McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt

McCarthysOne of my long time White Whales is a bottle of McCarthy’s.  This is partly from the small size of their yearly release and partly from laziness.  I know exactly when they release every year and I’m on their mailing list.  I can just never seem to get to a store in time to pick up a bottle before they’ve all been snapped up.

Color me surprised when I stumbled into my favorite liquor store on SW 1st and Lincoln and found a bottle innocently sitting on top of a barrel.  This was the 2014 release and it was at least six months since it had come out which made it incredibly unlikely that a bottle had mysteriously appeared.

McCarthy’s is one of the few Single Malts being produced in Oregon.  This is likely because grain to bottle whiskey is incredibly hard to do well and more than a few distillers have failed trying to do even a basic whiskey.  Single Malt, if done in the Scottish tradition, is aged in oak for three years.  That means my little bottle was started in 2011 at the very least.  McCarthy’s was one of the first craft single malts in the US and has been hailed by numerous whiskey books, magazines and authors and has been hailed as one of the world’s elite whiskeys.

Produced by Clear Creek Distilling this whiskey is done in the Islay tradition from 100% peat-malted barley.  It is smokey and clear with a light finish.  My fellow drinker the HopBoxer tasted only smoke but he’s an Irish drinker and not inclined to peat.

This is a bottle that will run you about $55 in Oregon, their next release should be spring of 2015 so keep your eyes open.

Update: Devils Bit Irish Whiskey

wpid-wp-1427222705400.jpegSt. Patrick’s day has come and gone and with it the green beer and drunken revelry of those who want to pretend they’re of Irish extraction for 24 hours.

As every year the distilleries of McMenamins release their small batch Devil’s Bit whiskey.

I wasn’t aware until I put the last three years side by side but each year the release is a little bit different.  The 2013 is a 12-year aged Irish, the 2014 is an 8 year four barrel and this year is a 5 year port barrel finish.

The bottles are all still 200ml and the price has stayed at $17.  I’ve run a side by side tasting on all three and I’m hard pressed to find the differences.  The aging process is pretty light and the finished product is still a little harsh even for the 12 year.

As an annual tradition I still enjoy heading out to Edgefield or CPR, taking the tour and getting my one or two bottles.

Ty Wolfe Whiskey

ty wolfe whiskeyThis bottle presented something of a conundrum to me when I first acquired it from a co-worker.  This bottling comes from the tasting room at Skiprock Distillery in Snohomish WA and is only sold there.  I inquired of the distiller about it because the label is a little odd and they were thankfully able to clear up some of my confusion.

I am told that Ty Wolfe was originally a label owned by Mac Donald Distillery which was bottled by Skiprock and that Skiprock has since bought the brand.  As with any change in company there are bound to be changes in marketing and it can be costly to relabel products already on the shelf.

This should be the same product as the Ty Wolfe Aged Bourbon currently on offer from Skiprock.  This is a wheated bourbon, meaning their grain bill is at least 51% corn with the remainder being primarily wheat instead of rye.  As rye tends towards a more spicy character this is a much smoother more mellow whiskey than say the Bullit Rye.

After letting my sample breathe for a bit I was able to get some very nice caramel notes in the nose.  The flavor isn’t flashy and while it does have a little burn up front it isn’t a serious burner.

This is not a very soft selection, it is aged only about 18 months which means it’s not a straight whiskey.  A year and a half gives it some oak but means it lacks a lot of the stronger flavors that oak imparts such as vanilla, leather or coffee.

It blends sweetly, a little water can smooth out some of the rough spots.  It does like a little air to let some of the higher fumes burn off.  Mixed into a cocktail it works as well as any other bourbon and doesn’t mess about with odd flavors.  I wish I could speak to price comparison but I could not find a store that stocked it anywhere in range so I think this will likely remain a regional flavor for a while yet.


Vivacity Native Gin

vivacityA little off the beaten track of interstate 5 is the town of Corvallis Oregon.  A college town home to Oregon State University and to the wonderful Vivacity Spirits.

While I have not been able to visit them personally I have met people from the company at many events in the Portland area and have sampled many of their other fine products.  As I was on something of a Gin kick at the time their Native Gin was an obvious addition to my cabinet.

The chief claim to fame here is that the contents are “Organic” and that the herbs used to flavor the gin are all plants native to the pacific northwest in some fashion.  As this is a Gin that means that it will include juniper, and if you’re not already familiar Oregon has its’ own variety of juniper that grows exclusively in this part of the world.

While Oregon Juniper and the more classic Albanian Juniper are similar in flavors the Oregon type has some esthers and aromas that do not lend themselves to alcohol very well.  You can imagine my surprise then when the product in the bottle was both flavorful and without some of the off odors that Oregon juniper can provide.

