Let’s get real, here:
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey is a bottle of Scotch. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not made in Scotland and it’s not legal to call it ”Scotch” and it’s made a little differently, using Oregon oak barrels…but let us stop right there for a second. MOST real single-malt Scotch is barreled in used American Bourbon barrels. And a significant percentage of those barrels some from Oregon because why? Because Oregon has a lot of oak forests and that tree-hugger aesthetic that produces “Portlandia” also produces manly, bearded post millennials who ostentatiously adopt lifestyles which reject our modern contrivances. These life choices result in things like people making bicycles from scratch and churning their own butter and knitting tractors from steel wool and…producing hand-made barrels. Cooperage is a big Thang in Baja Alaska, out there in the fastness of the Willamette Valley forests, and whiskey makers in Kentucky have noticed. They use oak barrels, sometimes, and those barrels find their way to Scotland and wind up with something like Montgomery Scott’s Speyside Single Barrel in them and so turns the Circle of Life…or some such shit. The point is that Steve McCarthy’s decision to tap his local, Portland-ish resources for finishing barrels is not that weird and his single-malt whiskey may not legally be called “Scotch” but let’s get real, here: this is SCOTCH…really, REALLY GOOD Scotch.
With some very critical help from Widmer Brothers Brewery, which malts Steve’s shipped-in real Scottish barley and does a hell of a job of it, McCarthy starts the distilling process using a specially fermented beer from Widmer as his base liquor, and then runs it as a single pass through a custom-made Bavarian Holstein artisan craft still. Using the single-pass method is a little wasteful – a lot of the batch yield is tossed to avoid hazing and random flavors – but retains a lot more of the natural character of that gorgeous Scottish barley. Where most distilleries use cold stabilization and filtering, McCarthy does neither. The result is that McCarthy’s is not quite the pristine, glass-clear amber elixir that you get from most corporate distilleries but what’s in the glass is still cleaner than a lot of America’s tap water and what’s lost is…not a damned thing. What’s gained, in fact, is a roundness and earthiness and, for lack of a better term, a Scottishness that, in a blind tasting, would fool even a native Scotch drinker.
But the barreling process starts with a relatively brief period in sherry barrels, which lends a complexity and flattering fruitiness that suffuses the whole profile. Is it different from actual Scotch? Yes…a bit. Stylistically, it leans more to Islay than Speyside or Highlands or Campbelltown or Lowlands but has a little more sweet floral/berry presence than you’ll find in Islay bottles. It smells as effusively sweet and caramel-tinged as a Bourbon but has a lovely and elusive note of something like warm blackberry compote that lurks in the background. On the tongue, its fleshy and mouth-coating but finishes light and lingering. And the complexity is off the charts. The smoke that elevates the nose and palate is in near-perfect balance with its grains and grace notes and doesn’t dominate, as smoke tends to do in many Islay Scotches, but flatters the whole.
I was doing a little inventory, over the past two weeks, of everything I’ve written and tasted over the past 25 years, and I was stunned at the sheer numbers of Scotches I’ve sampled. I don’t drink – as in “consume a full bottle over time” – much at all but I taste for review and consultation purposes, and as a buyer for shops and retailers, constantly and it turns out that I’ve tasted more Scotch than any other single beverage category. More than Cabernet or Stout or IPA or Chardonnay. It made me feel considerably better about doing this mad shit for a living and has also, happily, removed almost all of my youthful preconceptions about what something is supposed to be, versus what it IS. I’ve come to abhor and openly scoff at the whole notion that there is any such thing as a “proper” way of making any beverage and that something made in one place cannot withstand legitimate comparison with the same thing made Elsewhere.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey – McCarthy even spells “whiskey” correctly, bless his crafty little heart – IS a bottle of fuggen Scotch. The feds and the state of Oregon may not be okay with that description and the Scots undoubtedly would have a wee complaint or two but I’m not running a distillery or trying to shove a label past the ATF. In any list I ever have of may yet produce of the best Scotches I’ve tasted, McCarthy’s would be in the top ten, easily, and closer to five than ten. This is a GREAT, repeat G-R-E-A-T, bottle of whiskey. Call it whatever pleases you but, if you love whiskey at all, TRY THIS. It ain’t cheap. It’s gonna set ya back anywhere from $50 to nearing $70 but, as compared to the current price plateau for comparable Scottish Scotch, McCarthy’s is a slam-dunk bargain. 99 Points