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Oregon’s Eastside Distilling Goes All In On Oregon Oak

Eastside Distilling, housed in Portland, Oregon (just like  The Whiskey Wash), has long been something of a local crowd favorite among day to day whiskey drinkers in its home city. Over the years it has mostly been known for its Burnside Bourbon, a sourced whiskey that in more recent times has also been finished in Oregon Oak (also known as Garryana) barrels. The distillery seems to have had some success in this finishing, and is now moving towards more full embrace of this technique.

“Oregon Oak is unlike other American white oaks that are used to make the barrels that begin the bourbon aging process,” said Eastside’s Master Distiller, Mel Heim, in a prepared statement. “Oregon Oak, or ‘Garryana’ as the species is called, is almost sponge like from the fast growing it does in the wet Oregon winters. Not only does it soak up the whiskey and deeply flavor it, it has an unusually high content of vanillin when charred. Vanillin is a natural compound that mocks vanilla bean flavoring and a little hint of it is a great compliment to whisky, bourbon or rye.”

As part of this transition the distillery, working with a local agency, has rebranded its products away from the image of Major General Ambrose Burnside that was previously on the bottles. Now all the members of the Burnside family of bourbons and whiskeys, new or otherwise, are being put into more sleek looking containers and branded to reflect the actual Burnside Street, a street artery that divides Portland’s various city quadrants and acts as “a thriving hub of activity that’s alive with creative expression, art galleries, Powell’s Books, iconic record stores and music venues that makes it the epicenter for one of Portland’s most celebrated music scenes.”

What’s now emerging from Eastside as a result of all of this are some new plays on its old products. First up is the new West End Blend, an American whiskey that is finished in Oregon Oak. West End, named after a trendy area in the heart of downtown Portland, is crafted from whiskeys that age for up to five years in traditional American white oak before being transferred for an undisclosed amount of time. It will be followed shortly by two bourbon products and later this season by a rye whiskey.

“It’s not as easy as just putting bourbon into a barrel,” added Heim. “The oaking process is like dancing with Mother Nature, since individual barrels of this wood can be very different. Oregon Oak has much more flavor variation than other oaks. The level of toast or char can also alter the flavor dramatically. It’s a bit nerve wracking at times, but I love the art to it, and the fact that each batch I do has its own character and is totally Oregon.”

Though Eastside is noted for its use of Garryana in finishing whiskey, it is hardly the only whiskey maker using it. Westland out of Seattle, Washington, for example, has a Garryana whiskey that’s at least partially aged from the start in this Pacific Northwest native oak.

5 Sherried Whisky Alternatives

Here are my recommendations for those of you who want something sweet and luscious, but a little different in your glass this year. 

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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