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.
This bottle of Talisker 18 was a gift from my wife who knows I am a huge fan of Talisker’s 10-year-old, and knows I was blown away by the Talisker 25 I had in a New York restaurant. (That was Aureole, a great combination of superb food and service without pretension. A Michelin starred restaurant, and there were folks eating there in jeans and t-shirts…) But I digress. When I woke up Christmas morning and found this bottle stuffed in my stocking I broke out in a broad grin. Santa sure knows my taste.
This is a whisky with a serious price (about $165 around here) so I’m going to give it a detailed analysis. I’ll be comparing it to the Talisker 10 of course and the Caol Isla 18, which is comparable in some ways (age, Island flavor profile) though the Caol Isla is unpeated. (I have to find a peated Caol 18!)
This being a dream come true, I hoped for a good experience. I had a great one. We were picked up after a restful night at our inn (the Bridgend, highly recommended) by Uncle Charlie, the proprietor’s ex-merchant marine uncle. A great guy was Charlie and full of information. He worried me a bit, explaining that Bunnahabhain was getting a bit frayed around the edges He was more animated by the prospect of a new distillery being built on the same one-track road where Bunnahabhain lies.
And on arrival we saw a distillery that looked like distilleries did before they were tourist attractions: a working factory, with the dark grey coating the distilleries get from the odd collection of microbes that flourish around the Angel’s share. And out front, stacks of casks. Besides a crop, I have not retouched the photo. It was that grey and gloomy.
I have my wife to thank for the Astar. She had spotted an unpeated Caol Ila she wanted to try. We went to the local shop together and spotted Astar. We both like Glenmorangie’s offerings – they are reliably well done, balanced and focused. Their 10-year is a standard for us and what I serve guests who want to try a single malt for the first time. We have had tastings with the sherry, port and sauterne finished versions and they were well received. I also have a bottle of the ‘very rare’ 18-year old, which is some serious whisky. At $115 locally, it should be.
The Astar is nearly as expensive at $99.95 and caught the good wife’s eye. If regular Glenmorangie was good, she reasoned, this expression, aged in barrels crafted with select woods, must be better. I was a bit more skeptical, noting the absence of an age statement. But given the malt master at Glenmorangie has produced so many good offerings, I relented and we decided to give it a go.
Oban distillery is a petite operation by Scottish standards. Comprising only two stills, their output is listed on Wikipedia at 670,000 barrels a year. That’s about half the rate of Ardbeg, itself a distillery of modest output. With such limited production, Oban concentrate on their 14-year old, though there is a Distiller’s edition and some older releases.