Whiskey Review: Black Butte Whiskey - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Black Butte Whiskey

By Jim Bonomo / November 17, 2016

For over 20 years, Deschutes Brewery has served as a venerable icon and father figure to the producers of craft beverages in the state of Oregon. Some of the most iconic beers created in this state emerge from the tanks of the brewing legend: Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Inversion IPA, The Abyss, and the list goes on.

Black Butte Porter, however, may be the most fabled of them all. The roasty, chocolatey ale named for an extinct Oregon volcano is now available in 28 states across the country, has garnered over 25 national awards, and even can claim superiority: the beer once won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, the oft-agreed-upon apex of beer bling. Black Butte Porter has seen some interesting iterations over the years, including nitrogen-infused pours and bourbon barrel-aged imperial variants, but never distillation.

Until now.

Around the time that Black Butte Porter hit the market, someone decided to experimentally distill it. Bendistillery founder Jim Bendis rolled the dice on the wacky idea, and had forgotten about his results until unearthing the liquid during a recent distillery move. This concept became the first in what will be an “ongoing collaboration” between the two producers, with a whiskey-inspired take on The Abyss Imperial Stout coming up next.

Black Butte Whiskey

image via Jim Bonomo/The Whiskey Wash

This current batch began with a Black Butte Porter wash brewed three years ago at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon. The uniqueness here is the abundance of chocolate malts which were used, adding an extremely atypical flair to the ingredients list that will ultimately become whiskey. It was then distilled and aged for three years in American oak at Bendistillery, just down the road from the brewery which crafted its wash.

Bendistillery, with their super-successful line of Crater Lake Spirits; and Deschutes Brewery, with almost 30 years of excellence and brewing tradition under their belt, seem like a match made in Oregon booze heaven. The product in this bottle comes along with an expectation of distinct notes of a beer that the residents of this fair state know well and love. Trouble is, I’ve not had a good chocolate whiskey. Deschutes recommends enjoying with a Black Butte Porter back, but I’m consuming neat and solo.

Tasting Notes: Black Butte Whiskey

Vital Stats: 94 proof. Made from Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewing. Aged three years in American oak. $80 for a 750ml, sold out until 2017. Available to drink on-site at Deschutes’ pubs in Oregon.

Appearance: Pours a beautiful, clear autumnal amber hue with long-lasting, slow-moving legs and a visible viscosity.

Nose: I am struck first by a cardamom-like exotic spice note, which plays wonderfully off the musky, perfumey balanced hints of oak. A sweetness comes from the barrel character as well, reminiscent of a vanilla ice cream stout float. The overall nose is warm and inviting without pervasive alcohol or aggressive wood. As I acclimate to the profile, a papaya-like soft fruit nuance also arises.

Palate: There’s the chocolate! A healthy dose of unsweetened baker’s chocolate emerges from all stages of this liquid on the palate. A dry nuttiness carries the undertone, bringing a toasted hazelnut flavor through short gaps in the cocoa cloud formations. Once the cocoa/toast flavors subside, a breath of tradition brings the flavors of orange creamsicle and sticky toffee to the tongue.

This whiskey embraces many classic bourbon flavors, adding another layer to a more dry, less dessert-y package while avoiding astringency and breaking some new ground in terms of flavor combination.

Final Thoughts & Score:

Score: 90/100

Gimmicks aside, this is a damn fine beverage. It’s uniqueness makes it a must-try, and its cohesiveness and balance make it a repeatable drinker that I will reach for when craving a well-made whiskey for neat sipping. This is the first example of a pre-set ‘beer wash’ collaboration concept that actually brings the best aspect of the beer to the whiskey, without muddying the flavors or disappointing on the expectation of true American whiskey.