You’re Overdue! (For a Visit to the Multnomah Whiskey Library)

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Followers of this blog know that the title – Thebeerchaser – is a misnomer of sorts.  While it mentions good lagers we taste at various watering holes, the focus is on the bars as an institution – the history, the character, the regulars and the staff.   That said, of the eighty-three Portland bars, taverns and breweries visited and reviewed since August, 2011, only one – the Pope Bourbon House – has focused on hard liquor or distilled spirits.

That is until the first Beerchasing event in 2017 – the Multnomah Whiskey Library (hereafter MWL), which Beerchasing regulars, Dan Eller, Michael Jones and I visited on January 4th (more about those two fellows below).

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Eller and Jones

In the three + years since opened by owners, Greg Goodman and Alan Davis, this unique gathering place has taken Portland by a storm and received national attention.  For example, Thrilllist includes it in its 2014 list of the “Twenty-one Best Whiskey Bars in America.”  (“MWL ia about as close as you can get feeling like part of the 1% without going broke.”)

The MWL on its website lists forty-five links to newspaper and magazine articles ranging from the New York Times to the United Airlines Hemisphere to Travel and Leisure to Portland Monthly.  (Click on the links to see the articles)  An article in Paste Magazine was entitled “This May Be the Greatest Whiskey Bar in the World “ https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/07/this-might-be-the-greatest-whiskey-bar-in-the-worl.html

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Inconspicuous entrance

And while the reviews (including this one) have been overwhelmingly positive, there are some who feel it is not consistent with Portland values and culture:  “…..The pretentious vibe, however, was a bit much…” (Yelp 12/3/16).   Most of the negative comments relate to the doorman and staff at the vestibule – they check-in every person entering the bar – it’s in an old building (formerly a piano warehouse) on SW Alder Street.  You’ll have to look for a small sign above the door, overshadowed by the sign for Chizu – a sushi bar for cheese in the space next door.

There is a sound rationale for the check-in staff and procedure set forth below based on the MWL business model.  Those who simply drop in can expect to wait from forty-five minutes to two hours or more (on weekends) in the Green Room – the smaller bar on the ground floor, before being ushered up to the spacious and ornate lounge above.

The Green Room downstairs

The Green Room downstairs

Because many don’t want to hear the hostesses’ message or resent having to wait, the recipients of their ire are the ones who convey the message.  For example:

“The hostess at the front repeats an automated, pretentious, stone-cold response to stomp the hopes out of every potential patron…..”  (Yelp 11/7/16)

“The waitress (in the Green Room) was standing behind the bar ignoring us. She was rude and hostile the entire time.” (Yelp 9/28/16)

“My guest and I were greeted by a pretentious lackey masquerading as a        maître d’…with the ferociousness of an angry kitty, this bow-tied fella who I suspect was the victim of bullying as a child has embraced his role as a table Nazi by taking tremendous pleasure in turning people away…..”  (Yelp 5/6/15)

photo-jan-04-6-46-30-pm-2You see, the MWL is primarily a member-based bar with 600 of Portland’s power-crowd paying the $600 annual fee which allows them unfettered access during normal  operating hours and preferred reservations to special and educational events – and don’t forget a “Set of the Library’s custom tasting glassware”!?!.   Although that same amount could buy you 400 Happy-hour draft PBRs at the Yamhill Pub, there are more than 600 people on the waiting list. 

So maybe it was appropriate that my companions were Eller and Jones, since Dan is a tax and estate-planning lawyer at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt and Jones is an investment counselor/financial adviser with Merrill-Lynch.   Given the increased scrutiny the IRS gives to meals and entertainment expenses, Eller would be able to advise to ensure maximum deductibility and Jones could develop a financial strategy so you could experience at least most of the 1,500 different labels (a total inventory of 1,900 bottles) well into retirement.

Eller on Cycle Oregon trip

Eller on Cycle Oregon ride

These two gents have accompanied me on two other Beerchasing events – the Oregon Public House, the Pope Bourbon House.  Both fit the profile of successful young, civically- involved Portlanders the MWL would want on its roster.  Eller, besides his Masters in Finance at Portland State and law degree, has an LLM (Masters in Taxation) from the University of Washington.  He’s is on the board of Cycle Oregon and past chair of the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society besides being an adjunct professor at both Northwestern Law School at Lewis and Clark and Portland State in his spare time….                                  

Jones in his favorite non-bar environment

Jones in his favorite non-bar environment

Jones after his undergraduate degree at Marylhurst University earned his MBA, is a US Army veteran, and worked in management positions in Japan before returning to the states.   He has been on the City Club of Portland Board and chairs the annual Alzheimer Walk for the Oregon Alzheimer Association.  Mike is a skilled woodworker as well as an avid hunter and outdoorsman as you might deduce from this picture.  Both of these gents are also great family men.

