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Whiskey Review: C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon

C.W. Irwin Straight BourbonWhile many, many factors affect the production and final outcome of a bourbon, arguably the most frequently mentioned is the bourbon’s mash bill. A distiller’s choice mash bill is like your grandmother’s gravy recipe: usually three simple ingredients that everyone knows, portioned according to heirloom ratios backed in part by science, but mostly tradition. Some distilleries guard their mash bills with every fiber of their being, while others unabashedly share their percentages. But really, when it comes down to it, distillers are trying to find an ideal harmony of corn, malted barley, rye, and wheat.

If you look at different bourbon mash bills all across the United States of America, you’ll notice almost all of them can fall into one of three major groups: “traditional” bourbon, high rye, and wheated (the latttermost has been explained in further detail in a previous Whiskey Wash post). But every once in a while, you come across a bourbon distiller pushing for something different. C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon doesn’t choose between rye or wheat as their flavoring cereals, but rather embraces both for an atypical mash bill.

Produced by Oregon Spirit Distillers in Bend, Oregon, Brad Irwin has been at work since 2009, producing a unique and diverse portfolio of spirits including a winter white wheat vodka, a Genever-style gin, and an absinthe. But this is The Whiskey Wash, so let’s talk about their whiskey.

C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon utilizes a distinct mash bill. The choice of less-than-average corn, a low amount of rye, and very high amount of malted barley with an equal amount of wheat would make your average bourbon drinker scratch their head. However, there are other bourbons on the market embracing the seemingly upside-down ratio of rye/malted barley.

Beyond this, C.W. Irwin doesn’t stray too much further from the typical bourbon path. It gets distilled to 140 proof and enters the barrel at 125 proof, resting for four years in 30-gallon barrels. One might raise an eyebrow at the smaller-sized barrels, but Irwin’s stills yield approximately 26.7 gallons of 140 proof distillate per batch, warranting the appropriately sized barrels. Additionally, Irwin finds the smaller barrels easier to manage, being a one-man team.

Tasting Notes: C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon

Vital Stats: 80 proof (40% ABV); four-grain mash bill consisting of approx. 58% corn, 8% rye, 17% wheat, 17% malted barley; aged four years in 30-gallon new American Oak barrels charred to #3

Appearance: In glass, rich golden amber with tones of heavy honey and medium brown give way to a bright straw halo. Legs form slowly after a slight swirl, then dissipate quickly.

Nose: First whiffs present strong notes of softwoods, specifically pine and balsa- memories of craft store wood models come to mind. Other notes of recycled paper and cardboard dance in the back. After a couple moments of rest, beautiful fruity esters show up: fuji apples on the cusp of bare ripeness sit atop a thick slice of banana walnut bread with extra butter. Soak some dried Douglas Fir needles and some cloves in brown sugar and you’ve got it all there in the glass.

Taste: Upon the first sip, the palate is greeted with a wonderfully light body and a mouthful of soft custard. Big bites of warm, cooked fruit jump out – notably peaches and bananas. There’s a hint of tanginess not far from the likes of a sour-cream-and-brown-sugar ice cream, with a quick caramel corn finish to remind that this is, in fact, a grain distillate. The finish is medium in length and quick to conclude.

Final Thoughts and Score:

Soft and gentle in its approach, C.W. Irwin Straight Bourbon is an excellent entry point for first-time or timid bourbon drinkers. The classic, expected flavors are present with a soft mouthfeel lending itself to easy and casual sipping.

To the more seasoned whiskey drinkers: don’t overlook this one. There’s pleasure in simplicity. C.W. Irwin is also a wonderful example of, in my opinion, a fascinating intersection of traditional bourbon production and the Pacific Northwest “new world” of craft distillation.

About the author

Jason Le