The design is set up so that you can look onto the distilling barrels as you taste your way through their line-up of carefully crafted spirits. The ambiance is cozy and relaxing (I hope you like green) with lots of natural light, and groovy music. Scratch is a kind of sanctuary a person goes to for respite, comfort, and, of course, organoleptic stimulation. The staff, moreover, is knowledgeable, attentive, and hospitable, which makes for an educational and regale experience.
Kim, the distiller, is wildly enthusiastic about her recipes. Her excitement about Scratch’s unfiltered spirits is on par with a cheesemaker’s pride taken in utilizing unpasteurized milk. Kim uses a vapor infusion method, which makes for more nuances in the resulting spirit—much like how one can access more aromatic and flavor volatility from raw milk cheese.
One aspect of palatal evolution that has recently piqued my interest is how spirits and cheese interact and why. I’ve heard ringing reviews about Scratch, so a few Sundays ago I went to test out a copious amount of fromage and spiritual combinations.
It was tough deciding which spirits to try, as their menu consists of so many interesting concoctions. In the end, I settled on five:
Potato Vodka: A neutral vodka made from organic, non-GMO potatoes grown in Warden, Washington. This vodka coats the mouth fully and boasts vanilla notes. It is not astringent and one-dimensional like a lot of vodka that I have tried, and I marveled at the subtle palatal clean up. All that lingers is vanilla in the exhale.
Martini Style Gin: A smooth, woodsy concoction with spicy complexity and a long finish. They use 17 botanicals in this gin, which could have resulted in a wallop of sensory overload. Instead, the botanical combination is graceful and well balanced.
WAquavit: A Washington take on Scandinavian Aquavit. The main component in Aquavit is caraway, and this viscous, warm liquer does not disappoint! With notes of butter pickles and rye bread, this is a curious, savory elixir.
Amo Pocio Amaro: A viscous blend of wheat vodka and things like grapefruit peel, pink peppercorns, sage, and more. This liquer is personality-plus. I noted grapefruit zest and herbaceous flavors in this Amaro, and I enjoyed it.
Wacino: A Washingtonian Nocino, a black walnut liquer that serves as one of the best digestifs in the area. A blend of black walnuts, wheat vodka, and baking spices, this liquer tastes like a snickerdoodle cookie and makes for a terrific dessert drink.
The cheese selection entailed a variety of milk types, strengths, and textures. We tasted each spirit with the first cheese and then moved onto the next cheese while tasting through each spirit, etc. It was a long process (though not daunting!) and super educational.
As I had surmised, high fat, soft cheeses coupled well with the vodka. The friendliest combinations across the board were the aged cow’s milk gouda (Oorsprong) and aged cow’s milk Italian grana-esque formaggio (Piave Vecchio). These two cheeses intermingled wantonly with spirits. The only exception with the two was their interactions with the gin; I disapproved of the perfume that manifested in my retronasal passage.
The cheeses that were made partly and/or entirely of goat’s milk did NOT agree with spirits. When it comes to fermentation, we are dealing with acids, esthers, alcohols, ketones, and all sorts of miniscule, scientific, microscopic details (and verbiage) that require a textbook or two. Goat’s cheese possesses medium-chain fatty acids that impart those goaty and piquant flavors that distinguish it from other milk types. My guess is that the volatile acids in the goat’s milk conflict with the volatile compounds in the spirits. To be certain of it, I have tried a handful of other goat’s cheeses with the vodka, Amaro, and Wacino at home. No good.
The most exciting cheese to pair with the spirits ended up being the blue cheese—the final morsel on the cheese board, the grand finale. Fourme D’Ambert is a medium strength cow’s milk blue with a good amount of fat and inherent minerality. Though I experienced a whiff of ammonia in the finish a few times, the blue really made the biggest impression with Scratch’s spirits. My favorite pairing of the tasting was Fourme D’Ambert with Wacino. It was a sweet, salty, and savory mouthful underlined with mulling spices. This is my idea of a perfect bite.
Every tasting that I conduct ends up being educational. It is not only a fun activity, but it also serves to make me a better cheesemonger. The more of an understanding I have of what pairs well and why, the more capable I am to steer my customers in the right direction. In this case, I am going to steer them and their fromage (sheep or cow’s milk) straight to Edmonds to pick up a bottle of artfully crafted booze.
At this time of uncertainty and societal/economic stagnation, it behooves us to do everything in our power to support our local artisans. Shop locally and prop up small businesses, for when this is over and we establish a semblance of normalcy, some of our favorite businesses will not be unshuttered. Let’s do what we can to soften such a devastating blow. Drop into Scratch and pick up a bottle of two of their spirits. While you’re sipping away in isolation, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done your part to help a local, well respected business.