McCarthy’s is a product of Hood River Distilleries. The spirit itself is distilled by Clear Creek Distillery which has provided since 1985 a source for Oregon-made fruit-based liquors and purchased in 2014 by Hood River Distillers. By any measure, Clear Creek is a ‘craft’ scale operation, and in fact the bottle is hand-lettered for the batch and bottling date, as you can see in the photo (click for a high-res image).
According to the Hood river website, the spirit is “distilled in a Holstein pot still using one pass distillation from a fermented mash of 100% peat malted barley from Scotland.” The Holstein still is made from copper, like a pot still, but is an odd combination of pot still and columnar stills, so that in a single run you can produce a very pure spirit such as vodka and get in essence a dozen or more distillations (hence the reference to ‘one pass’ in the note above). This is is a different approach than in Scotland where a pot still is used for the first distillation (the wash still) and a second pot still (the spirit still) is used for the final distillation. Clearly, Clear Creek is taking the final cut from their Holstein long before they’ve distilled the flavor out (as you would with vodka.) Considering the different distillation approach as well as an aging of only 3 years (the legal minimum for Scotch), and different climate, you would not expect this to taste like a single malt Scotch.
But that’s okay, since this is an Oregon single malt, a different animal. Oregon distillers have been carving out their own corner of the market for whiskies, and we whisky drinkers can only benefit from new approaches and experiences.
The McCarthy has a delicate nose with very subtle peat smoke followed by fruit with a little spice and oak. It won’t come out and wallop you, and it’s safe to bury your nose in the glass as it won’t sting. The bouquet reminds me of fresh spice cookies with orange (no rind) and green apple. Compared to the only other Oregon single malt I have, the A-O Come Hell or High Water, it lacks some in complexity, as the CHOHW has caramel and earthy notes that the McCarthy’s does not.
On the palate, the McCarthy is similarly smooth. It has a slightly oily mouthfeel that I like, warms gently, just a hint of rawness on the back of the throat. The luxurious mouthfeel is powered by fairly laid-back malt-syrup sweetness. The oak is modest but well-matched to the sweet, so overall it is a balanced dram. There is not much to the finish: the same malt sweetness, touch of fruit and a little oaken tannin. It does reveal a hint of smoke. There peat is about the same as in a dram of Highland Park (but not as complex). The A-O, having sloshed around the ocean for seven (additional) months, comes away with a richer finish, has a more robust toffee flavor and its incomparable maritime notes.
All in all, the McCarthy’s is well done, balanced, smooth, but it is a very gentle dram. I’d say this is an excellent whisky to introduce someone to single malts, and to dispel any fear someone may have over peaty whiskies. At $50, this is expensive to Americans used to bourbon prices. But for a single malt, it’s in good company and I think a good value.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt, 42.5% ABV
Nose: Delicate nose of gentle peat smoke, spice cookies, orange and apple.
Palate: Malt syrup, fruit, nice smooth mouthfeel and just enough tannin to match the modest sweetness.
Finish: Smooth malt sweetness, just enough oak, hints of peat smoke, just a hair raw on the throat.
Bottom Line: A well-crafted if laid-back single malt suitable for first-timers to the world of single malt as well as folks who want a delicate sipping whiskey with the structure of barley malt. I’ll be looking for a McCarthy’s that’s been longer in the cask for comparison.