McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey is of the Islay tradition of Scotch whisky. Of well-known single malts from Scotland, it resembles the Lagavulin whisky. It is very peat-y. Made from peat-malted barley brought in from Scotland, our whiskey would be a single malt Scotch if Oregon were Scotland. Widmer Brothers ferments the peat-malted barley into a “wash” or unhopped beer. Using the unfinished wash allows us to get all the flavor and character of the malt when we distill. We distill in our Holstein pot stills using one pass distillation, but make a small “heads” cut and a fairly large “tails” cut and put about 4 liters of tails into the next still run. The proof at time of distillation is about 150 (75%). Then we reduce in proof and barrel-age the rough distillate in old sherry casks. All the Oregon Single Malt now spends some time in barrels made from air-dried Oregon Oak. The present bottling is only 3 years old but we think it is remarkably smooth for such a young whiskey. The result is a smooth, peat-y whiskey with a surprisingly clean finish. Production is very limited because what we put in the barrel doesn’t come out for years.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey received attention from its early days in the 1990′s because American Single Malt was a novelty. In 2000, Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Ragen noted in the Malt Advocate (March, 2000, p. 24) that in the world of American whiskey, “the times they are a-changing.” Their article described how single malts have started to gain in popularity over the past decade and “full flavored American whiskey has made a comeback.” At that time (2000) three artisanal distillers were making American Single Malts, but only McCarthy’s had been released.
McCarthy’s started to receive significant acclaim in 2004, when Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible gave McCarthy’s its Best Small Batch Whiskey in the world award and a score of 94. That same year Michael Jackson put McCarthy’s in his list of The Ten Best American Whiskeys, published in both the Men’s Journal (December 2004) and The Malt Advocate ( First Quarter 2005). Consistently rave reviews have continued. In his 2006 edition of The Whiskey Bible, Jim Murray wrote, “McCarthy’s has earned a place among the world’s elite whiskeys.” His 2008 edition of The Whiskey Bible gave McCarthy’s a phenomenal score of 96.