Every year for the past several years since my mother passed and left us, my wife always makes sure to do something special that weekend as it was the anniversary when she died. This year, was no different and my wife who also is known by her blog, The Whiskey Lover’s Wife took me for an overnight trip to Portland, Oregon. Why Portland you ask? Well, I as the Whiskey Lover, have a passion for everything whiskey, and right now it is to find and share the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest with distinguished American single malt whiskeys as well as other whiskeys and spirits that join us along the way.
When a person thinks of a single malt whiskey, it is almost likey reflected with Scotch whiskey. Well, that may be true, but we have some great little craft distilleries doing some great things in our backyard. Having a region that offers so many different seasons and agricultural terrains, it will be a long time before we ever tap it all. These aspects are how it affects the different complex flavors and profiles you find in a whiskey.
If you want to find out more about the excursion it’self along from the perspective of The Whiskey Lover’s Wife and the experience and interactions, then please shoot on over and check her blog out at The Whiskey Lover’s Wife.
The two different family blogs are one of the reasons we do our blogs to give you two different perspectives to help the experience. I as The Whiskey Lover will be focusing more so on the whiskey itself for those whiskey enthusiasts.
On to our first stop after a semi-short drive of about an hour and a half to the city of Portland. My wife purchased a Groupon to a little distillery called Vinn distillery located at 222 SE Avenue in Portland. I did not do any research but come to realize that this is a smaller family owned business that focuses creating Chinese based spirits with an “ancient” family recipe. The main spirit made by Vinn Distillery is a spirit called Baiju, pronounced as “bye-joe.” Baijiu is considered a vodka spirit but is a rice-based spirit that creates a very earthy sweet flavor profile that stands on the front end of the palate and is very pronounced. What is interesting is this rice-based spirits, is produced to 80 proof and is distilled in a pot still which leaves a lot of the flavor, unlike vodkas that are distilled many times to take away any character you may find establishing a high proof mixer.
What get’s very interesting about this trip, was that the story is one day, the family found an unused 53-gallon virgin oak barrel. They thought, what if we aged it in this barrel? Well, what you have technically is rice or “grain” based spirit that is distilled to at least 80 proof (86 proof to be exact) and aged in an oak barrel for over a year. That is a grain whiskey, a grain whiskey that I have never had, but a grain whiskey none the less. So what did it come out as tasting? Here you go folks, my breakdown of the Vinn Distillery grain (rice) whiskey.
Vinn Distillery: Rice-based whiskey
Batch # 9
43% ABV / 86 Proof
- Color: At first sight, the yellow is a little more pronounced and is surrounded by a golden amber that stems from the aging in a new oak barrel.
- Nose: Definitely a slight nosing with a sweet smell. The whiskey has a sweet smell that does not stand out like bourbon and corn, but a lingering sweet aroma with some grassy or grain components.
- Taste: This whiskey is a “soft” flavor profile that unlike many whiskeys that are more pronounced through the sip is balanced from the front to the back for the entire taste. The flavor profile does not change from the front to the back which many may like or not depending on their palates. The slightest of “bite” you would expect from lower level alcohol like perhaps 60 proof but is evident in the 86 proof spirit. You get the slight vanilla and caramel from the barrel and rye like profile that seems to stand out. It is not spicy or as dry as rye, but the flavors are evidence. This whiskey also tastes much like a bourbon would, but the sweet and oily components you get from a bourbon are not present.
The second distillery we visited was the Eastside Distillery. This distillery located at 1512 Southeast 7th Avenue in Portland, had a plethora of spirits to offer. I did not take any home and will not necessarily be providing a tasting breakdown this time. Eleven different spirits were being offered, which for me was a lot. It was a mix of several rum-based spirits and then bourbon based spirits and blended bourbons with one high proof of 111 rye whiskey. Honestly, it was a nice visit, however with so many different spirits all over the place, it was tough to have time to break down and experience each one and the intricacies that they had. I am sure that many of them had terrific flavor profiles to offer, but I could not get the time to break down each one sipping out of the little plastic cups they provided.