In testing I attempted the classic gin and tonic as well as a few other cocktails and a small sample straight.  The spirit is clean and crisp, has many of the notes one commonly associates with the new American style gins as opposed to the London Dry gins.  Notes of hops and citrus are well placed and despite the local substitutions you are still left with a classic gin presentation.

I don’t know if the organic stamp will really mean anything to anyone.  I personally think that in this market it’s a lot like saying gluten free.  Yes it is but so is water when you get down to it.

Currently running $29.75 for 750ml I’m not sure if the additional elements add up to the price tag.  There are other gins using Oregon juniper in differing applications and some at lower prices.

I liked the bottle I bought, but I think my next purchase from Vivacity will likely be their Turkish Coffee Liqueur as it seems to be the most unique take on the genre from anyone around.

Cinnamon Whiskey Comparison


The popularity of Fireball shots at bars prompted a friend to ask, “why in the world do people drink this stuff?”  Having not really tried much of it myself I found the question a valid one and sought to get some answers.

To that end I purchased 50ml size bottles of Sinfire, Fireball and Jack Daniels Fire in an effort to compare some of the offerings.

A little bit about each.  Fireball is the original of the three, while there may be other whiskys with cinnamon flavor fireball is by far the most well known and most widely consumed.  Fireball as a brand dates back to 2006 when the Sazerac company rebranded their Dr. McGillicuddy’s Fireball Whisky.  The product had been in production since the 1980s but with the rebranding came an increase in distribution beyond its native Canada.  Bottled at 33% ABV it is actually the lowest alcohol content of the three but only by a small margin. It is billed as a Whisky with natural cinnamon flavor.

Sinfire is produced by the Oregon based Hood River Distillers who also make Pendleton Whiskey, Lucid Absinthe, the Monarch brands of liquors and HRD vodka.  HRD is perhaps best known for producing a somewhat rotgut level cheap vodka sold in large plastic bottles. Having just driven by their plant in Hood River Oregon I can say that the place is somewhat forbidding and is perhaps the largest or second largest distillery in the state.  Having not had a chance to visit Bend Distilling I can’t really compare but they are far larger than any of the craft distillers in Portland.  HRD and Sazerac actually got into a legal scuffle over the branding on their bottles.  Sazerac filed suit when sinfire was about to go on sale in Kentucky stating that the tradedress of the bottles was too similar and was likely to cause confusion in the marketplace.  As you can see from the photo above they were quite similar.  Sinfire has since changed to a black label with different styling.  If this was the result of the suit or some form of gentlemen’s agreement isn’t publicly known but the change was made.  Sinfire is bottled at 35% ABV and is billed as a Whiskey with Cinnamon Flavor.

Jack Daniels Fire was a limited release in Oregon, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.  It has since expanded to Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas with plans to serve the entire country by spring 2015.  So if you can’t find it in your area yet, wait another three months and check again.  Like Sinfire it is bottled at 35% ABV but is labeled as Tennessee whiskey blended with a cinnamon liqueur.  Further research shows that they use standard Jack Daniels no. 7.  This means that in general the Jack fire is mixed with a bourbon rather than just a whiskey and that the cinnamon flavor could be far more complex than just a cinnamon additive.

All of this in mind, I sat down with two friends to compare the various merits of the three.


Much like their possible namesake, the atomic fireball, this whiskey has a very distinct flavor akin to a handful of red hots.  The sugar content and artificial nature of the cinnamon are apparent from the first taste and linger long after you swallow.  The so called natural flavor is something of a joke as anyone with an ounce of experience with actual cinnamon sticks could hardly identify what is presented here.  As a “dare” shot I’m sure this will persist for a long time but there isn’t anything to recommend this beyond that.

Sinfire –

Of the three of us who sat down to taste this, one selected this as their favorite.  The flavor is much more mellow than fireball, and despite the slightly higher alcohol content it does not burn any harder.  The whiskey is prominent and similar in taste to the canadian style whiskey used in pendleton.  I can’t say that the cinnamon flavor is much more natural but it is considerably less harsh than fireball.

Jack Fire –

By far the best liked of the three options presented.  Jack Fire presents the best whiskey flavor of all three and the cinnamon flavor is less artificial than the other two as well.  Jack Daniels is a well presented whiskey and Jack Fire does credit to the brand.


Big thanks to my two co-testers Jess Hartly and Chano

Great America Faux Moonshine

IMG_20140613_153856The current craze in general spirits is whiskey. Very few people will dispute that vodka has gone the way of the 90’s and whiskey has become the
current potable of choice among the intelligentsia. This has led to a number of things, among them whiskey bars, whiskey podcasts, a slew of
small batch artisanal whiskey distillers and lastly a sideline in whiskey that almost no one could have predicted.

At the same time that whiskey was making the rounds of the finer bars and restaurants, popular culture latched onto the trailer park as the
spawning ground for the next spate of reality televisio
n. Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo and a number of other shows all attempt to capitalize on
the american appetite for low rent southern style culture.

