Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Branch Point Distillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Let’s journey together to the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. No, no, no, we’re not going wine tasting. We’re off to see some whiskey.
Steven Day founded Branch Point Distillery in 2016 in Dayton, Oregon. This neurologist by day and distiller by night came to whiskey by way of brewing beer and relying heavily on his science background.
His process is thoughtful and shows a deep respect for the land and final product. Using locally grown Oregon grains, Day distills in copper pot stills and ages the product in his warehouse. Spent grains are returned to the farmers to use as feed for animals, helping to limit waste. He prefers a gentle approach to extraction: when filling the new American oak barrels, Day uses a lower than typical proof to avoid extracting some of the harsher flavors from the oak.
The aging warehouse is not temperature-controlled, so as to expose the barrels to the particulars of the Pacific Northwest climate. This is an intriguing way to explore the climatic impacts of terroir.
All three whiskeys reviewed are double pot distilled and non-chill filtered with no additives. Chill filtering precipitates compounds out of whiskeys that may cloud the liquid when it is cooled, such as during transportation or service over ice. To accomplish chill filtering, whiskey is cooled to zero degrees Celsius and passed through a filter. Purists argue that this strips flavor compounds from the final product for cosmetic reasons. I applaud producers that avoid the technique.
Aside from the careful processes listed above, Day stands out for his use of triticale. This is a hybrid grain from wheat and rye. Although grown extensively in Washington State, it’s not commonly used for whiskey. Having trained at Dry Fly in Spokane, Washington, one of the few distilleries working with the grain, it’s no surprise that Day attempted his own. It’s rumored to bring the spice of rye and elegance of wheat to the table, so I’m quite curious to see how it might differ from a whiskey made from one or both of its parent grains.
Tasting Notes: Branch Point Oregon Wheat Whiskey
Vital Stats: Aged for three years in new American oak, 46% ABV. Mash bill: Oregon soft white winter wheat, crystal malt, and distillers’ malt, SRP $53.95/ 750ml bottle.
Nose: The nose is intensely spiced with aromas of cedar, freshly chopped wood, and German spice cake. There’s a prickle from the alcohol on the nose that belies the low ABV. This carries into a sweet and succulent aroma of fresh pear pastry dough.
Palate: The sweetness softens the palate, with a silkiness to the spiced character. This reminds me of old wooden furniture. It is very impactful with a savory sweetness that opens into notes of green apples, fresh cream, vanilla and dried apple slices. I enjoy the mix of fresh cream aromas with the spiced character. The finish is evocative of rye with notes of maple syrup, old chewing gum, and caramel sauce. A dash of water brings out the lightly floral aromas as well as notes of cedar perfume. The silky body and peppery nose are a lovely contrast.
Tasting Notes: Branch Point Single Pot Still Oregon Whiskey
Vital Stats: Aged for three years in new American oak, 46% ABV. Mash bill: Oregon barley, crystal malt, chocolate malt, and distillers’ malt, SRP $59.95/ 750ml bottle.
Nose: This opens with notes of roast sweet corn and dried lemons. It has a greenish herbal note that reminds me of fresh lemon grass. The whiskey captures the feel of wood pulp and dust on the nose with a prickly sensation from the alcohol. I can also pick up notes of dried oranges and clove. There’s a malty aroma on the finish like ale, corn puff cereal, and bamboo.
Palate: This, too, is silky on the palate but with a more neutral aroma than the wheat. It develops into notes of dried pineapple and old furniture. Tasting these whiskeys brings to mind camping in an old log cabin. The finish is lingering and builds into notes of dried fruits, raw honey, and saline. There’s a touch of astringency on the finish that’s amplified by the feel of the alcohol. Despite clocking in at only 46% ABV, the proof seems out of balance. Given the pepperiness on the palate, I would guess this was closer to 60%.
Tasting Notes: Branch Point TRIT Straight Whiskey
Vital Stats: Aged for four years in new American oak at char #3, 46% ABV. Mash bill: Oregon triticale, rye malt, and distillers’ malt, SRP $49.95/ 750ml bottle.
Nose: The aromatics are moderate in strength showing more dried fruit notes than the previous two. There are aromas of dried apricots and dried orange peels alongside a hoppy aroma. It’s an interesting mix of scents that makes me curious about the palate.
Palate: On said palate, are richly spiced notes of warm spices infused in honey. The notes are somewhat indistinct and hard to pin down. The palate is beyond silky, it feel supple and refined. I can pick up notes of fresh peaches, allspice, clove, vanilla and cedar. The finish is lightly astringent with notes of sweet cherries and whipped cream. It has the longest and most interesting finish of the trio and offers great complexity than the nose. Were this wine, I would be tempted to lay this down for a few years to see how it develops. A dash of water clarifies the palate, bringing forth notes of toffee, roasted grains, herbal tea, and lavender.
Across the board, I was fooled by the ABV. None of the whiskies read as on the low end for proof. Aromatically, they all benefited from a dash of water to help open up the subtle aromatics. The vanilla sweetness of the oak did not jump out, allowing the notes of the grains to feature more prominently.
These are thoughtfully produced whiskeys that benefit from thoughtful imbibing and are worth seeking out.
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Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...