Although I currently live in the river city of Sacramento, California, I counted Seattle as home for most my young adult life. I stayed until I was 39 when I matched into an Emergency Medicine residency in Sacramento. I was sad to leave but post-graduate medical training is a crapshoot – you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. I was lucky and landed at UC Davis, which was in my top three residency choices, in 2009. This town has yet to grow on me the way Seattle had but I have found a few gems here that have really made an impression. My new home is growing on me but I still miss Seattle which is why I decided to fly back for a quick overnight trip to Cinerama to see Star Wars! Since I was here without kids I embarked on some local whiskey tasting of course. I was able to spend some time at two locations before my 11pm showing – Radiator Whiskey and The Whiskey Bar. Both locations were recommended by fellow whiskey hounds the week prior and
My first tasting (the only with notes that I jotted down at the bottom of this post) was at Radiator. I have been hearing a lot of good about the 2017 Thomas Handy BTAC release and wanted to take a test drive before getting screwed on the secondary market. I figured that if I was going to taste it I should have some comparisons and Radiator Whiskey was well stocked. I had my Handy side by side with E.H. Taylor Straight Rye (an old favorite) as well as Buffalo Trace’s always dependable Sazerac Rye (Baby Saz).
The first thing I noticed about this place is that it is cramped, overheated with a dense collection of cooking equipment right nearby the minuscule bar. All the people, food & drinks so close it really made nosing these whiskeys nearly impossible. I hate to say it but as much as Radiator may be a “cool” place to hang out with good whiskey and tasty grub it is *not* the place I would spend my hard earned dough at trying to learn or appreciate finer (expensive) whiskeys. It is just too olfactorily (is that a word?) cramped to offer you any chance of a real nose. The second thing I noticed was the lack of knowledge and expertise when it comes to higher end whiskeys. They stock them but don’t really know what you are asking for (lots of pointing, “no to the left, the left, no right, no up, no left again, yes, that one…”). They don’t carry the correct glassware for tasting. I did ask for white wine glasses and was able to get their last three she said. They also don’t serve water with the whiskey but will offer tap water in a big glass if you ask (and don’t forget to ask for a teaspoon or some implement to get a rough idea of how much water you are adding). Sorry to be so down on Radiator, but I do get the sense it is more for tourists, trendy types looking for an experience and less about whiskey. If you just want a good cheap bourbon with friends it is fun in a cool spot, the food is really good and that is what you should focus on!
The Whiskey Bar, on the bright side, caught me off guard. Just as Radiator was crowded, hot and a bit too smelly The Whiskey Bar was cool, fresh and with enough patrons to reassure you that you did not make a mistake walking. The bartender was friendly, the bottles presented simply, the bar clean and when I discussed my desire to taste a few local whiskeys from Westland his eyes brightened a bit. I had heard good things about this local Seattle single malt distillery, Westland, but was unable to stop by after arriving at the airport late. Since I missed a tour and tasting at the distillery I wondered of they might have some here… say no more. I asked if he was able to offer me a tasting of Westland malts and before I knew it I had 4 bottles in front of me – each with its own Glencairn filled with a nice 1 1/2 oz pour. He gave a quick but informative introduction to each and then backed off to allow me a little private time. I immediately felt he had a little more interest and knowledge of whiskey. Sadly, I do not have the tasting notes of those bottles to offer here (below are my notes of the 2017 Handy at Radiator). I will say that each Westland bottle was interesting, enjoyable, well crafted with a label clearly stating provenance and lack of filtering and coloring. I do want to mention one that really caught my attention with its unique flavor profile named Winter but I have to say the 2017 limited release of locally sourced garryana oak was my favorite. I will be getting one from K&L soon before they are gone.
Tastings at Radiator Whiskey
(2017 Thomas Handy, EHT Straight Rye and Baby Saz)
Handy – sweet vanilla & butterscotch with some alcohol heat. A sense that it has more oak and time in the barrel than the the others nearby – although with all the fry grease nearby take this all with a grain of duck fat.
EHTSR – somewhat sweet initially but with a much cleaner nose consisting of some melon & grass. Not what I remember from my bottle at home.
Baby Saz – drier, less sugar, more dried grasses – a sense that this is a greener whiskey with more grain contributions than cask
Handy – a real sweet rye butterscotch on the back of a whole lot of alcohol. The heat gradually evolves into a butterscotch pudding but overall it hits big and hard . . The finish seems diminished due to the palate shock. Could use some water…
EHTSR – surprisingly a slightly bitter sour arrival without much alcohol heat. Not as round or sweet as I had remembered. The sweetness gradually develops midway but just slightly. It has a medium length finish with a “less sweet” butterscotch remaining near the end. I wonder what conditions this particular bottle might have endured.
Baby Saz – Initially sweet peppers and cardamom and a clearer arrival than the EHT and a little more sugar. There is a touch of heat up front also which quickly dries up the finish. Some light Szechuan pepper which gives a slight anesthetic quality as it finishes cleanly.
WATER AND 10 MINUTES:
Handy – about 1.5 tsp allows the nose to open to some burnt caramel and butterscotch. The alcohol is tamed somewhat but still present and I get a little more old oak. It arrives with a little more medicinal qualities which I did not care for… more water seems to be taming it now but also losing some character. There is a continued alcohol anesthetic quality to it. Time & air are its friends. Another few minutes finds more sugar and softer notes but honestly I can’t tell if my location or water ruined it. Not impressed which is not the general consensus with 2017 so perhaps it it this bottle or the location.
EHTSR – with 1 tsp water the sweetness is now more present in the nose. No alcohol. Still some grasses that are bright and sharp. The arrival has some clean pepper and burnt sugars. Develops nicely with a light vanilla and then the return of a little alcohol. After a few more minutes in the air some bitter pepper shows up in the development. Time is a friend and as it sits I find it sweeter, mellower and with more vanilla and soft tannins.
Baby Saz – with 1 tsp water it is now surprisingly similar to the EHTSR with more sugar in the nose. Holds up well with the water. A little more subdued but flavors still present with a clean and short finish.