To me, I just could not get into the story and soul of the spirits like I could some of the other places. Again, I feel I would owe it to select a few of their products to break down and analyze, but this visit was not going to provide that, as well as the tasting room host, was newer. The host was friendly and had more knowledge than many other places, but it takes a while to honestly get to know and share the experience that is the whiskey and spirits you are representing.
That evening, I found out why my wife books at the hotel we stayed that night. Attached to the hotel was a bar and restaurant known as Swine. Swine was a moonshine and whiskey bar. Packed to the brim that night, we found a spot. We sat and got to admire the walls covered with both world and local whiskeys. So many that I wouldn’t even know what to try. When I am in a place like this, I usually like to venture into the cocktails as at
distilleries, my focus in whiskey neat to truly experience the flavors, body, and experience of the whiskey. What would the cocktails of choice be tonight? Well, my first and always is, is either the Manhatten or in this case, their version of a Manhatten. This drink was entitled the Ellis Island. The Ellis Island was their upscale version of a Manhatten that used what Old Foresters, Amaro Nardini, and Angostura Bitters in a rock glass with one giant ice cube.
This cocktail was an excellent version of the perfect Manhatten. The bitters were of an outstanding quality which gave it that “bitter” flavor profile that was unique, as well as the Amaro Nardini with, was a delicious version of sweet vermouth that reintroduced the sweetness to the bourbon and created an experience. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to any person making their way through Portland.
The next day, we were off to our last two distilleries before we made our way home. The first one of the day and I will go ahead and venture to say, my favorite of the trip and one of my top five distilleries I have visited so far. My wife and I hopped in the Jeep and ventured our way to the Bull Run Distillery located at 2259 NW Quimby St. in Portland. I was very excited to visit as this is one of the places that is currently producing a single malt whiskey. Bull Run creates several high-quality whiskeys and spirits, but the single malt is the one that brought in this taster.
The Bull Run Distillery head Distiller was a gentleman that was one of the founders of the House Spirits Distillery and their Westward single malt whiskey. Some of the spirits that my wife and I got to taste was started off with their Medoyeff vodka which is a vodka that is only distilled once keeping much of the flavor profile from the mash in it and making good sipping or cocktail vodka. We then tried a couple of spirits such as their barrel aged Starka and Aquavit. There were many different whiskeys is the base of their focus including a straight bourbon whiskey, American whiskey, a pinot barrel finished whiskey, a Chinato barrel finished straight bourbon (which I gladly left with a bottle) and a single malt whiskey (which was the focus of my trip.)
I will be sharing my tasting notes on two of the whiskey’s I left with which included the Chinato barrel finished straight bourbon and the American single malt whiskey. Both were fantastic and excellent in many different ways. I will start with the Chinato barrel aged straight bourbon whiskey. So what is straight bourbon and what does it mean to age in Chinato? Well, a straight bourbon implies that it is a spirit that uses at least 51% corn in the mash bill, it distills to at least 80 proof, and it ages for at least 2 years in a brand new oak barrel. The liquid that comes from that barrel and enters the bottle becomes a straight bourbon. Well, take that whiskey and age it in a Chinato barrel and you get ready to go Manhatten if you think about it. Chinato is a type of vermouth that is a split between sweet vermouth and a quinquina which is a type of wine. The whole idea with a Manhatten is that the reintroduction of sugars from the sweet vermouth and addition of bitters to adding the complex flavors to it is the makeup of a Manhattan. This bourbon has that slight Manhatten sweet complexity, and when you add a few drops of their barrel aged bitters, you get awesomeness. Here is my breakdown of the Chinato aged Straight Bourbon Whiskey from the Bull Run Distillery.
Bull Run Distillery; Chinato Barrel Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Batch # 003
Bottle # 0245
45% ABV / 90 proof
Distillery description: “If you enjoy a good Manhatten, you’ll love our Chinato Barrell Aged Bourbon with its rich flavor, and notes of ripe fruit flavor, and notes of ripe fruit and spice. The barrels come to use compliments of our friends at Cana’s Feast Winery in Carlton, Oregon, where they were used to age their beautiful Chinato D’Erbetti – Italian-style sweet vermouth.”
