Four years ago, Chef John Howie put his General Manager to a test. “Make me the best whiskey list in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.
GM Tim Lodahl gamely took up the challenge, and 650-700 bottles later, it is now safe to say the premier steakhouse in Bellevue offers a very impressive selection of some the best whiskeys from around the world.
You could literally go to John Howie Steak every single day for two years and try a different whiskey each time!
“We always want to tailor unique experiences for our guests, and since we love whiskey, it seemed very natural to focus on our whiskey list and make it as diverse as we possibly could,” says Tim Lodahl, affectionately referred to by Chef John as the “Whiskey Guy”. American, Scottish, Irish, Canadian, French, Spanish – name a great whiskey when you’re dining at John Howie Steak, and chances are they’re going to have it!
“We possibly carry the best selection of Macallan anywhere in the city,” says Lodahl. “Currently, we have about 20 bottles, ranging from the 12-year one to the 1824 Series Macallan M [which is blended with no age statement].”
Then of course, there’s Pappy Van Winkle. “No matter how many whiskey selections you have, guests are always looking for Pappy Van Winkle,” says Lodahl. “So we carry past and current releases.”
They even have a valuable 2002 bottle that came from the Old Stitzel Weller distillery. “We still have about a couple of ounces left of it, so anyone interested should come and get that last bit before it’s gone!” says Chef John.
But perhaps more interesting than anything else is the impressive selection of “private barrels” that Tim Lodahl and Chef John are personally nosing, tasting and picking for their list.
Private barrels are basically an opportunity for establishments to visit distilleries to either buy a barrel or make a blend with a unique taste profile that is highly personalized and one-of-a-kind. “The very first one we did was with Woodford Reserve in Kentucky,” says Lodahl. “We got a couple of barrels, and it was a special experience for our guests because you only get about 180 bottles from each, and once they are gone, they are gone. You’re really not going to be able to get two identical flavor profiles again.”
So far, John Howie Steak has done over 30 private barrels, most of them coming from Woodford. They also have Maker’s Mark, Elijah Craig, Weller, Eagle Rare-Blanton’s, Hudson Manhattan Rye, High West and Knob Creek. “This year, we’re looking to go down to Vermont and do a Whistle Pig Rye barrel, and then hopefully there is a potential to get a Highland Park Single Malt barrel – something I have been working on for five years,” says Lodahl.
So how exactly do private barrels get put together?
“Well, some are just single barrels that are prepared already,” explains Lodahl. “You can pull the whiskey straight into a glass, and taste them side by side and decide which barrel to buy. But Woodford, for example, makes blended products so there are several selections in that. You start with six glasses at cask strength and you taste them – or `nose’ them really because they’re anywhere between 120 proof to 135 proof at the time. Then you eliminate two and the person you are working with – one of their masters of whiskey – blends the remaining four, like one and two, one and three and one and four, and brings the alcohol content down to 90 proof, which is the proof your final product. This allows you to get a better idea of what the taste profile and the mouth feel is going to be, and it’s a more customized process than simply pulling straight from a barrel.”
Maker’s Mark is another distillery with a Private Select Barrel Program, which allows establishments like John Howie Steak to make their own barrel of whiskey.
“At Maker’s Mark, you get to choose 10 staves, such as Seared French Cuvee, Maker’s 46, Toasted French Spice, Baked American Oak and Roasted French Mocha,” says Lodahl. “You put together a `board’ of flavors, depending on what you want your balance to be. Maybe you want the whiskey to be more spirit forward, or carry the traditional sweetness of caramel and vanilla. You can play around with the spice level and decide how you want the char to be. Once the selection is complete, the 10 staves you have chosen are strung onto a large metal hoop and placed inside a barrel of Maker’s 46 and left to rest for 10 additional weeks. At the end of 10 weeks, during which time the wood staves have interacted with the whiskey, they bottle your barrel.”
For whiskey connoisseurs, private barrels are a really special experience because each barrel is unique and very hard, if not impossible, to duplicate. And the passion with which Tim Lodahl is expanding John Howie Steak’s private barrel offerings, there’s less reason than ever to go anywhere else to enjoy some exceptional whiskey in Bellevue or the Greater Seattle area!
Check out the whiskey selection at John Howie Steak!
• Call 425-440-0880 for reservations, or visit JohnHowieSteak.com for more information.