The Whiskey Library
“Going to the library” probably isn’t what most people think of when describing plans for an exciting evening out. However, what if all the shelves were filled with different styles of whiskey and various spirits from all around the world? That may sound too good to be true, but in Portland, Oregon such a place does exist.
It’s not the easiest spot to find, but once you pass through the entryway, walk down a long corridor and up a flight of stairs you finally enter the Multnomah Whiskey Library. The interior has the feel of a large 20th century British parlor or high-class club with big leather chairs, brick walls, old wooden tables and ceiling-high bookshelves stocked with all kinds of booze. It’s a pretty extraordinary sight to take in, but can also be fairly intimidating, even to those who know a thing or two about their craft spirits.
Thankfully the Whiskey Library employs people like Colin Howard. Colin has a very extensive background in the professional food and beverage world; from working in the wine industry, to Head Distiller at House Spirits, and even opening his own bar and wine shop with his wife prior to coming on at the library. His role here is “Education Manager,” which involves hosting various events, searching for new or rare spirits and conducting weekly staff classes to further the MWL team’s knowledge and keep them at the top of their game.
Colin realizes that the world of whiskey and craft spirits can be intimidating to some visitors. However part of Colin’s job is breaking down that intimidation-factor. He often mentions his travels to France and Spain in prior years, where he experienced all kinds of new culinary adventures. He speaks of tasting various food and drink, and how even the simplest of meals were enjoyed and celebrated. “It was a shift in my mind and my senses that continues to stick with me today,” Colin says.
One of his favorite aspects of his career is helping others, whether that be co-workers or guests, experience new things. “To witness someone discover a new spirit, wine or cocktail that really sweeps them away and makes them want to discover more like it is a great feeling,” Colin says, “That moment of discovery is always a blast.”
At the Multnomah Whiskey Library, whether a guest orders a spirit neat from the exhaustive menu or a mixed drink, it really is an experience. Servers are extremely knowledgeable themselves and offer helpful tasting instructions or background about the different spirits. If you order a cocktail, a beautiful wooden bar cart will be wheeled directly to your table and the beverage will be carefully crafted before you. Whether you’re seated at the bar, a table or tucked in a booth, you are guaranteed an interactive experience.
When asked what sort of advice he would give to industry professionals when it comes to serving guests who may have little culinary knowledge, Colin likes to draw similarities to appreciating art, literature and music. “I find that understanding what people already have a passion for helps in explaining what may be new concepts when tasting a spirit for the first time,” Colin points out. “Meet people at their level, find out what they like and and draw comparisons to their interests.”
Enjoying food and drink and being able to learn and celebrate with others, certainly is one of life’s best luxuries. With this being Colin’s career, he is also very aware that not everyone has the ability to partake in these experiences. He is an avid supporter of an organization called No Kid Hungry, which works everyday to make sure children of all backgrounds have a dependable meal at school to get their day going without fear of going hungry. “Think about how hard it can be to work or even hold a conversation if you skip just one meal in your day,” Colin explains, “Young kids who are showing up to school and pushing to improve their education should not be faced with the fear and insecurity of not knowing whether they will eat today.”
Education and inclusion seem to be at the center of everything Colin does. To Whiskey Library guests and all craft spirit enthusiasts looking to grow, he emphasizes the thrill in the process of learning but also how the experience is deepened in like-minded company. Colin suggests getting people together, opening various bottles and comparing notes on flavor, geography, history or really any aspect that may be of interest. “We all started out knowing nothing about our field,” Colin says, “then someone or something lit that spark to learn as much as possible.”
Although Colin could certainly be referred to as an expert in the beverage industry, that’s not a title or identity he would claim for himself. Rather he says, “There is very little joy in being an expert. There’s joy in wondering what you’re about to learn.”