- Color: Dark mahogany with amber like reflections off of the Glencairn glass.
- Smell: Spicy and fruity smell from the glass. Sweet wine type smell reminiscent of sherry finished whiskey, but much lighter with hints of overripe orchard fruit. Slight smokey and tobacco-like aromas that come from a bourbon aged new oak barrel and baking spices.
- Taste: The initial coating of the tongue is balanced from the front of the tongue to the back. On the front of the palate you get the sweetness coming from the finishing in the Chinato barrel with complexities behind it of the vanilla, caramel, and baking spices you find with a bourbon. As the taste lingers to the back of the tongue, the fruitiness of overripe or cinnamon baked fruit occurs. This taste transition turns into the traditional tobacco and leather profile on the back end but does not overwhelm the almost Manhatten based pattern.
I have not had a whiskey like this before, and the main reason I enjoy a Manhatten is how the traditional cocktail takes a spirit such as rye or bourbon and re-introduces the sugar to it from the vermouth and adding bitter notes from the bitters. This whiskey creates a cocktail that produces a flavor transition from three ingredients to enjoy. This spirit does a great job creating that sense and experience in a single spirit. The Chinato finished bourbon is one to keep on hand at all times. I can not wait to go back and learn more about it.
To end my blog, I will be sharing the last bottle that I came home with and one that I set out to try and share. This bottle would be the American single malt whiskey from the Bull Run Distillery. Before I share it, I will tell you that this blog is just a tip of the iceberg that I would like to share. I want to briefly share this experience and a few of the unique and exceptional whiskeys and spirits that we tried. My wife from The Whiskey Lover’s Wife can honestly tell the story of the experience itself so much more than I can. I genuinely emphasize that you go over and check out her blog at The Whiskey Lover’s Wife. Part of whiskey tasting is the whiskey, of course, however, the people you meet, the experiences you create, and the memories that develop and finish the story of it all. I will be coming back to many of these places and sharing so much more as many times, they are like onions with many layers and you get something new every time.
Bull Run Distillery: Oregon Single Malt Whiskey
Bath # 002
Bottle # 00558
44.58% ABV / 89.70 proof
Distillery description: “Pot distilled with 100% malted barley from the Klamath basin and water from the Bull Run watershed, then aged four years in Amerian oak, the spirits in this bottle continue the long history of whiskey making in American by embracing the pioneer spirit of Oregon.”
- Color: Light yellow golden hues with a little amber at the center of the rolling spirit from the glass.
- Smell: slight cereal and malty aroma that comes through the sweet smell that comes from the malted barley. Hints of the vanilla and caramel come out at the end from being aged in a new oak barrel. The sweet smell is slightly fruity that associate with similar lowland single malt whiskeys from Scottland.
- Taste: The front of the taste surges with a traditional malt whiskey with cereal and malt flavors from the front and initial sip of whiskey. Sweet orchard fruit of apricot, peach, and overripe apple are prevalent on the front end that is subtle and soft initially. The neat thing is that traditional single malts not being aged in new barrels which this whiskey being done as such produces a significant transition from the front to back. As the whiskey moves from the front to the back, you get the “bite” which is what you want and not a “burn” from alcohol. This “bite” comes from the aging and environment of the barrel. You get a light smokey and spicey back end from the tannins of the barrel and interacting with the softness of the malted barley.
This whiskey is an excellent American single malt whiskey produced in our backyard of the Pacific Northwest. With so many regions and environments, we have people that can do so much with whiskey in the Washington and Oregon areas.
I hope you enjoyed finding out a little more about the great whiskeys in our backyard. Again, my focus is finding and sharing these gems with all of you while emphasizing the flavor profiles and complexities behind the spirits. With these trips and tasting, my wife shares the personal side of the experience and all the little nuances that go together to create an authentic experience. Please check out her blog on this trip at The Whiskey Lover’s wife and join us next time as we share the passion, art, and science of everything whiskey.
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