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How Matt Hofmann is Making Seattle a Whiskey-Lover's Paradise

The Westland Distillery's Master Distiller shares his thoughts on local spirits and uniquely Seattle experiences

Westland Distillery co-founder Matt Hofmann’s entire livelihood comes strictly from the distinct ingredients of Pacific Northwest: peat, malt and water. He used those to create the first peated single malt American whiskey using entirely local components. After years of maturation and anticipation, Westland released its American Single Malt Peated Whiskey in 2015 to wide critical acclaim (including an award for Whiskey of the Year from the American Distilling Institute). Hofmann spoke with Where about what inspires him in Seattle and beyond.    

What is the difference between a Scottish single malt and Westland’s?

Scotland’s got great history, that’s how they honor their whiskey tradition. Here [in America], we are free to interpret it as we think it should be made. So we’re making ours unique, and uniquely American. It’s a whiskey with the idea of terroir in the Northwest.

At what point did you realize your Westland whiskies might be a larger success?

I think the moment I got to share the news about being named the best craft whiskey producer in the world (by Whisky Magazine) with my team here tops the list. It really proved that we’re onto something and that the world sees Westland and Seattle as a place where we can make world-class whiskey.

Cantilever Room
The Cantilever Room at Westland Distillery. (©Rafael Soldi)

What’s the experience for visitors to the Westland Distillery in the SoDo neighborhood?

Come down and take a tour and get a tasting of some of our whiskies you won’t find anywhere else, even in Seattle. You can ask any questions and learn as much about whiskey as you like. We also offer a mini-cocktail flight too, for those who are unsure about wading into whiskey too quickly.

This intense focus on local ingredients that drives and inspires you with whiskey—is there a lot of support for that in the area?

The spirit of craftsmanship and well-made goods is quite strong in Seattle, so there are a number of places that make great things across a variety of industries. One of my favorites is Filson, who’s been making outdoor gear since 1897 here in Seattle. Their flagship store is about a half mile up the street from our distillery and you can see some products being made at the factory on-site.

What’s your favorite date spot?

Hands-down the best date spot in the Northwest is the Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Lummi Island is in the San Juan Island chain close to the Canadian border, a three-hour drive and ferry from Seattle. The chef there, Blaine Wetzel, spent some time at NOMA in Copenhagen and makes such a distinctly pure destination-style of Northwest cuisine. I’ve been fortunate in that in my line of work I’ve seen some pretty great restaurants around the world. Genuinely, Willows Inn has been better than all of them. Go up there around noonish, book a room for the evening, and take some time to explore the island. Dinner will be sublime, I promise, and then they serve breakfast in the morning too!

Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park. (©Stacy Booth)

Your family has deep roots in the Seattle area. What are some of your favorite places?

We love to walk or run along the Waterfront Park just north of downtown or at Gas Works Park north of Lake Union. I’m a big Mariners fan so I love going to Safeco Field for a baseball game. 

Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners. (Courtesy Safeco Field)

What’s your No. 1 travel destination outside of Washington?

I’ve been to Tokyo twice and can’t get enough of it. Kyoto is up there as a place to visit. I love driving and one of these days I’ll find the time to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to California starting at Highway 101 in Shelton, about an hour south of Seattle.