As a newly-minted 21-year-old, I was psyched when my editor asked if I wanted to attend a whiskey history class at Cast Iron Studios, Heavy Restaurant Group's space for private events, catering and workshops that opened in May. What could be better than sipping on booze for a couple of hours? (Also, Heavy comped my ticket.)
But when I walked into the open, airy studio and took a seat at the long oak tasting table next to my classmates - mostly middle-aged men in polos and loafers - and eyed the numerous glasses of whiskey in front of me, I realized I was a bit out of my element. The only whiskey I'd had before was Jack Daniels with a generous amount of Coke (I later learned that as a sweet, low-proof whiskey, JD doesn't mix well. Oops.)
After explaining the origin and flavors of the first whiskey, Four Roses, Lot No. 3 bar manager Chris Faber told us to give it a try. As my classmates knocked back their whole glass, I took a tentative sip. After the initial burning sensation, I realized I could taste the cherry flavor he described. With each whiskey I tasted, I tried to detect the flavors Chris described and identify some new ones.
"Everyone's palate is so different," Faber explained. "You can make basic categories, but everyone picks up different flavors. And it's OK to taste weird things in alcohol. I mean, there's a wine at Purple Café that tastes exactly like popcorn." Despite not knowing a damn thing about whiskey, my unrefined palate could identify the same flavors - and some more original ones like bacon - as the whiskey connoisseurs surrounding me.
After we finished the tasting I sat back, feeling tipsy and content, and listened to Faber chat about alcohol. The man loves to drink, and despite being fairly young he knows his shit. For two hours he answered questions about pretty much every hard alcohol. How did he learn so much about booze? Through experience, of course. He began bartending to help pay for college and eventually was able to turn his passion into a career.
Chris Faber and his whiskey
As we got up to leave the man next to me turned to his friend and said, "Wow. I learned a lot about alcohol today, and I've been drinking for a long time." So whether you're a novice like me or an experienced drinker, there's something to be gained from a whiskey class.
Sarah Elson is a Seattle Weekly intern.