I know a lot more about wine now thanks to RN74, but I wanted to learn about spirits. Thankfully, the Sorrento Hotel is offering Drinking Lessons twice a month now, so I joined them for their most recent vodka tasting at The Hunt Club’s bar.
Tucked in a corner at one busy, dark wood bar, the casual class of six was led by Erik Chapman, Head Distiller of Sun Liquor Distillery. If you haven’t been to or heard of Sun, you’re missing out on some of the best spirits Seattle has to offer, and one of a handful of distilleries in the country with a bar on site. (Now that’s one way to reduce your carbon footprint.)
Erik first poured a taste of his UNXLD vodka, which was ridiculously smooth, then started by telling us about the process he uses to make vodka, and about vodka in general. Most vodkas, like his own, are made with grain, and all are difficult to make. He passed around a glass of the grain, and asked us to try it. Like chewing on a taffy from last year’s Halloween, it was quite hard for a while before becoming soft, then opening up to flavors that paralleled his spirits.
To make vodka, he makes a base spirit, with yeast to begin the fermentation process. And he makes a lot of it – for every 100 gallons of base, only 6-7 proof usable gallons are left at the end of each distillation process. And everything Erik works on is old school craft – he uses a copper still, and filters with cotton or cheesecloth.
Then he talked about industry tricks, like compounds using pre-made spirits, and how adding glycerin is a common trick to make vodka taste smooth. (If you put some vodka on your hands and it feels a little greasy, that’s the glycerin.) Or that if you add spirits to ice and water, and if it turns cloudy, it’s a sign of poor distillation.
After making the nerdy crowd – me and the two chemists – happy with all that knowledge, he started on what everyone else wanted: the cocktails. He made three, and each was paired with some light bites served on a tiered tray. First was a variation on the Lily Bijou, with vodka, champagne, lemon juice, and a peach-sage shrub with a brandied cherry, served with scallops, seared and served with apples and raisins. Then a Kite Runner, with tons of citrus notes, served with oysters and Douglas Fir ice. Finally, mushrooms and escargot on toast to go with a vodka Martine, the predecessor to the Martini. The vodka and cocktails were the high points of the evening, as was listening to Erik’s joking commentary on working with spirits.
Tastes of Ebb + Flow vodka were served next, “the exact opposite” of Sun Liquor’s UNXLD: a single malt vodka, with a stronger scent and creamy taste. It was really lovely to taste such distinct vodkas, though I found myself wishing for time to taste a whole flight of vodkas. And that was the only real thing lacking for the evening – more vodka. I love cocktails, but I wanted to see how Skip Rock or Single Silo stacked up. Maybe that’ll happen at another Drinking Lesson.
At $35 per person, and a maximum of 12 people per class, you can bet on learning a ton about the industry, taste some great spirits, and maybe make some bad chemistry jokes while you’re at it. And that is a great class by any description. Visit the Sorrento Hotel’s website for more information and to RSVP for the December 12th Champagne Drinking Lesson.