Dan made sure that our group had a “Hall Pass,” so we did not have to wait to get in.  This entry fee for non-members at the MWL costs $25 per person.  The fee seemed inordinate since my only other experience with a hall pass was in grade school.  Then you could secure one at no cost by just raising your hand and looking at the teacher with an imploring and strained look on your face.  But in both instances, it’s a great way to avoid a wait.

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Antibiotic and janitorial resistant……

Upon entering, I was struck by the stark contrast with the one “grunge bar” visited on my Beerchasing journey (three times…) – the Yamhill Pub where one almost expected an inspection by the Oregon Health Division in order to get out of this bar – the toilets may be a breeding ground for hostile invasive species in all likelihood immune to antibiotics.

The stairs at the Whiskey Library lead up to a spacious dimly-lit room with what was described by one Trip Advisor reviewer as “an absolutely dazzling selection” (8/16) and the MWL website proudly asserts is “…an exhaustive collection representing all major and lesser styles of distilled spirits known to the modern world.”  

There are a number of twelve-foot ladders which the staff use to retrieve many of the bottles – “organized categorically by region, ingredient and distilleries’ production practices. In short, this is a whiskey lover’s paradise.”  (PDX Eater  6/4/14)

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Fear of heights might be a problem when dusting the bottles

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Indeed, the collection is so extensive that the new employees each take part in the ongoing cycle of “dusting” the bottles.  Our server, Jason, confirmed this informing us that the dusting shifts for new employees also help them learn the names of the brands served.

The ornate framed portraits lining the walls stand out.  These are “the most important people in whiskey, all done by local artists. They include Jack Daniels, Mary the Jewess (‘the first true alchemist of the Western world’), George Washington, and Shinjiro Torii (the founder of Suntory whiskey).  (Munchies Magazine 5/7/15)  

Portraits of Whiskey Icons

Portraits of Whiskey Icons

And one’s initial exposure to the stained-glass skylights, the dark wood tables and long wrap-around bar, leather chairs and over-stuffed couches, exposed brick, twenty-foot ceilings, chandeliers and the hushed efficiency of the vested and tie-wearing servers, may be responsible for multiple ethereal references:

“I feel that this is what man heaven must be like.” (Yelp 5/4/16)

“(I thought) I died and went to whiskey heaven.” (Yelp 8/24/16)

“The host checking people in…pretends to be the gatekeeper to heaven.” (  5/29/16)

The scope of this review doesn’t provide space to amplify on the Green Room, but it also reeks of class and evidently has a nice selection of spirits.  Similarly, I will not address the food served at the MWL which has been described as good and reasonably priced.

And lest you think that the sophisticated ambiance and upscale trappings mean a stuffy or staid group of patrons, there was a nice energy in both bars and the crowd was diverse in demographics as one reviewer described it:

“(The crowd was) also classy, buzzing with conversation.  It feels like people here are talking about culture and worldly experiences vs. whose sports team is better or the Kardashians.”  (Yelp 12/23/16)  (not that the latter should be a standard…..)

Jason, our personal bartender

Jason, our personal bartender

Jason, our bartender/server, as reflected in most of the reviews on the staff, was knowledgeable, very helpful and a nice person.  Having worked there for eighteen months, he loves his job and answered our ongoing stream of questions about the bar and the selection of whiskeys as he prepared our cocktails at his rolling cart by our table.

Notwithstanding some stories about the extravagant tabs run up by some high-rollers (one rumored at $15,000 over two nights), the prices are pretty reasonable and we sampled a broad range of libations without requiring bank financing.  For example, I had an Old Fashioned, their “go to” drink,  while Eller had a Manhattan and Jones a Cadet (40 creek barrel select, fundador, nocino, house spirits coffee) and the round cost under $30 without tip.  They also have three beers on tap as well as a number of bottled beers for those with a myopic perspective.

The Room

The Private Tasting Room

I had a friend who went there on business who told me that he shared the most expensive bottle of scotch he’d ever drunk costing $350 (bought by the other party…) and MWL’s most expensive offering is a single-malt Macallan Royal Marriage, with a price tag of $1,785 a shot. according to Munchies Magazine.  You have to shell out $1,250 to procure your own “spirit locker.”

