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Fork Dork: On Basketball Blues, Booze and the Bellevue Bourbon Bash

Chef Dylan Giordan from Kirkland's bin on the lake discusses his bourbon-braised pork belly.

With the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, affectionately referred to as March Madness, under way, my thoughts turn to the basketball hotbed of Kentucky.

Four schools from Kentucky--the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Murray State University and Western Kentucky University--made the NCAA tournament. My beloved University of Washington Huskies were snubbed. How’s that for a maddening March?

The madness turned me to drink an Old Fashioned, the classic cocktail made with bourbon, another Kentucky staple. This time, I enjoyed an Old Fashioned at Bitterroot, the new Montana-style bar in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

But there is plenty of bourbon to go around on the Eastside and never a wider selection than at the Bellevue Bourbon Bash on March 22, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., at  at  downtown. Guests can sample more than 70 bourbons and other whiskeys, and grub on appetizers by Daniel’s Broiler. For tickets ($125 general adminission, $175 VIP) or more information, call
425-990-6310 or email finespirits@schwartzbros.com.

Steve Williams of Pilchuck Distributors Inc., one of the organizers of the bash, says it’s one of the biggest bourbon tastings outside of Kentucky. Whiskeys from Pilchuck’s portfolio and several others will be served, including Elijah Craig, Basil Hayden, Bulleitt, Four Roses, George Dickel, Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s, Maker’s Mark, Pappy Van Winkle, Woodford Reserve, Booker Noe, Blanton’s, Rittenhouse and Templeton.

Before we go too far, I should dispel one of the great myths surrounding bourbon: it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky to be labeled as such. In fact, , in its namesake city in northeast King County, makes a pleasant bourbon. Their bourbon will also be served at the Bellevue Bourbon Bash.

Bourbon derives its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where the spirit originated. The legal requirements to be labeled bourbon are that it be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51 percent corn; it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels; distilled to no more than 160 proof (80 percent alcohol by volume); poured into a barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5 percent alcohol by volume); and bottled at least 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume).

Woodinville Whiskey Co. makes tiny amounts of bourbon aged in tiny 8-gallon American oak barrels. It translates into about three times more oak contact during the aging process creating a deeper color, firmer structure and bigger flavor. The first bourbon by Woodinville Whiskey Co., released last November, sold out quickly. Look for their next release, the Mashbill No. 9 Bourbon Whiskey, later this year.

At the new Koral Bar & Kitchen at the  in downtown Bellevue, the house Manhattan is made with Buffalo Trace bourbon and Antica vermouth. During happy hour, daily 3-6 p.m. and 9 p.m.-midnight, the Koral Manhattan is only $4 ($8 on the regular menu). The entire bar menu, including appetizers, small plates, wines by the glass and cocktails, is half-off during happy hour. Beers are $2 off.

Kevin Stewart at  consistently delivers a killer Old Fashioned with a side of personable service. Chris Faber at  in Bellevue favors cold draft ice to make an Old Fashioned. The slow-melting ice means your cocktail won’t be watered down.

Some chefs around the Eastside also incorporate bourbon in their savory dishes. Dylan Giordan, the new chef at  at the  in Kirkland, braises pork belly in bourbon.

“The bourbon-braised pork belly combines a lot of flavors that work well with each other. Pork and apple are natural friends,” Giordan said. “This particular preparation is very much the representation of me moving to a more fine dining spot at bin on the lake, focusing on technique but still keeping flavors and presentation at the forefront.”

At bin on the lake, Manhattans are made with bourbon and their sweet vermouth blended in-house.

Rob Williamson, who was the general manager at Russell’s in Bothell and now serves as an account executive at Pilchuck Distributors, expects demand for bourbon, bourbon cocktails and dishes made with bourbon to continue to grow.

“Bourbon is a uniquely American product. Many of the finer expressions of bourbon rival many of the finest spirits around the world,” Williamson said. “It’s something that more people are starting to discover. People are realizing there’s a broad spectrum of flavors that can be represented in bourbon.

The Bellevue Bourbon Bash "is an event that I think will continue to grow. It will bring focus to the area.”

Kevin Casey March 17, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Good article. From a bourbon drinking Kentucky boy. There are many single barrel bourbons distilled in Kentucky and each offer a very distinct flavor. Looking forward to my visit to the Bourbon Bash. And Go Cards!
Jeanne Gustafson March 18, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Sounds like it's going to be a really cool event, Kevin. I hope it doesn't make you too homesick! Enjoy!
Chris Nishiwaki June 10, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Has the Bourbon market in Washington changed since liquor sales privatized?

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