It started with a Sodo rush hour. Steve Hawley looked out Westland Distillery’s monolithic front windows at the motorized slog of First Ave, and he realized the 2,200 square foot tasting room—then exclusively serving half-ounce drams of American single malt whiskeys and limited to four pours per person—had untapped hangout potential. The limitations, he figured, might actually be a boon: patrons could come in for an hour, wait out the traffic with snacks and cocktails, and since they each, by law, could have only two ounces of liquor total, overdoing it is a nonissue.
Thus the Cantilever Room was born. Westland renovated the tasting room, replacing a former retail space with a cocktail bar and locally sourced snacks.
The seeming stinger, though, is that the distillery still must play by the state’s strict tasting room laws: no pours over half-ounce, no more than four per person, and they may only serve alcohol that they produced, which right now is only American single malt. The restrictions that imposes—no vermouth! no amaro! no housemade vodka or gin infusions!—could make many a Seattle bartender wither to a corner and weep. (Bitters, though, are permitted because they’re considered a food product. Who knew.) But what initially seemed creatively cloistering to beverage curator Brian Mura, formerly of the Alibi Room and Re:Public, quickly liberated him.
The limitations gave way to petite cocktails that highlight Westland’s core whiskeys—American Oak, Peated, and Sherry Cask. Their first three-drink flight included the Pistol Pete (Peated whiskey, black peppercorn-infused honey, lime juice, sage) and the Almonds and Ascots (American Oak whiskey, orgeat syrup, black walnut bitters, lime).
The current flight is a holdover from Peat Week, so all three cocktails star their commemorative Peated bottling, a highlight being the Blood and Peat (cask-strength Peated whiskey, Luxardo maraschino cherry syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, blood orange soda). And Mura is planning to debut a winter flight following Thanksgiving.
Likewise, their lack of kitchen and food license means the food must be pre-packaged and opened at the table by the customer. “We call it ‘Picnic Style,’” Mura said. They cull the menu from companies doing similarly local and specific products—Beecher’s cheeses, charcuterie such as pork rillettes from Olympia Provisions, Patagonia Provisions smoked salmon, a couple of whiskey ice creams from Cupcake Royale.
Still, even though the room maybe skewing toward a happy hour haven, the space has a more scholastic bent than your average, well-drink-slinging whiskey bar; the cocktails function, partly, as initiation to straight drams of Westland's nuanced, pretty whiskeys.
“Our hope is to make whiskey less intimidating,” Hawley said. “And you give some people a plate of food and cocktails and talk about the same ideas—instead of giving them a neat pour, which they’re not used to drinking—it just changes the whole dynamic.”