Our visit was a great experience and I don’t expect to visit another bar where the head bartender has the title of “Librarian” or “Curator” and where “Membership cards are personalized with your name laser etched into cherry wood…. making them, quite possibly, the coolest library card in the word.” (Montecristo Mag 9/30/14).  My only comparable experience was in my junior year at Oregon State when NROTC midshipmen Mulvey, Riley and I sneaked a pint of Wild Turkey into the William Jasper Kerr Library to help us study for a final exam in our navigation course.

While one can sympathize to a certain extent with those who encounter an unexpected and very long wait, it’s only requires a modicum of common sense to do a little research before going to a high-profile bar of this type rather than just dropping in.  A hall pass can eliminate the wait and is well worth the price.  The Multnomah Whiskey Library fills a good niche in the Portland food and beverage sector.

The Multnomah Whiskey Library         1124 SW Alder Street

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Two high rollers and Thebeerchaser…..

 

Retired Navy Captain Rick Williams — Beerchaser-of-the Quarter

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Each quarter Thebeerchaser recognizes an individual or group that in his opinion has made a contribution to humanity.  Said “honoree” may or may not have anything to do with beer or bars other than enjoying an occasional microbrew (or PBR) in a favorite watering hole.

Captain Jud Blakely, USMC

Captain Jud Blakely, USMC

Several of the past recipients have been selected, so to speak, for their distinguished military accomplishments – Jud Blakely – USMC – and Doug Bomarito – US Navy — and Steve Lawrence (now Mayor of The Dalles, Oregon) – US Army – all recipients of the Bronze Star with Combat V for service in Viet Nam.  In fact, Lawrence received both a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for heroism in combat. (Click on the links above to see the posts.)

Bronze Stars awarded to Steve Lawrence

Bronze and Silver Stars awarded to Steve Lawrence

The new Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, had a diverse and distinguished Navy career, before retiring in 2000 and “homesteading” in Redland, Oregon.  He also happens to be Thebeerchaser’s youngest brother.  The narrative below is his story:

Rick as a naïve and idealist 4th class or freshman midshipman

Rick as a naïve and idealistic 4th class or freshman midshipman

Captain Rick Williams stood on the bridge of the Third Fleet Command Ship USS CORONADO on a sunny day in June, 1997, as she steamed up the Willamette with four other Navy ships for the Portland Rose Festival. Rick thought about his time spent in Corvallis as a Class of 1974 OSU NROTC Midshipman – where he graduated with a degree in Construction Engineering Management in June 1975 – and the mentors who had guided him along the way.  OSU was where he was commissioned by Captain Chuck Dimon, his Professor of Naval Science, and sent to his first sea tour.

200_ Change of Command Ceremony in San Diego

With family receiving his first Legion of Merit Award from Vice Admiral Herb Brown, Commander of the US Navy Third Fleet in 1997

 

Fast forward to July 2000 — Rick was at his change of command and retirement ceremony at Submarine Base – Point Loma, where the same Captain Chuck Dimon granted him permission to come ashore after 25 years, including 21 years of continuous sea duty and 17 cross-country moves.

Although an additional tour at the Pentagon carried the potential of Flag rank, he and his wife, Mary Jean, agreed that their two young boys deserved some stability rather than being uprooted every few years.  So Rick retired and his family took root on several acres in rural Redland, near Oregon City where he graduated from high school.

Since retirement, Rick has worked at Tektronix for three years, and now Leidos, a defense contractor for over 12 years. He consulted as Chief Technology Officer of Oregon Iron Works, helped industry and Oregon State University develop wave energy and continues to work with the military on wave energy test centers.  In 2014, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust renamed its annual Ocean Energy Leadership Award in his honor. He was the inaugural recipient of the award in 2012.

Brothers Garry and Don Williams

Brothers Garry and Don Williams

Rick’s NROTC scholarship and future Navy career may have been preordained because of the family military roots of his two older brothers.

Don, in the OSU Class of 1970, received his commission as a surface line officer, while his brother Garry, US Military Academy at West Point Class of 1972, served as an Armored Cavalry officer.

His brother-in-law, Dave Booher, also served as a sonarman on two Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines for five nuclear deterrent patrols and was aboard the diesel boat USS Dogfish (which is older than the Beerchaser, having been launched in 1944) before he left the Navy.  Dave’s naval service was not significant except by his own admission, “I saved Democracy from the USSR during the Cold War…..”  It should be noted that he also redefined the meaning of the term, “Lost the Bubble,” while serving on those patrols.

Don (2nd from left) his senior year with then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird in Wash. DC

Don (2nd from left) his senior year with then Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird in Wash. DC

Garry (3rd from left) and the West Point Glees Club at the White House with President Nixon in 1971

Garry (3rd from left) and the West Point Glee Club at the White House with President Nixon in 1971

Indeed, Thanksgiving holidays at the Williams’ household would see the loser of the Army vs. Navy game bet make payment on the outcome.

