I received an invitation to the Whiskey of the World dinner at mcMenamin's Old Church in Wilsonville, and since the wife was in Denver for work I invited Jimmie to come along for his first Fat Boy event. A five course dinner with nine whiskeys on the tasting list promised to be a full night, and I was hopeful that in addition to good food pairings I might get a chance to try some whiskey i hadn't tried before.
The dinner was hosted by Crown Royal's Master of Whiskey for Seatle, Breck Taylor, and featured a specially created menu from Executive Chef Ross Smith. Breck is a very knowledgable guy when it comes to the history of whiskey, and it was a great historical overview of "The Spirit of Life" along with a great chance to get some exposure for the site and meet some fellow whiskey lovers.
The evening started with a tasting of one of my favorite bourbons, Bulleit's 10-Year Bourbon. A nice deep russet in color, this bourbon is a smooth sipper with vanilla, honey, and dried fruit on the pallet and a smokey, campfire flavor that mixes with sweet tobacco at the finish.
From the bourbon we moved to the first course of our meal, a blini with wasabi-orange infused caviar and creme fraiche. The blini was light and airy, and the caviar smooth and delicate. The wasabi-orange infusion never really developed on the palate, leaving the dill garnish as the only real flavor in the dish.
From the caviar we moved back to whisky, heading north of the border to one of North America's most popular whiskys, Crown Royal Reserve Canadian whisky. With it's expert blend and high rye content it provided a strong contrast to the sweeter bourbon earlier.
From the Canadian blended we moved back to the United States and a classic American Rye, in this case also from Bulleit. In contrast to many American Rye Whiskey's, Bulleit uses only rye and corn instead of adding barley or wheat to the meatball of their rye, giving it a much dryer, spicier mouth feel than others in the category. With the hints of vanilla and honey derived from the barrels you are left with a great spirit that does well on it's own or is superior for cocktails.
Next we had the second course of our meal, an Antipasto Salad with Pepperoncini Vinaigrette. A nice, simple and straight forward plating, this light deconstructed salad plate was a great palate cleanser before moving from the spice of rye whiskeys into the sweeter whiskeys to come.
Our next whiskey of the night was Bushmill's Black Bush, a sweet double-barreled Irish whiskey that is first aged up to seven years in former bourbon barrels before finishing in oloroso sherry casks. With a meatball that averages 80% malted barley, this combination provides a dark and sweet spirit with fruity notes from start to finish blending with light hints of caramel and honey.
The third course of our dinner was Croque Madame, a toasted baguette with smoked ham and béchamel sauce served with a poached egg. The sandwich was prepared perfectly, but the egg was cold and overcooked. The intent of the dish is to use the sandwich to pierce the egg and dip it in the yolk, but it was impossible with the yolk cooked solid.
This was the continuation of a common problem throughout the dinner: at various times whiskey that was being talked about by the host hadn't been served yet (apparently due to a lack of sufficient barware), and all of the warm food arrived either cold or overcooked (sometimes both). The serving staff tried to be attentive, but seven tables of guests that all needed to be served the same food and beverages at the same time, only having three servers to staff the room made it hard for them and us.
From the Croque Madame we moved onto Scotch for the evening. Our first tasting from Scotland was Johnnie Walker Black, the most popular whisky in the world. Selling more than 60 cases a minute worldwide, it is also the most counterfeited whisky in the world. That being said, I have never understood the appeal. It's ok, and even bad whisky is better than good vodka. Johnnie Walker will never make my list of favorite Scotches, much less favorite whiskeys.
From blended scotch we moved on to our only single-malt selection of the night. The Oban 14-Year Single Malt comes from the western coast of the highlands. The closeness to the ocean gives the whisky a salty brine in addition to the smokey leather and tobacco richness you would expect from a scotch of this vintage. Mild vanilla and toasted caramel notes round out the flavor profile making this a fairly pleasant tasting experience.
Our fourth food course was Chicken Pappardelle, braised boneless chicken thighs in a tarragon cream sauce served over pasta. The flavor was great, but my dish once again arrived cold. The sandwich I could deal with being cold, but cold pasta just doesn't work. I don't know if it was plated too early, or just took too long to get served to my table but this was the final straw for me as far as this meal went. It really is a shame because the menu was inspired and the flavors complimented the whiskys extremely well everywhere but the caviar course.
After the pasta course we came back to American whiskeys with a Tennessee whiskey from the folks at George Dickel. This selection was from a barrel hand selected by McMenamin's and is a 9-Year Barrel Select meaning it spent at least nine years in the barrel before being brought down to be among the choices their Master Distiller John Lunn thought would be good enough for a single barrel exclusive bottling. The Tennessee process makes for a sweeter whiskey than the Kentucky process because of the filtering sometimes, and aging it refines it even more. This was a great whiskey but a bit sweet for my taste.
The meal was brought to a close with a desert of the smallest coconut cream tart ever made and a matching spoonful of ice cream sprinkled with macadamia nuts.
Our final planned tasting was the Suntory Yamazaki 12-Year. Yamazaki is the oldest distillery in Japan, established in 1923. Japanese whiskeys are double barreled, first in former bourbon barrels and then in former saki casks, The combination gives it a sweetness and citrus note you wouldn't expect from a whiskey with wooden notes at the front and back of the palate.
Our final whiskey of the night was "Billy" distilled at Cornelious Pass Road House by McMenamin's. We tasted it before it's official release which was scheduled for the following day. From their website's description:
Billy is hand crafted in small batches using traditional methods and an ancient Cognac still. Billy whiskey is distilled from a mash made primarily of wheat, and reflects the local farming history of the Imbrie family that dates back to 1855. The palate is full bodied with aromas of molasses and oak. The finish is long and spicy with notes of hazelnuts and baked apples.
43.5% alcohol by volume, 87 proof
In all it was a fun night but unless you know nothing about whiskey or fine dining it would not be worth the time and money for any of my readers to attend one in the future. McMenamin's pubs should stick to the pub food they are famous for.