Somehow the two areas have come together and prompted the return to popularity of moonshine alongside its more refined barrel aged brother bourbon
and cousin Scotch.

For those living under an IKEA ROKROK for the last few decades moonshine is functionally a type of whiskey in that it is an alcohol derived
primarily from grain and made largely in the united states. The more technical definition is a spirit made from ~80% corn and traditionally
bottled at the same proof it leaves the still which can be anywhere from 80-150. Methods exist to produce a product of even higher proof but
they often involve the addition of adulterants not fit for human consumption.

Moonshine gets its grandeur from the history of independent folk living the free life and dodging the man to make their outlaw whiskey.

To sum up, moonshine is generally:
1. Corn based
2. High Proof
3. Made Independent of the legal system

The third we can forgive as everyone wants to make a profit and it is far easier to get national distribution when you don’t have to haul your
product in the back of a race car to avoid the cops.

The number of legal moonshines on the market has spiked in recent years and more and more are seen every day. The most prominent of these is
Midnight Moon but other brands such as Firefly or Ole Smokey are making their bid for shelf space. Many if not all of them are sold in a faux
backwoods style so that the bottles appear to be mason jars with wide mouth openings.

IMG_20140613_153904On a recent trip to the grocery store, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the distressed wood display case of what appeared at first glance to be a rack of Midnight Moon. You can see from the photos my confusion. The labels share the same hipster artisanal black and white style labeling and the again faux mason jar container, but on closer inspection you will note the name Great America.

This my dear reader is a moonshine malt beverage as envisioned by the marketing department. It has no corn, isn’t high-proof and is coming in under the 15% wire so that they can make it into grocery stores which is about as far from bootleg as you’re likely to get.

Bottled at a beastly 28 proof and sold in flavors such as “Apple” Pie, Carolina Clear, and peach for the un-princely sum of $5.99 per 23 fl oz. Compare this to any other malt beverage which runs 7.99 for a 6 pack of 12 oz bottles.

I selected the “apple” pie flavor as I presumed it would be the least inedible. I was mistaken. This brew like most malt beverages has a slight metallic flavor followed immediately by a kind of sour sweetness. If there were any actual apple involved in this process it must have died of embarrassment.

Further drinking is not rewarded. It’s just as bad on the third sip as it is on the first. If it were even slightly more palatable the prospect
of 22 further ounces of this product might be worthwhile but from the rim of my wide mouth jar all I see is a river of pain.

I detest this product, both for what it seems to embody as well as for the poor execution. In an attempt to salvage my purchase I attempted to make cocktails with it. I was partially successful, actual apple juice seems to mitigate the flavor problems somewhat but I cannot recommend
this either as a base or as a mixer as it provides nothing in either capacity that couldn’t be better served by another product.

Lastly, there is a sort of mock cinnamon that floats in suspension in the apple pie flavor and while I had my jar stored on its side the cinnamon
appeared to settle into a slimy brown line on the bottom (side) of the jar. At first I took this for mold but after dumping the jar realized
that it was simply sediment. If this was real cinnamon I could expect a similar result as ground cinnamon is amazingly hydrophobic but I’m
almost positive that it was something else which just leaves me feeling slightly creeped out at having consumed it in the first place.

Knowing most of the readers of my blog are unlikely to purchase malt beverages in any form means that my recommendation against this product
isn’t entirely necessary but I put this out there for the general populace to avoid Great America’s Faux moonshines where-ever possible.

Sinfire Cinnamon Whiskey


The fine folks that make Pendleton Whiskey have entered the flavored whiskey market with a competitor to Fireball.  There must be some serious competition here because Sazerac Inc. the parent company of Fireball sued Hood river distillers for trademark infringement in February of last year.

Priced reasonably, Sinfire whiskey has a good whiskey flavor in addition to the Cinnamon.  Most of these fireball type drinks are cloyingly sweet and taste more like red hots than actual cinnamon.

Sinfire seems to avoid a lot of those speed-bumps and creates a fine blend of cask flavor and sweetness.  Fireball is marketed in the same vein as aftershock  and other Dare Shots that aren’t really for enjoyment but rather for the Jackass style yuks of people who get to watch the expression on your face when you drink.

Sinfire on the other hand, seems to lean more towards things like Eastside’s Marion berry whiskey or Cherry bomb whiskey.  Flavorful offerings that use real ingredients to alter the naturally good taste of whiskey.

This isn’t a spicy drink like hot monkey or ABSOLUT PEPPAR.  You might think cinnamon and get hot, like atomic fireball or something in that vein.  This is actually much more an exercise in the true spirit of the spice as opposed to the flavoring additives that people think of as that spice.

