By Debbie Shocair
Portland holds a proud little secret: in the world of American Craft Whiskey, Clear Creek Distillery is a true pioneer. After Steve McCarthy became enamored of peated Scotch, he decided to make his own variety right there in the Pacific northwest. The distillery has been making a fine peated single malt whiskey since the mid-1990’s, joining Prichard’s in Tennessee as one of the pre-craft whiskey era micro-distilleries. It is one of the very first single malts made in modern America, and a lovely creature whose journey actually begins in Scotland.
Peated Scottish malted barley is imported to Portland and then mashed and fermented by the Widmer Brothers Brewery, a microbrewery also based in Portland. The resulting distiller’s beer is then transported over to Clear Creek where it is distilled one time in a unique Holstein copper pot still. After non-chill filtering, it is laid away to mature for three years in medium toasted Oregon oak before being bottled at 85 proof.
On the nose, this American peated single-malt was peaty. Very peaty and smoky, much like an Islay Scotch. There were strong notes of vanilla, along with almost hidden notes of earth oak and coconut. Taffy and rum raisin were there as well, but I had to pay close attention to find them.
Breaking it with a ½ teaspoon water brought forward the loads of sweetness hiding beneath the peat.
The mouthfeel was just at the back of the palate and across the top of the tongue.
The finish was initially acerbic, quickly followed by peat and oak, a heavy but enjoyable sense of leather and cinnamon. The only sweetness was a hint just at the end.
This is a whiskey that is absolutely perfect for the peat-loving fan of Amber Gold on your gift list. And it’s quite a prize if you can find it. Currently available in about 35 states and some online retailers, it retails for about $50.