Whiskey Reviews: Crater Lake Spirits - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Reviews: Crater Lake Spirits

Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Crater Lake Spirits. 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 links throughout this article our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

Bend, Oregon might not be the first place you would look for an award-winning distillery, but then you would miss out on the creative and thoughtful efforts of Crater Lake Spirits. Known originally for their vodka and gin, Crater Lake Spirits has grown their business since 1996 into an acclaimed distillery distributing spirits to 26 states and employing two full-time tasting rooms where visitors can sip and buy a multitude of products from infused spirits to their more select reserve offerings.

My thoughts are going to be reserved to three of their whiskeys: Crater Lake Straight American Rye Whiskey, Rye Whiskey Reserve, and Rock and Rye bottled cocktail.

The 21st century has seen a resurgence of rye. After prohibition ended, the once popular drink, based mostly out of the North Eastern states, lost its standing on the American palette. These days, though, many brands such as Bulleit, Dickel, and even Wild Turkey, have brought back the charred-oak-aged beverage with a vengeance.

When comparing rye, I tend to hold up new brands to my favorites like George Dickel Rye and especially Whistle Pig Farmstock Rye. Mostly, I would say that the Crater Lake’s offerings landed pretty high on my list, at least in the case of the Straight Rye and, to a lesser extent, the Reserve.

The Rock and Rye, though not my personal cup of tea, definitely has its place as an introductory drink, with its disarming sweetness that defines its overall flavor.

Crater Lake Rye Whiskeys

The rye whiskeys of Crater Lake Spirits (image via Crater Lake Spirits)

Tasting Notes: Crater Lake Straight American Rye Whiskey

Vital Stats: crafted from 95% rye grain and pure Cascade Mountain water; aged in new, charred American oak; non-chill filtered; 80 proof.

Nose: My nose picked up a predominant leathery oak note chased by the round scent of vanilla. There are also light caramel or toffee notes exhibited when you let it linger in the nostrils with a gentle, open-mouthed inhalation.

Palate: There is a gentle heat that greets the palate. The whiskey has a smooth, almost buttery texture. My taste buds caught the leather and oak that my nose captured along with a hint of vanilla. As the heat settled in, I noticed a bit of a spice flavor from cinnamon that accompanied the heat on the way down. The was an echo of citrus in the after taste.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I was left with a sense that this rye was crafted by someone who enjoys rye and that they are not just trying to cash in on the uptick in American rye drinkers. I found this to be a nicely balanced rye crafted for my style of palate, avoiding sweetness, and focusing on earthy flavors.

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Crater Lake Reserve Rye Whiskey

Vital Stats: limited edition; aged three years in new, charred American oak; 96 proof.

Nose: Oak and brown sugar come to the front first. Surprisingly, I also caught a bit of a briny note, similar to pickle juice as I persisted in my wafting. It was not unpleasant, just unexpected. Following that were a bit of citrus and a floral after thought on the nose.

Palate: Worn leather, cinnamon, and a prickly heat were the first flavors to pop out at me. After that, there was a bit of orange peel and a buttery, oaky note. Finally, a malty/yeasty flavor hit with the aftertaste. I liken it to a slightly charred pizza crust fresh from a stone oven. It did not dominate but was strong enough to me to paint the picture of a well-crafted flat bread.

Final Thoughts: Even though this was the Reserve label, I found their signature Rye a bit more to my liking.

Score: 3.5/5

Tasting Notes: Crater Lake Rock and Rye

Vital Stats: this 60-proof cocktail in a bottle is constructed with rye whiskey and introduces dark cherry, blood orange and bitters.

Nose: The first scent to hit me as I took this in was orange Kool-Aid (we’re gonna get letters). Following the nostalgic blast to my nostrils were the scents of mandarin oranges, clove and the syrup from fruit cocktail.

Palate: This is meant to be a crowd pleaser. It is smooth, bright, and easy to drink and has many of the characteristics of a watered down Old Fashioned. There is cinnamon, mandarin, clove and allspice. This drink tastes like a friendly gathering in fall.  The heat that hits on the back end has a slight medicinal quality.

Final Thoughts: Although this would not be my go-to drink, if it were offered to me with a group of friends I would have no problem partaking alongside my mates.

Score: 3.5/5


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