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McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey An American Legend

Editor’s Note: The Whiskey Wash got the chance earlier this year to tour Clear Creek Distillery here in Portland, Oregon, where we are headquartered, and check out preparations for the release of the latest batch of their popular McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey. Unfortunately our audio interview of the head distiller was lost until recently, but now that it is found we can bring you word at least of this great bottling.

Clear Creek Distillery, located in an industrious part of Portland, Oregon’s northwest sector, isn’t exactly the most pretty distillery when you drive up to it. There are no romantic historical tales of its building, no horses roaming the countryside around it and certainly no mythical aging warehouses to gape in awe at. What you do have here though is one of Oregon’s best whiskey makers, quietly putting out one of the nation’s earliest American single malts since 1996, when the first batch of McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey was released.

McCarthy’s is named for Steve McCarthy, the original owner of Clear Creek. As legend goes he was inspired on a trip to Scotland, really enjoying the feeling of sitting in a lodge there with a peat fire going and drinking a traditional Scotch. The distillery today is owned by fellow Oregon-based Hood River Distillers, with Clear Creek head distiller Daniel Ruiz helming distillation of the whiskey, among other spirits.

McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt Whiskey
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

For those not familiar with the whiskey, it’s made from imported Scottish peat malted barley. Distilled in Holstein pot stills using one pass distillation, it is barrel aged for upwards of three years in Oregon oak barrels before being bottled at a passive 85 proof. Typical price per bottle is around $55.

After being given a tour of the distillery by Ruiz, we sat down to taste some of the direct from the barrel McCarthy’s. All I can say of it is wow, wow, wow it was quite a treat. Ruiz also provided me a little more insight into how McCarthy’s for made.

Did you know, for example, the wash for the whiskey after the barley is imported is created for the distillery by fellow Portland liquor legend Widmer Brothers Brewing? As Ruiz explained it McCarthy “went around to local brewers and had some whiskey washes produced by different breweries, and decided to go with Widmer Brothers at the time.”

“They have a really nice brewing setup,” said Ruiz as we tasted the whiskey. “Sebastian, which is who Steve started working with, was their brewmaster when he started working with them to do the wash. He was really excited about doing this project, because it’s a little different, it’s not just beer, especially back then. He did a little research on his own and found a decent recipe that worked for us.”

McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt Whiskey
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey aging at the distillery (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

What’s also interesting to note about the whiskey is that it is, in a way, a limited release. McCarthy’s is not pushed to market year round, but rather in a few select batches. Ruiz told me a typical bottle run for a release is around 600 cases a few times a year.

Whenever the release is, the whiskey typically does well both in the hands of many consumers ready for the new batch as well as reviewers. In 2004, for example, McCarthy’s was named best small batch whiskey of the year by influential whiskey writer Jim Murray.

“We’ve tried Lagavulin and other peated Islay-style Scotches,” said Ruiz, “and we feel that it holds up fairly well. It has a strong, unique peat character to it, the smokiness, and we think it balances well with the Oregon oak that it’s aged in.”

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and provided tasting input on many whiskeys at competitions. He also maintains a large private collection of whiskey from which he continually educates his palate on this brown spirit type.

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