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.
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.