Today’s review continues a story from last week, where the wife and I, while visiting Astoria, Oregon, happened across Pilot House Distillery, a small local producer of spirits and prepared mixed drinks. I reviewed the signature A-O ‘American’ Whisky and was pleasantly surprised at the aromatic, lively and smooth flavor. Today’s selection is Pilot House’s take on a single malt. The prospect of an American single malt was enough to prompt my interest, but then they add an additional hook: extreme maritime aging. Enter the A-O Come Hell or High Water (CHoHW) single malt whisky, distilled from a mash that is 100% malted two-row premium barley.
This is a story of serendipity. The wife and I got a little Air BNB in Astoria, Oregon, as a getaway weekend. We had one good (but chilly) day with sun, and the next was quire rainy, so we just ended up kicking around downtown, enjoying the old architecture, visiting the museums and getting soft-serve frozen custard. On one street we happened across Pilot House Distillery, a small local producer of whisky established in 2013. That’s ‘whisky’ spelled the Scottish way, you’ll note, not like most American ‘whiskeys.’ They also produce gin, rum, vodkas, liqueurs, agave and canned drinks as well as whisky. These folks are not letting any moss grow beneath their feet! Their production and aging is done behind the shop (as you can see on the photo below) right there at 1270 Duane St. in Astoria.
Today’s entry is going to be a benchmark for some craft whiskies to come. In the U.S., we’ve see billboard ads for Bulleit products fairly regularly over the last 10 years. This is a brand with some history (mid-1800s), though it was dormant for 120 years. The brand was reflated in the late 1980s, then sold to Seagrams, which was gobbled up by Diageo.
Diageo’s Bulleit bourbon is centered in two plants, the larger being almost 7 M litres per year. That dwarfs most Scottish distilleries. But that’s not all. This 95 Rye spirit is distilled at another facility, MGP Indiana, a contract distiller. This is a typical arrangement for American whiskies. Whereas in Scotland they have contracted out much of the maltings, cooperage and some bottling and warehouses, in the US, it’s more common that the distillation is contracted out en toto. So what’s a brand in that case? Some ‘producers’ do their own finishing: cask and aging. Others buy the stuff finished and just supply the marketing. Mostly, that’s fluff and sometimes gets them into legal trouble.
Woodford Reserve is the premium whisky from the folks at Brown-Forman, famous for Jack Daniels (as well as some Scotch labels such as BenRiach). Oddly enough Jack Daniels was the favorite tipple of Keith Richards (until he went dry in 2018). He could afford better, and the distillery does make a better whisky. With Woodford, Brown-Forman are going for a higher price and more refined flavor. And to one-up our valiant competitor Knob Creek, Brown-Forman even include a pot still in the Woodford Reserve production, whereas Knob Creek is all column-distilled. But there’s more to whisky than the still.
25 Dec! Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it.
Welcome to our second (of three) American series reviews. When they reviewed American whiskies the Whisky Waffle lads panned the big, common bourbons (Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark), but had good words for more innovative products. I did a similar comparison last week, Jim Beam vs. Rogue’s Dead Guy, and indeed the craft product out-shined the mass-market product by a fair margin. This week, we line up a bourbon titan the Waffle guys missed, Wild Turkey 101, up against Knob Creek—itself a Jim Beam ‘premium’ product. Both are Kentucky Straight Bourbons, 100-ish proof, and well, we’ll see what’s what.