February 9, 2013

McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt Whiskey - Yankee Scotch, Could it Beast?

Kindred Spirit
There was an outstanding article in the Times about American distilleries producing single malt whiskeys.  Yes they have to spell it with the dreaded 'e', and they can't call it 'scotch', but we all know where they're going.

We weren't immediately moved.  Dear old Uncle Sam is great for barbecue, milkshakes, and reality television, but when we think about single malts, we tend to look across the pond.  But then we got to this paragraph that described McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt:

"Steve McCarthy, who makes the heavily peated McCarthy’s Single Malt... said he was inspired to create a Scotch-style whiskey after tasting a 16-year-old Lagavulin on a trip around Ireland in 1992. “I thought, ‘I would like to go home and make that,’ ” he said."

Amen brother! And it turns out that not only was he inspired by The Mighty Lag, he actually goes so far as to import his barley and peat from Islay! Once you start flying mud around the world to make whiskey we know you're serious.


Age: Imported mud aside, McCarthy's is only aged for 3 years. As we've noted time and time again it seems to take at least 14 years to properly mature a malt.

Price: McCarthy's is available for $47.99 at Amazon. It seems to have already sold out at Astor and KlWines, our two mainstays. Guess that's what an article in the times will do for you. In any case, the $50 price tag puts McCarthy in the same range as Bunnahabhain, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, and Balvenie Doublewood, all 12-year aged whiskies.

Ok, expectations lowered, wallet still equally lighter. Let's see what this stuff is made of.

Wifey's Tasting Notes

Nose: Not all that exciting.  Kind of bland.  A little perfumy.

Body:  Pale in color, expecting the taste to be a little weak, but has a brown sugar/caramel kind of taste. Not too rich or heavy, very light and drinkable.

Finish: Finish almost like the nose: a little perfumy, very low key and not overwhelming.

Hubby's Tasting Notes

Nose: Not a lot going on here. Roses, lemon drops, and a hint of peat. Not the big smoky aroma we were hoping for. On the other hand, definitely not the harshness and alcoholic bite we'd expect from such a young whiskey.

Body: Pleasant surprise on our first taste! There's some hot red pepper flakes coming out and the smoke makes a distinct appearance. It's a warm fruity dram with a very happy balance of flavors.

Finish: There's something not quite right in the finish. It has a short burst of smoke, which is pleasant. But it dissipates into a slight bitterness. The smoothness is there, without question, but the lingering smoky goodness we'd find in an Islay malt is missing.

The Review

At $35-$40 this would be a no-brainer, an instant fav. At around $50 we're giving McCarthy's a "B-". It really is amazing that this stuff was made in Oregon, that it's only aged 3 years, and that we're actually drinking American Single Malt. Novelty aside it's still a very pleasant drink, very smooth, and off-the-beaten-path as far as the flavor profile. We do miss the oak flavor that comes from a proper decade in a barrel. This drink is smooth, but not rich enough. You need to put a smokier, thicker, ballsier whisky into barrels and then age it until it gets this smooth. That's what we're looking for. We will say this, if McCarthy's can pull this off in three years, we see huge things for the distillery as they continue to grow and age their whisky. Bravo to a kindred spirit, kudos for an awesome attempt at a homemade Lag, and definitely pick this one up and find out for yourself.