When it comes to discussing single malts, examples from America are likely not to be the first whiskies that comes to mind. Scotch and Japanese single malt are easily the two most famous types nowadays. Irish and Taiwanese single malt is likely to be 3rd and 4th. The is better known will most likely depend on which part of the world you are in. That leaves us with American single malt, which is largely overshadowed by bourbon and rye whiskey. I won’t forget to mention the other rising and lesser-known single malt producing countries as well such as France, England and Wales.
Despite having been around for a decade already, Westland is still very new in terms of distillery years. Yet, I think they’re the most well-known brand of American single malt. Which is no accident as they were releasing pretty good whisky even before being bought out. Being acquired by Remy Cointreau surely helped to increase their exposure.
So, I’m here to talk about two single malts from lesser-known distilleries. First up, is McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt from Clear Creek Distillery. The distillery was founded in 1985. This makes it one of the first craft distillers in the US. The distillery is named after its founder and original owner Steve McCarthy. The distillery was bought out by another Oregon based distillery called Hood River in 2014.
They are more well known for their brandies, which they make via pot stills. But I got to know about Clear Creek thanks to its single malt. Their first release of single malt was way back in 1996. This makes them one of the first to produce American single malt. Only 600 cases of it are released per year, which is why a lot of us haven’t heard about it. I was lucky to have this been given to me by a friend who grew up in Oregon.
What makes McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt different from other American single malts is that they are aged in Oregon oak for around three years – a type of oak that isn’t widely used. The barley is peated and imported from Scotland. Unlike most single malt, this is only distilled once. This makes me think it has a retort in order to yield a higher abv.
The other American single malt is from St. George distillery. I’ve already covered their sugar cane juice rum. Jason has also covered their Baller single malt recently. The first release of their single malt was back in 2000. It seems like they do an annual release and refer to these batches as “lots”. The one I have is SM-16 which stands for single malt lot #16. Their single malt is a blend of whiskey aged from 4 to 10 years old. They are aged in different casks such as ex-port, ex-sherry, French oak, ex-bourbon and other ex-wine casks.
I have never seen a bottle of this in the US. But I was very lucky to have found a bottle in the Proof Flat Singapore. I think this cost more north of $150SGD.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt – review
Batch #: W15 – 02 from Sept 14 2015, bottled at 42.5% abv.
Color: light honey.
On the nose: Sharp sensation with light scents of grilled asparagus, bbq, cinnamon, vanilla brine, leather, garlic and smoked ham.
In the mouth: Initial notes of something smokey, bitter and charred. Light tastes of sauteed asparagus, honey, smoked ham, bbq and an astringent finish.
An inoffensive whisky, which is, I think, held back by its age. The flavors are balanced, but just lacking a kick or distinguishing characters. I’m curious why Clear Creek distillery only releases them at 3 years old. But then again, the character of Oregon oak may have something to do with it. This is the 1st whisky I’ve had, which has been aged in Oregon oak. In addition, the first single malt I’ve had which has been only distilled once. So, I have no benchmark to compare this with.
I like that the peat is just right and wasn’t used to mask the faults in this whisky. It may be a batch blending issue, or availability of quality casks, but I’m disappointed in spirits that use smoke/peat to cover its faults. I find the more recent releases of Highland Park 12 and some poor quality Mezcal to be guilty of this. But I’m also curious what more peat would have done McCarthy’s.
St. George Single Malt – review
This is Lot 16. bottled at 43% abv.
On the nose:: A mixed bag of gentle and sweet scents. I get scents that remind me of Port casks & French oak. Those break down into hints of cinnamon, vanilla, honey and plum liqueur. There’s a very weak and brief appearance of dark chocolate followed by a stronger scent of dried apricots. It’s followed by mellow scents of rose liqueur and bergamot.
In the mouth: Mellow tastes of different kinds of sweetness and floralness with a lurking funk. Japanese plum liqueur, barley husks, rose liqueur, sourdough, persimmon, dark chocolate, cherries, sakura liqueur and more dark chocolate and hints of orange jam.
Sweet, fruity and floral. This being aged in different kinds of casks reminds me of the discontinued Springbank CVs. I can imagine someone complaining about these flavors. It’s very pleasant but a bit one dimensional. I find this unique profile very refreshing though. I think this makes a great night cap or dessert dram. With that in mind, I wouldn’t drink this often just like I don’t often indulge in sweets. Drinking this often might make me feel jaded about this.
I initially didn’t like this as the fruitiness and floralness were non-existent after just being opened. It was just all barley, funk, sourdough and spices. But leaving this to breathe for a couple of years has brought out its beauty.
I would have given this a 6 but I’ll give it +1 due to the unique profile. I’m curious if all the batches are consistent. Unless St. George tweaks the percentage of cask influence per release.