McMenamins Small Batch Whiskey Has The Luck Of The Irish

It is a whiskey that Irish saint St. Patrick would be proud of.

Devil’s Bit is a yearly limited edition release whiskey that’s distilled at the small Edgefield distillery just outside of Portland, Oregon. It is owned by the McMenamins brewpub chain, famous in the Pacific Northwest for taking old, falling apart properties and turning them into adult playlands complete with your choice of booze and fun. The distillery sits at the back of the Edgefield property, which is an old poor farm converted into grounds that host, besides the spirits operation, a winery, brewery, concert venue, bars galore, a small golf course and a rather famous hotel.

A telling sign of what lies within Edgefield distillery (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

A telling sign of what lies within Edgefield distillery (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

It was to this property that I pulled up on a rainy Thursday a week and a half before St. Patrick’s Day 2014, which falls this year on Monday, March 17th,  to talk with Edgefield distiller James Whelan about the whiskey. The wet weather and overcast skies made me pause to reflect that this seemed to be a good time to be getting ready to bottle a spirt honoring a legend from the often rainy Emerald Isle that only is released on the saint’s day each year in small quantities.

The Devil’s Bit Story

The legend behind Devil’s Bit, Whelan told me, is that Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, banished the devil to a cave on this actual mountain in Ireland. It got this name because the devil at some point allegedly took a bite out of it. Whether or not you believe in this, it does make for a cool story for the whiskey.

Some Devil's Bit whiskies from the past (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Some Devil’s Bit whiskies from the past and where they grew up! (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Described as being an American single malt style for the 2014 release, Devil’s Bit has a bit of history in Edgefield distillery lore. It was first released under this name on St. Patrick’s Day back in 2007 as a single barrel rye style. Every year since then it has varied slightly in its composition, usually tied in some way to the distillery’s flagship Hogshead whiskey. In 2009, for example, a 10-year-old variant of Hogshead was what made up that Devil’s Bit release.

Devil’s Bit In 2014

The 2014 expression, which will price for $17 per 200 ml glass bottle I was told, is a single barrel Hogshead that has gone through some rather unique twists and turns. First copper pot double distilled in 2006 from 100 percent two row malted barley, it was barreled in a charred, new American white oak barrel at a whopping 160 proof. After sitting for two years, it was cut to 115 proof and then rebarreled into a smaller American white oak cask. Sitting for a further two years, half of it was used for a Devil’s Bit release and the other half was put into a used port-style wine barrel for further aging.

Devil's Bit 2014 before bottling - ain't it pretty? (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Devil’s Bit 2014 before bottling – ain’t it pretty? (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

The barrel experience didn’t end there, however. Fast forward three more years and the whiskey was transferred to a used wheat whiskey barrel for a year to, in Whelan’s words, “calm the port influence.” What’s about to be released now comes in at 92 proof and fills around 1,000 or so bottles for distribution at a number of McMenamins properties across Oregon. This is a significant increase in bottle release volume from last year, which saw just over 380 bottles released on site at Edgefield and one or two other locations.

“We describe it as an eight-year-old single barrel [whiskey] produced from malted barley that’s been aged in four distinct barrels,” said Whelan.

Tasting notes the distiller shared with me during my distillery visit indicate a deep amber with garnet hue whiskey that on the nose has subdued port notes and nutty, spicy grain characteristics. It shows itself on the palate as “rich chocolate cake with cherry glaze,” finishing with some slight hints of dryness and a lingering sweetness.

My Devil's Bit whiskies of years past await their 2014 companion to join them. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

My Devil’s Bit whiskies of years past await their 2014 companion to join them. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

Devil’s Bit In Future Years

Future Devil’s Bit releases, currently aging in a wonderful smelling distillery racking area, will include a slightly peated Scottish style whiskey as well as rye, wheat and oak offerings. As for the 2014 release, I’ll be there at Edgefield bright and early on St. Patrick’s Day to grab my two maximum allotment, one of which will join a vertical I’ve been creating for the last several years. With the other I’ll toast the luck of the Irish and the good fortunes of distillers like Whelan and the grand whiskies they make. Sláinte!


Nino Kilgore-Marchetti

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief 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...