Rogue has something of a mixed reputation.
On one hand, they’re one of Oregon’s (indeed, the nation’s) first craft breweries. Rogue poured its first pint back in Ashland in 1988, the same year that Deschutes opened their doors on the other side of the mountains in Bend.
Rogue’s been on the pioneering edge of craft beer ever since. They opened brewpubs before one could be found on seemingly every corner. They introduced novelty flavored beers like hazelnut-infused porter or their preposterous (and irresistible to tourists) Voodoo Donut-flavored ale many years before today’s habanero wheat beers and gooseberry sours lined every tap list. In 2008, they even started their own farm, where they grow their own hops and barley.
Yet their spirits program has had some missteps. For many years, Rogue made the head-scratching decision to release its whiskeys very young, with age statements measured in months rather than years. It was hard to understand, especially when Rogue had their brewery to generate capital while their whiskey aged.
And the experimental approach that worked so well with beer fell a little flat in the distillery. Rogue holds the dubious honor of making the lowest-scoring whiskey ever reviewed on The Whiskey Wash: their Chipotle Whiskey, a NAS bottling infused with chipotle peppers.
I had the misfortune of reviewing that clunker, so when a bottle of their two-year-old single malt appeared on our review desk, I can’t pretend I jumped at the chance to taste another of their spirits.
But here’s the thing: despite it all, I want to like Rogue. They’re doing it all right: they grow their own grain, they malt their own barley, and they distill all of their spirits themselves. They even started their own cooperage, where they make their own barrels. All of this stuff is admirable, and noteworthy; we even wrote about a visit to Rogue’s facilities last year.
And so when I saw that this bottle of Rogue Oregon Single Malt made from Rogue-grown barley carried a two-year-old age statement, I was pleasantly surprised. It may not qualify as whiskey by Scotland’s standards, but boy, it’s a lot closer than it was at three months. With cautious optimism, I opened the bottle.
Tasting Notes: Rogue Oregon Single Malt
Vital Stats: Two years old, 100% malted barley, 80 proof, retails for around $50.
Appearance: Light apricot
Nose: Straightforward and approachable. Some rich, leathery, malty, honey tones contrast nicely with an herbaceous, almost earthy quality, with notes of mint, wet grass, and garden glove. Very Oregonian in spirit.
Palate: Rich and sweet, with notes of warm leather, waxy milk chocolate, and hazelnuts. There’s a kind of ragged edge in the finish, bitter and slightly metallic, almost bloody, but it’s balanced by a sweet and vegetal flavor that reminds me of pumpkin. That sweetness continues through into a medium-length, somewhat ashy finish.
Surprisingly smooth and lush in mouth feel, Rogue Oregon Single Malt is a tasty, enjoyable whiskey! The oak is nicely integrated for its young age. Had I tasted it without looking at the bottle, I would have guessed it was older than its two years. I’m happy to report that this lacks many of the flaws of Rogue’s earlier offerings. A portent of better things to come from this Oregon standby? I hope so!
FINAL SCORE: 82/100
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...