The bottle you see here is a lovely little 50ml I picked up from their booth at the OMSI mixology night.  I plan to work out something that really plays with the cinnamon flavors as soon as I can think of a good fruit juice to pair it with.


Sparkle Donkey Silver Tequila



The name alone on this tequila is memorable.  You’re not likely to forget the name any time soon.

What makes it slightly more interesting is that while it is produced in Mexico it is distributed by Black Rock Spirits out of Seattle, WA.  It is oddly hard to get a hold of in the Portland area.  There are only two stores that carry it, both on the east side.  I imagine that will change over time because this stuff is awesome.

I had a chance to try both the silver and the reposado at the OMSI after dark tasting and they are both lovely.  The reposado actually has a flavor not unlike cotton candy.  It’s not sweet or cloying but has a lovely round sugar taste.

The silver is also great, it’s not as mild as the reposado.  The repo is aged in bourbon barrels which is a fantastic kick.

So far I’ve made a couple of different drinks with citrus and fruit and in every case the tequila shines through.


Aside from the beverage itself the company has a fantastic website set up to promote the Sparkle Donkey history.  Their Institute for Agave studies tells the story of El Burro Esparkalo a magical tequila distributing donkey from the wilds of mexico.

It is possible to buy this online, but shipping is dodgy.  As with most online liquor sales your location matters more than where the site is located.

Lillet Blanc

lillet blanc

As I pointed out in my white whales section on Kina Lillet, Lillet Blanc is the rebranded and possibly reformulated quinquina aperitif wine made famous by James Bond in the books and movies Casino Royale.

It could easily be mistaken for a sweet vermouth.  They both have a very crisp flavor but the Lillet is a much more complex product.  A lot of white wines that I’ve tried don’t do a lot for me.  They’re frequently too dry, and the alcohol taste runs roughshod over any other flavor components.  Lillet takes those flavor notes and brings them front and center by adding fruit, herbs and spices to the mixture of white wine.

I tried it straight, on the rocks, well chilled and with various citrus twists and they all perform very well.  It’s a sweet taste, very much in the fruit category without any syrupy or cloying components.  It’s harder to find that a lot of other things but you’ll see it in the most unusual places just sitting there alongside the Rouge and the Rose.  I picked my bottle up on special for about $20.

The one downside that I find to this is that it’s going to go bad.  Like a bottle of wine or vermouth, once open it will age rather quickly and the tannins in the wine will render it undrinkable after a couple of weeks.  So it’s vesper cocktails around here for a couple of days until this one is gone.

The difficulty in locating a bottle means I probably won’t keep this in stock at the house, but it is unusual enough that it makes for something unique to take to a party where people will be drinking wine rather than slugging aftershock.

I find that it mixes well with both Dry Gin and the Aviation that I already had on hand.  It goes passably with vodka but I’m expecting more notes there and I expect something citrus like limoncello, cointreau, curacao, or campari would work equally well in the mix there to create something more verbose.

I think tomorrow I’ll try it with some of the Clear Creek fruit liqueurs and see how it runs on cherry or cranberry.  I’m doubting that rum will go far in something like this but I would put money on a lillet sidecar having some legs.

Review: Below Deck Rum (Coffee)

Below Deck Coffee

One of the best of the local distilleries is Eastside Distilling.  Not only do I love their location, but they appear to be infinitely creative. They are willing to experiment with the kind of liqueurs that are both pleasing, and potent.

See my review of Burnside Bourbon for some of their other fantastic potables.

Today, we take a look at one of the their three (Yes I said three) varieties of rum.  In addition to a wonderful silver, they also bottle a Ginger and a Coffee rum.  Since I think I’ve done enough things with ginger in them lately, I wanted to show you the coffee instead.

Now, there are a couple of ways to get flavor into alcohol.  You can put extracts into the still during distillation so that the flavor compounds wind up in the vapor.  This is pretty standard for any clear, flavored vodkas.  Your bacardi limon, stoli blueberry and 360 cherry all use this format to one extent or another.  Another way to get flavor is to add extracts to the product after distilling, I’m pretty sure that is what happens here.  This is a cold pressed coffee extract being added to a rum base, which results in a very strong, very dark and flavorful product.

If you squint you can see the essential oils floating in the shine of the liquor.  I’m not a coffee lover, but this is what I prefer to most other coffee liqueurs.   Living in the NW there are no shortage of coffee liqueurs.  House Spirits, New Deal, Eastside and even Stone Barn Brandyworks each make one and those are just the ones I know of right now.  The presence of so many good roasters in the area means no lack of good beans to put into the mix.

I think if anything I have to say that the coffee flavor bothers me more than the alcohol flavor.  It mixes very well with chocolate, creams, and you can spice it up with a hit of bitters or even a dash of something like an Amaro.  You get a much more noticeable bitterness which can play nicely with the right kinds of notes in any other cocktail.