Editor’s Note: This whisk(e)y was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
One look at the bottles for one of the newest whiskeys coming out of Portland, Ore., and you suspect you might be in for something special. Or at least something connected deeply to the Pacific Northwest, from a brand willing to spend a little extra to get the details right.
Bird Creek Distillery is named for the Bird Creek Meadows Loop, a popular (and scenic) hiking trail a couple of hours outside Portland on the flanks of Mount Adams. A three-dimensional version of Mount Adams appears inside the distillery’s bottles, and the bottle tops include a working compass, art showing regional scenes that rotate from bottle to bottle, and the map coordinates for the Bird Creek trailhead.
The distillery is the brainchild of Portland Coffee Roasters founder Mark Stell, who recently talked with The Whiskey Wash about how a coffee guy became a whiskey guy – and how the two businesses, in fact, complement each other. Stell is committed to working with Pacific Northwest farms on regional barley strains, and leaning into a regionally specific form of American single malt.
One of Bird Creek’s first releases was aged over four years, featuring two regional grains: Baronesse barley grown by Joseph’s Grainery in Colfax, Wash.; and Full Pint barley bred and developed by the Oregon State University Barley Breeding Program, and grown in Madras, Ore. There is also a cask-strength version, which sells for about $30 more and comes in at 115 proof rather than 90, and some single casks which focus on specific barley types.
Tasting Notes: Bird Creek Small Batch American Single Malt
Vital Stats: Mash bill of 100% malted barley; aged over 4 years in new oak; 90 proof/45% alcohol by volume; available in Oregon only; MSRP of $96 for a 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Burnt orange, with watery legs on the side of the glass.
Nose: Sweetness hits you right away, more reminiscent of a bourbon than a barley-based whiskey like Scotch or Irish. Molasses, Fig Newtons, and buttery Chardonnay.
Palate: Oak flavors are also readily evident in the mouth, led by vanilla and caramelized sugar. I taste leather, which is somewhat surprising in a young single malt. Also shortbread cookies, French toast, and dates. The finish is long and honeyed.
Whiskey Review: Bird Creek Small Batch American Single Malt
The whiskey itself is surprisingly good for a first release from an aspiring label. Mark Stell is clearly aiming at a niche market, at least initially, with high-quality, somewhat-expensive American single malt built on distinctive Pacific Northwest barley flavors. The bottles, the barrels, and the barleys all suggest a brand that is striving for distinctiveness and quality rather than mass distribution. In the rapidly expanding market for American whiskies, there is plenty of room for that.
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Scott Bernard Nelson
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.