Hard hat

“Hard hat” Diver

Rick’s career would be viewed by most Navy detailers as an anomaly, or… ”No, you can’t do that…!”  His motivation evolved from his 2nd Class (sophomore) Midshipman tour of Submarine Base – Point Loma in 1972, where he learned of the Navy’s Sea Lab and Deep Submergence Systems Project.

That inspired a year’s leave of absence from NROTC to study ocean engineering at OSU in 1973, Navy scuba diver qualification as a 1st Class Midshipman and summer cruise on a salvage ship in 1974.

Note:  While Rick was a whiz at math and science, his comprehension of world geography was lacking.  While on this 1/C cruise and in port in Singapore, he awoke me with a phone call at 3 AM.

He wanted to borrow $50 for what he characterized as “an investment in the future” – to buy a watch.  Although he maintains that he paid it back (…and he did give me the watch as a gift), it is still carried as an Accounts Receivable on Thebeerchaser’s personal balance sheet (… just to keep messing with him for the 3am phone call).

After graduation and commissioning in 1975, he was off to Naval School Diving and Salvage as a “hardhat” diver, followed by Surface Warfare School.

Note:  Rick maintains that he can still swim 500 yards in 12.5 minutes (using only combat side-stroke or breast-stroke), do 50 push-ups in two minutes, 50 sit-ups in two minutes, six pull-ups in two minutes and then a 1.5 mile run in 12.5 minutes (after a ten-minute rest period) – required to qualify as a diver.  No bet has been placed……

Underwater dives during ____

Underwater dives from the SEA CLIFF

In his first sea tour on the Navy’s newest ocean engineering platform, submarine rescue ship USS PIGEON (ASR 21), he served as Communications Officer, Damage Control Assistant, Acting Engineer, and Operations Officer, and qualified as a Deep Sea (HeO2) Diving Officer and Surface Warfare Officer .

During this tour, he attended Naval School Deep Diving Systems for saturation diving training as a Navy Aquanaut.   At the graduation, where he was elected class honor man, he met Submarine Development Group One Commodore Chuck Larson, who became a four-star Admiral as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) and then Commandant of the Naval Academy. Larson urged him to go into submarines.

He had to volunteer for nuclear power to get to submarines, however, Rick wanted to become a Navy Hydronaut and command a deep submergence vehicle. So, the Commodore’s plan was for Rick to “flunk” the interview with Admiral Hyman Rickover, go to sub school, and stay in SubDevGru One.

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USS SEAWOLF

But, after an unusual interview and an unplanned outcome (the Admiral selected him), it was off to Nuclear Power School in Orlando where he was again class honor man, then Nuclear Prototype Training in Idaho and Submarine Warfare School in Groton.

He served two deployments on the USS SEAWOLF (SSN 575) – the oldest operational fast-attack sub in the world. Rick qualified in Submarines and as a Nuclear Propulsion Engineer.

After this five-year detour, he took command of the Deep Submergence Vehicle SEA CLIFF (DSV 4), an “inner space ship” built for deep ocean recovery with a crew of fourteen special projects submariners including three officers.   Rick served almost 3 years during the SEA CLIFF’s conversion from a 6,500 feet steel-sphere and aluminum frame vehicle, to titanium rated for 20,000 feet – an extraordinary and accelerated nine-month project – and the deep ocean operations that followed.

USS Sea Cliff Operations in the Pacific

USS Sea Cliff surfacing after operations in the Pacific

He then served as Engineer on the newest Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine USS ALABAMA (SSBN 731 Gold Crew) during four strategic deterrent patrols, as Executive Officer on the USS CAVALLA (SSN 684) and on the USS OLYMPIA (SSN 717).

After graduation from the Command Course, Rick became CO or skipper of the USS SPADEFISH (SSN 668)Note: Knowing what I knew about my youngest brother’s college escapades, this promotion made me acutely aware that this same kid now had responsibility for a nuclear reactor.    2015-09-22 19.53.04

His final fleet billet was Third Fleet Submarine Warfare Officer, embarked on the USS CORONADO in San Diego.  So what were the highlights of this amazing military career?

Rickover Interview in ‘79 – While Rick would not describe it as a “highlight,” one of the most memorable incidents was his interview with the irascible Admiral Hyman Rickover, known as the Father of the Nuclear Navy, who served for 63 years.

Admiral Rickover - Father of the Nuclear Navy.

Admiral Hyman Rickover – Father of the Nuclear Navy.

