For this month’s bottle, Nate looked up north to Oregon to find something unique
and different, a change of pace from the bourbons and ryes we’ve featured in the
club of late. May’s bottle is a single barrel offering from the good people at Clear
Creek Distillery in Hood River, Oregon: McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt,
distilled from a mash of peat-malted Scottish barley!
Founded in 1985, Clear Creek Distillery primarily produces brandies and
liqueurs emphasizing fruit native to the Pacific Northwest region. They also
produce vodkas, gins and whiskeys, and serve as a contract distiller for
other local smaller operations. They use traditional techniques originating
in Europe to turn their Mount Hood spring water and fresh orchard
ingredients into craft spirits highlighting the local Oregon terroir.
McCarthy’s is among the contract distillations Clear Creek handles, and the
only spirit they distill featuring Scottish peat. This makes McCarthy’s
Oregon Single Malt a bit of a departure from the basic Clear Creek menu,
though it’s been a departure they’ve been honing for the past couple
Over 20 years ago now, Steve McCarthy visited the UK, fell in love with
peated single malt whisky, and came back intent on crafting his own.
McCarthy hooked up with Clear Creek to help him produce it to his specs.
His whiskey was among the first American Single Malts, doing much to
help establish the American craft single malt movement. The movement has
since seen other major players in the Pacific Northwest, such as Westward
in Portland, and on across the country—Homes Base Spirits here in the Bay
Area, Balcones in Texas, Virginia Distillery Company in Virginia, and
McCarthy’s intent was to honor the peated scotch he’d been smitten with
during his UK travels, and blend it with what Oregon had to offer in the
way of clear mountain water and those misty Pacific Northwest weather
patterns. The result has gathered numerous awards over the years:
Double Gold – New York World Wine & Spirits Competition (2021)
Gold – Best of the Northwest, Sip Northwest (2020)
Gold – Whiskies of the World (2019)
Gold – San Francisco World Spirits Competition (2017)
Gold – Los Angeles International Spirits Competition (2017)
97 Points – Ultimate Spirits Challenge (2017)
Gold – Whiskies of the World Awards (2016)
This particular single barrel was originally intended for a restaurant that
unfortunately closed as a result of the pandemic. This accounts for the
bottling date of February 4, 2020. Not wanting this batch to languish,
McCarthy offered it to us and we were glad to give it a home.
Interview with Head Distiller Caitlin Bartlemay
Our barrel is No. 169, bottled 2/4/2020. Is there anything you can share
about this particular barrel—i.e type of barrel, exact age prior to
bottling, entry proof, any particulars about the type of barley used,
where the peat comes from, etc.
This barrel is out of the distillers’ favorite series of Oregon Oak barrels.
The barrel is a 223L 100% Oregon Oak casks. The liquid was distilled in
October of 2015 and barreled on 11/02/2015 at 110 proof. It was pulled
from this cask on 12/24/2019, making this 4.15yrs old. The wash itself is
made from 100% peat malted barley imported from Port Ellen in Scotland.
This bottle states the fermenting took place at Double Mountain Brewery &
Taproom. I’ve seen other breweries, like Widmer Brothers, listed on other
batches. Does McCarthy’s use a variety of fermenters? And if so, what’s the
strategy behind that?
We had a partnership with Widmer for a long time. With Widmer’s success and
growth they needed to focus on all of their own beers. We reached out to Double
Mountain in Hood River and a partnership was struck. As an interesting aside,
Double Mountain purchased Widmer’s roller mill when they started in Hood
River. So while the wash is being brewed by a different brewery, the grain is still
being milled with the same mill!
What aspects of the process do Clear Creek handle?
Clear Creek receives the fermented wash from Double Mountain. We distill, bring
to barrel strength, barrel, and blend the whiskey. It’s then bottled at our parent
company- Hood River Distillers.
Are there any other products in the McCarthy’s line or plans to produce
Clear Creek makes many award winning fruit brandies and liqueurs from Pacific
Northwest fruit. The McCarthy’s brand currently has 5 sku’s. 3yr at 85pf, 3yr
Single barrel, 6yr at 100pf, 6yr Single Barrel, and a soon to be released 6yr PX
finish at barrel strength.
Would love to get your take on the brands history?
McCarthy’s is named after the original owner and proprietor of Clear Creek
Distillery, Steve McCarthy. Having already started the 3rd craft distillery in the
nation making fruit brandy in 1985, he was on a trip to Ireland where he fell in
love with Scottish single malts. In keeping with Clear Creeks “Farm-to-Table and
local sourcing” Steve wanted to make an all Oregon Single Malt with Oregon Oak,
barley and peat. (yes, there is peat in Oregon) At the time Oregon craft brewing
was taking off, and while there were malt houses doing small batch malting, none
of them were willing to take on the peated aspect of the process. So the only way
to move forward with the project was to import the barley from Scotland, which
we continue to do to this day. We would love and hope to see in the future an all
Pacific Northwest Peated American Single Malt and be able to see Steve’s initial
vision through now that the industry has caught up to his ground breaking ideas.
Let’s take a sip. I tasted this after letting it sit for about 10 minutes in a
COLOR – a beautifully brassy
NOSE – soft yet pungent peat,
charcoal briquettes, sanded
unfinished oak planks, fresh forest
rain, bright fruity barley
PALATE – very like the nose, with a
cooling silky texture balancing the
surprising bite of the 85 proof, the
peat taking my sense memory to
Laphroaig only far less punchy and
medicinal, the fruity grain
gradually leaning into soft subtle
FINISH – peat, fruity barley adding brightness, and a faint vanilla
caramel note now lingering in the background
OVERALL – a clear sunny day at a forested peat bog after a fresh rain
has doused the BBQ, and the longer it takes air in the glass the more
It feels silly to compare this whiskey to any older peated scotch like a Laphroaig,
Ardbeg or Lagavulin, nor even to a similarly young Islay whisky like Kilchoman.
But comparing is a natural inclination that can help us to understand what we’re
experiencing, while also running the risk of distracting us from the actual
experience on offer in the glass.
Peat is such a distinctly Scottish aroma and flavor. And Oregon, despite its
tendency toward mist and rain, is nevertheless a distinct terroir from Scotland. So
this whiskey made from peat-malted Scottish barley, otherwise produced and aged
in Oregon, comes across a bit like a Scott who’s been living in the States a while,
lost the hard edge of their roguish dialect, and gained a bit of a sunnier disposition.
Now that’s an assessment based in silly cultural clichés of Americans and Scotts.
But hopefully it helps make the point. McCarthy’s is not an Islay whisky. And no
Islay whisky is McCarthy’s. Where an Islay scotch might take my mind to a briny
beach BBQ, McCarthy’s takes me to a picnic in the woods. The charcoal is there,
the earthiness, the sweet fruitiness of the barley grains. But taken on its own terms,
McCarthy’s offers a distinctly inland, forested variation. With time in the glass, the
fruitiness really starts to emerge more prominently from among the peat and ashen
charcoal briquettes, and this single barrel McCarthy’s takes on a quite refreshing
Next time you visit the store, let us know what you think…!
Peat, Peach & Caramel.
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