Watching the evolution of the craft whiskey world as we have for the last several years here at The Whiskey Wash, we’ve been treated to something of a front seat to how distilleries across the United States have been building out their programs. One of those here in our Oregon backyard, Rogue Spirits, initially had a rather bad track record, releasing whiskeys which were too young (three months, for example) and generally not all that drinkable (ahem, chipotle whiskey). Time, bringing basically the whole production process in house (including coopering some of their own barrels from locally sourced Oregon Oak) and new staff seemingly have brought new hope and optimism, especially as relates to some new older whiskeys just released in rather sharp new bottles.
Rogue, getting away from their previous more beer like bottle design for their whiskeys, showcased to us earlier this year some of the first fruits of this labor – a two year old Dead Guy Whiskey in a bottle with a unique metal topper more befitting of a spirits program that’s all grown up. What this whiskey is today is distilled from the same malts as Rogue Ales’ extremely popular Dead Guy Ale, including malts grown on one of Rogue’s farms. The whiskey is then aged at Rogue Spirits’ bayside aging warehouse on the Oregon coast.
Joining the repackaged 80 proof Dead Guy Whiskey are older versions of Rogue’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey and Oregon Rye Malt Whiskey, aged five and three years respectively. The single malt, bottled at 80 proof, is made from Rogue farm grown malt, coastal water and a proprietary Rogue Pacman yeast. Interestingly, as was told to us at a recent press tasting Rogue had for their revamped spirits line, part of the malt is hardwood smoked, specifically making use of cherry and/or alder woods. We last tasted it at two years old, noting at the time it seemed to showcase Rogue beginning to turn the whiskey corner.
With regards to the Rye Malt whiskey, this is, once again, an evolution of a spirit which first debuted perhaps too young. What we have here now is a different animal, wiser in its development and in the new packaging. Bottled at 80 proof like the others, it has a Rogue grown mash bill that’s 51% malted rye and 49% malted barley. It also makes use of the Pacman yeast and coastal water, and was aged in the same near the ocean warehouse as Dead Guy and the single malt.
“Ocean aging is where a lot of the magic happens,” said Rogue Distiller Jake Holshue in a prepared statement. “The Single Malt Whiskey breathes in the steady, cool, coastal air for five years, which influences its flavor profile, making the spirit truly unique, and proudly rooted in Newport.”
So, having mentioned all this change Rogue has experienced, you are probably wondering if the spirits themselves have gotten better with age. While we have yet to do a formal review on the older expressions – we plan to do a more thorough review and round up of these older bottlings soon, and if we can, will get hold of the younger ones as well for cross comparison – we can tell you informally from the tasting we attended they are heading in the right direction.
For now, one of the nation’s pioneer beer and spirits producers seems to truly show they care about their whiskey these days, and that it doesn’t seem like an after thought any more to their beers. This makes them now a more serious craft whiskey player to watch and root for.