“The Admiral sat behind a large gray, dented, desk (“LGDD” in Navy terms). He   started by berating me for being an athlete in college (Rick was Captain of the OSU Ski Racing Team) and then castigated me for dropping a typing class at OSU.  He was critical of my Navy career path and did not want “late” entries to his Program.

He told me several things about my service history that were… well, just wrong. So, after several unsuccessful attempts at correcting the record (and given that I was supposed to flunk the interview anyway), I told him ‘Your paperwork is wrong, Sir.’”

The 5-minute interview ended with the Admiral screaming at his Executive Assistant and yelling at Rick, “Get out of here!”   Rick was extremely surprised that Rickover selected him for the Program.   Note:  Thebeerchaser thinks that most men would be crotchety if they had to go through life with the first name “Hyman.”  He was probably making up for the abuse he took from schoolmates on the playground…..

DSV SEA CLIFF Dives in ’84-85 – After post-conversion sea trials to 15,000 feet, SEA CLIFF successfully recovered the downed CH-53E helicopter — a crash that had the Rapid Deployment Force grounded around the globe — in a six-month effort off the Pacific Coast. Rick and his crew then completed other deep ocean operations and SEA CLIFF’s initial dive to 20,000 feet in the Middle American Trench off Guatemala.

Underwater shot of the Sea Cliff

Underwater shot of the Sea Cliff

Problems with this cup if you order a Starbucks Tall Coffee

Problems with this cup if you order a Starbucks Tall Coffee

The “squashed cup” you see in the picture was a full size coffee cup tied to a line outside the vehicle and shows the effects of the pressure at 20K.

Press coverage of record dive.

Press coverage of record dive.

One thought-provoking moment occurred at 19,700 feet under water when the SEA CLIFF’s high pressure air gauge, which was supposed to register 3,000 psi, pegged off-scale.

USS Sea Cliff

USS Sea Cliff

In spite of the “sea water intrusion event” (or flooding of the high pressure air system) and after verifying depth control, the crew successfully completed the test dive.

As a result of the 20K dive, SEA CLIFF was designated by the Secretary of the Navy as America’s Flagship for America’s Year of the Ocean and Rick was elected as a Fellow in the prestigious Explorers Club, the international society which is headquartered in New York City. 

USS SPADEFISH Adventures in ’92-93 – Rick led two under-ice expeditions to the North Pole during his command of SPADEFISH. She surfaced through the ice “about a dozen times” and visited Tromso, Norway.

Sequence of pictures surfacing at the North Pole in the Spadefish

Sequence of pictures surfacing at the North Pole in the SPADEFISH

The trips were also “Freedom of Navigation Exercises” to assert US rights of passage in international waters — as the Russians were trying to assert territorial rights in the Arctic Ocean – a situation which is still a critical defense issue today.

USS Spadefish Battle Flag

Original USS SPADEFISH Battle Flag in WW II

SPADEFISH was the Squadron Six Tactical Top Performer in 1994.

USS SPADEWISH

USS SPADEFISH

 

 

Third Fleet in ’94-98 – While on sea duty, Rick earned his MBA at San Diego State.  His thesis project led to the reorganization of Third Fleet as a Sea Based Joint Task Force and he became Assistant Chief of Staff for Command and Control.

He was led the design team and was the Fleet Manager for the conversion of the flagship into the prototype Joint Command Ship of the Future and created the Sea Based Battle Laboratory to accelerate capabilities into the Fleet.  This led to one of his Legion of Merit awards.

Certificate for CORONADO after the conversion

Certificate for CORONADO after the conversion

The USS CORONADO in Seattle Harbor

The USS CORONADO in Seattle Harbor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rick was selected as an Acquisition Professional.  His next tour was at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command as Deputy Director, Advanced Concepts, working on Fleet Battle Experiments.

From a naïve 4th Class Midshipman taking naval history courses in the NROTC Quonset hut and participating in weekly drills, Rick Williams fully utilized the knowledge and skills he acquired at OSU and in numerous Navy schools.   He rose through the ranks to Captain with two Legions of Merit in a diverse Navy career and post retirement work as a consultant.  he still wonders, however, why Admiral Rickover chewed him out over dropping a typing class…!

Rick's Wedding in 1986 - Three Navy Guys (Dave, Rick and Don), a minister and an Army Guy (Garry)

Rick’s Wedding in 1987 – Three Navy Guys (Dave, Rick and Don), a minister and an Army Guy (Garry)

The Williams clan in the '60's including sister, Lynne, Duane and Frannie

The Williams clan in the ’60’s including sister, Lynne, Duane and Frannie