: a local, American Whiskey (Bainbridge), a bourbon (Blanton's), and an Irish whiskey (Red Breast).
The menu boasts a full page of just bourbon while the sign on the bar boasts, "The World's Largest Bourbon Collection," although Matt said they might be the second largest now if the rumors out of Las Vegas are true.
It still takes 8 1/2 hours for two people to take all the bottles off the shelf, dust them, and put them back up. The only whiskies that aren't on the shelf are the most popular, such as Jack Daniels, Bushmills, and Jameson, that would run out too fast to make the trips up the ladder worth it. Other whiskeys can't seem to get off the shelf. One bottle had a type of seal that hasn't been used since the 1980's with a faded $3 price tag on it.
I'm visiting my parents for Thanksgiving and found it surprisingly easy to convince them that a side trip to a whiskey bar near the Seahawks stadium was the best way to end a pre-holiday shopping day. My mom doesn't actually drink much whiskey, but she's a good sport and agreed to be my tasting partner anyway.
We started with the Bainbridge Battle Point Organic Whiskey- it's local and we haven't been able to track down Dry Fly, a whiskey out of Spokane, WA. According to their website, Bainbridge Organic Distillers is Washington State's first distillery producing USDA certified organic spirits, using organic grain from Washington that is sustainably managed.
Mom's comments on Battle Point:
"I'm feeling it now in my throat." She pointed. "Right here." Her other descriptors included "stinging" and "bitter." (I actually found it mild and a little sweet.)
We went for the Blanton's ("The Original Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey") as our bourbon because it came highly recommended by Matt, and I figured someone who works with even the World's Second Largest Bourbon Collection behind him every day would know his stuff. Plus, as mom pointed out, the bottle is pretty cute with a little guy riding the horse on top of the cork. There's a little letter by the horse's hoof and if you collect a set of the bottle tops, it spells out Blanton's. Matt needs two more letters, but "L" wasn't one of them, so our bottle wasn't very helpful.
Mom found it smoother than the Battle Point, but not strong. "It's almost creamy, but I know it's not," she said. I really tasted the charcoal coming through and found it a pleasant bourbon that I could spend an afternoon at the bar with.
But we both voted for the Red Breast, our Irish whiskey choice, as the favorite of the three.
"This is the one I like drinking," Mom said, pointing at her glass. By the third whiskey, words like "bitter" and "stinging" didn't seem to come up anymore. And she was smiling a lot. Red Breast was smoother than the others - a very clear and focused taste if I'm allowed to borrow wine tasting terms. Matt told us there is quite a difference in the 15-year we were enjoying versus the 12-year that we didn't bother trying because we were enjoying the 15-year so much.
It is produced at the New Middleton Distillery. When you say Middleton, whiskey people sigh and look dreamy. Someday I will find out why.
For good measure, we rounded out our tasting with a Scotch. They happened to have one of Grandpa's favorites - Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey - so Mom thought we should drink a toast to him. Dad even let go of his "cheapest thing on the menu" rule to join us. The name Sheep Dip came from a trick Scottish farmers used to use: To avoid paying taxes on their whisky, they labeled the barrels as Sheep Dip and wrote it off as a business expense.
Mom stuck to the Red Breast as her favorite still, and I was reminded again how much of a Scotch drinker I am. I found Sheep Dip to have a hint of smokiness that I liked lingering in the mouth.
To Mom's credit, she did take all her whiskies neat. It was only at the end when I sugguested that some people like to put a little water or ice in the glass that she added both.
We finished all of our whiskies and then checked out the LeRoy Neiman painting that is made from paint over a bunch of labels with the busy bar scene and bartender reaching off the ladder. I'm sure on game days, the bar does match the crazy, crowded scene in the picture. But we thankfully caught it on a lazy, rainy afternoon when we able to sit at the bar, study the menu, relax and sip.