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.

White Whales: Amer Picon

The book Vintage spirits and forgotten cocktails lists Amer Picon as one of the great missing ingredients.  There are a number of cocktails that rely on this bitter orange flavored aperitif.

It is produced in France by the house of Picon.  In the last several decades they have reformulated the Amer Picon repeatedly, reducing the ABV to almost half of the original 78 proof.  It is regional, seldom and sporadically exported.

For a liqueur with such a renowned history it’s odd that they seem to have done everything possible to reduce it’s popularity.  It is almost impossible to locate the actual Picon itself in the US.  Several people have at times produced replicas of varying quality.  One of the most commonly referenced is Torani Amer.

Produced by the venerable syrup producer of San Francisco this is one of their few products that contains alcohol.  As such it tends to be almost invisible on their website and attempting to buy it from the company is almost impossible.  At a recent Food and Beverage show the Torani rep didn’t even know if they still produced it.

At 78 proof it does show up in the oregon liquor search with about 12 locations in the state.  I was actually stunned to see it on the shelf on a recent trip and was reminded to put it on my future shopping list next to Campari and Apreol.

White Whale: Kina Lillet

I devote this category of posts to a long list of drinks that are very hard to come by unless you really hunt for them.  Some of these are going to be one-off bottles that you can only get at a specific time of year.  Others might simply be too unusual for common taste and so aren’t stocked by the run of the mill liquor establishment.  In many cases the internet can come to the rescue in buying a bottle of a particularly elusive product but the markup for shipping delicate glass bottles makes it expensive for all but the rarest of the rare.

lillet blanc

Enter the Cocktail Snob’s favorite topic of conversation-  Kina Lillet.  Made famous in 1953 by James Bond and Ian Fleming and part of a lost cocktail called the Vesper Martini or simply the Vesper.  Kina Lillet is a quinquina, to the layman a liqueur made with quinine, the flavor common in tonic water.  So much like the gin and tonic, Lillet would pair well with the botanical flavors in Gin.  Unlike simple tonic water Kina Lillet uses a base of white wine and is then blended with herbs and fruit and finally aged in oak casks.

The difficulty comes in that Kina Lillet refers to the product as it was bottled between 1872 and 1987.  In ’87 following a series of upgrades and modernizations to their equipment, Lillet rebranded and started a big marketing push and Kina Lillet became Lillet Blanc.  There is also a Lillet Rouge and a Lillet Rose.  There is some evidence to suggest that the company also changed their formulation at this time making a sweeter drink with less of the quinine bitterness.  Other research suggests that it was perhaps Lillet Vermouth and not Kina Lillet which was the drink of choice for making cocktails in post war england but as with many things in cocktail history the truth may never be known.

For their part the Lillet company line is that the actual recipe for Lillet Blanc is the same as that for Kina Lillet but history seems to disagree with them as it has been noted in some of their own advertisements from the time that the flavor was different.

Savoy Stomp: a blog I’ve recently started following has some notes on the quest for Kina going deeply into the history

For my part I finally found a bottle of Lillet Blanc.  It tends to fly under the radar a bit because it is a wine and not a hard liquor.  Thus it doesn’t make an appearance in the oregon liquor search.  Liquor stores don’t usually carry it, and most of your wine shops haven’t heard of it.  Oddly enough I finally found my bottle at the well tended wine section of my local grocery store.  An unusual find to be sure but at least I can be assured to finding it when I want it without resorting to the internet.

Tastings to follow on this one as I plan to use it in crafting a drink for a local distillery contest and will be playing around with both it and aviation gin.