2015 Seattle Rising Star Distiller Matthew Hofmann of Westland Distillery

2015 Seattle Rising Star Distiller Matthew Hofmann of Westland Distillery
November 2015

Westland Distillery
2931 1st Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98134


The Pacific Northwest is home (and crucible) to a dynamic and booming distilling scene, with Seattle arguably emerging as its capital. Like many of his distilling contemporaries, Master Distiller Matthew Hofmann started at a young age, when he was still a student at the University of Washington. But his palate had awoken long before that. Growing up and going out to eat with his parents, Hofmann noticed a difference in flavor from the same meal cooked at home—and it piqued his interest. His concerns weren't liquid-focused yet, but the idea that craft can transform a product stuck.

And though Hofmann was studying economics, he kept on distilling, eventually going to Heriot Watt University in Scotland to earn his post-grad diploma and work on his Masters thesis. Working in Scotland had great influence on Hofmann, though what he brought home wasn’t a replica of the Scottish model. At Westland Distillery Hofmann is crafting a distinct (read: revolutionary), evolving blend of classic single malt traditions using five kinds of American malt (that's the revolutionary idea) for variety of character, fermenting with Belgian yeast for increased fruitiness, and aging in American new oak.

Hofmann, who is also the resident distiller at Steve Jone's groundbreaking Bread Lab, doesn’t apologize for “liberties” taken. Instead he sees himself as a trailblazer in the story of American Single Malt American Whiskey. With good reason, Hofmann’s set on pitting his Single Malt against the best in the world. 

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Distiller Matthew Hofmann of Westland Distillery

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start in distilling?
Matthew Hofmann:
I started distilling in college at the University of Washington, although I was there for a degree in economics. I was always into flavor when I was young. I began to really get into going out to restaurants and exposing myself to all these different flavors, tastes, and profiles. I was also fascinated by potato as a base distillate. Eventually, I got to barley and learned about all the different flavors that can come out of it. I went on to attned the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and got my post-graduates diploma in distilling after that.

SK: What’s the five year plan?
The goal for Westland Distillery is to be the leader for American single malt as a category; right now we’re one of two distilleries focusing on that and its all we make. We’re developing that category and gaining recognition around the world. I feel confident that we will be a world class malt whiskey distillery, being, in fact one of the best on the planet. We’re also pushing the green economy forward. Are you familiar with the book Third Plate [by Dan Barber]? Read the last chapter—we support the wheat and the barley aspect of that. Also, The Bread Lab is the single most important thing happening in the U.S. agricultural system right now, in my opinion.

SK: In the beginning, what was it that you intended wtih Westland's whiskey?
What I love about any product, really, is the connection to place. The most compelling whiskeys are from Islay, and the people are very traditional. I mean, they use peat to heat their homes. Our whiskey is reflective of the innovative spirit of Seattle. We didn’t intend to do this; it just turned out that way. Making a single cask is easy, making a consistent product is extremely difficult. And making one that sums up how American culture is reflected in whiskey is the most important thing I do.

SK: What's your favorite distilling tool, and what tool do you wish you had?
Distilling tool, a graduated cylinder; tool I wish I had, a GC-MS or Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer.

SK: What's you best distilling resource?
Friends in the industry. There just aren’t that many distilling resources—books, websites, programs—that are worth looking into. I’d love to help change that in my lifetime.

SK: What's your most important distilling rule?
Always be curious. Be open to inspiration at all times. Never assume you have everything figured out—actually that's the most important one.

SK: Where do you want to go for whiskey travel?
I want to go back to Japan. I’ve never seen a place where the appreciation for the product is so high and connoisseurship is practiced with hospitality and openness.

SK: What do you drink on your night off from the distillery?
Cask-strength whiskey, amari, German riesling, savory red wine, or a wellexecuted Helles or Stout. My whiskey-making style is heavily influenced by winemaking and brewing, and I think it’s important to study all beverages, if you really want to try to understand what good product is.




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