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View Full Version : Two (semi) new bourbons, both distilled in Oregon



CorvallisCracker
04-17-2012, 14:01
I've always hoped someone would produce bourbon and/or rye whiskey here in the Beaver State. Sure, there are some whiskeys made here. Best known is Clear Creek's "McCarthy's Single Malt", a three-year-old highly peated barley malt whiskey in the Islay style. House Spirits has produced a 2.67 year old unpeated malt. Then there's Rogue's "Dead Guy Whiskey", which spends a mere 30 days in the barrel and tastes like it too. But none of these are my preferred type of whiskey, and all are too young.

Yes, there are bourbons on the shelf that purport to be Oregon products. There's "Big Bottom Whiskey" and, from Bull Run Distillery (best known for its Medoyeff Vodka) we have "Temperance Trader". Neither of these are distilled in Oregon, but are whiskey purchased in bulk from distilleries in Indiana and Kentucky. And though these Oregon outfits admit they don’t make it, they charge too much for it and lay on a lot of marketing hype. For example, at the web page for Temperance Trader, we see:



While our Temperance Trader Bourbon was conceived in Bourbon Country, it was born in God's Country. Which suggests that God has forsaken Kentucky. How sad. When I think of all the souls there awaiting the Rapture that will pass them by…

And apparently the act of transferring bourbon from barrel to bottle constitutes birth. Does that mean that if I were to rebarrel some and then bottle it, I could call it “born again bourbon”?


That makes Temperance Trader Bourbon an Oregon original. How embarrassing.


So, a couple of months ago, when I spotted Stein Bourbon at a local liquor store, my initial reaction was skepticism. Looking more closely at the label, it did, however, clearly state that it was "Micro-Distilled in Joseph, Oregon". I was tempted to buy it then, but decided to do a little research first.

I visited the Stein website (http://steindistillery.com/) and followed that up with an E-Mail exchange and phone call with Austin Stein. I learned that it was in 2006 that he and his wife Heather, owners of a 150 acre farm in NE Oregon, decided they wanted to get into the distilling business. Navigating the byzantine process of getting all the federal, state and local permits took a couple of years, so it was not until 2009 they constructed their distillery building and began production.

The Steins grow rye, wheat and barley, and - as much as possible - rely on their own harvest to produce their distilled products.

First on the market was their 100% rye vodka. This goes for $30.65, and it's reported to be a good one, with rye aroma and flavor detectable to those with keen senses. However, I can't personally attest to this, because I've never spent $30+ for a vodka, and don't expect I ever will.

The Steins also began producing bourbon using a mashbill of 75% corn (purchased from another local farmer) and 25% unmalted barley (starch-to-sugar conversion being done by enzymes), as well as a rye whiskey (75% rye, 25% corn). The Steins have two, five and ten year aging programs for these.

Production is about 10-12 53 gallon barrels per month, split evenly between bourbon and rye. One barrel of each goes into the five year program, and one of each into the ten.

The whiskey is aged in 53 gallon barrels and aged in the same 6,000 square foot building that houses the still and the gift shop. Joseph is located in Oregon’s “high desert” and although it doesn’t get very hot there (100 degrees F exceeded only once, in 1919), it gets very cold (lows under -20 F not uncommon during the winter). The Steins put central heat into their building, and this, combined the already dry desert air, results in the Angels getting a very high share (perhaps appropriate given that this is, after all, God’s Country). In the first two-and-a-half years of aging, the Steins are seeing 15-20% loss.

So they’re planning a separate rickhouse, without heating.

The two year old whiskeys were released in late 2011, and it's the bourbon that I found at the liquor store on Washington Avenue in Corvallis. Both whiskeys are priced at $38.75, which - let's face it - is a lot for a two year old whiskey.

So it took me a week to talk myself into buying one. Receiving my mid-month paycheck on the 13th, I felt flush enough to buy one the following Monday.

The nose is a mix of corn and hay, and on the palate it's a bit rough around the edges, due to its (lack of) age. The high percentage of barley makes itself known, imparting a cereal element that reminds me of some Irish whiskeys.

Is it worth $39? Well, that's a personal decision, I guess. If you're someone who wants to "buy Oregon" and have the disposable income to do it, then its price is not out of line for Oregon whiskey. The McCarthy goes for $50, and it's my recollection that the House Spirits whiskey went for $45. Rogue charges $40 for the abominably bad Dead Guy.

Speaking strictly for myself, $39 for a two-year-old bourbon is too much. My frame of reference is very much a value oriented one, and, as we all know, there are a number of very good bourbons available that can be had for that price or lower.

The Stein bourbon is also available in "white dog" (unaged) form, as "Steinshine Corn Whiskey", for $25.80.

The Steins also produce a light rum ($21.95), made from brown sugar. Some has been diverted to barrels that previously held bourbon, and will be released in a couple of years.

The vodka, whiskeys, and rum are all 80 proof.

I'll probably get some of the rum before summer. But as for the whiskey, I think I'll wait for the longer aged versions. I plan to be first in line when the five-year-old bourbon and rye are released in late 2014, and likewise (probably leaning on a walker) when the ten-year-old versions are released in 2019.


Several weeks later, while visiting Big Y Liquors in Eugene, I spotted another made-in-Oregon bourbon, C. W. Irwin. No age statement on the bottle meant that it was at least four years old (twice as old as Stein), and, at $28, $10.45 less expensive. So I brought a bottle home.

Nose was recognizably bourbon in character, taste was caramel corn, butterscotch and a hint of rye. On the finish there was this slightly resiny thing going that had me wondering about barrel size and how long the staves had been seasoned.

Over the next couple of weeks, subsequent samplings showed progressively less of the resin character.

Efforts to reach the distillery owner, Brad Irwin, were not successful until late Monday, March 12. I conducted a brief interview, but backyard activities on most of the following weekends (French drain project), busy work week (auditors coming on March 27th), and trip out of town the weekend of March 24 (wedding anniversary) got in the way of compiling notes and posting this report.

The Irwin bourbon (distillery name is Oregon Spirit Distillers (http://oregonspiritdistillers.com/)) is a four grain whiskey (58% corn, 8% rye, 17% wheat and 17% malted barley). Distilled at 140 proof and entering the barrel at 125, it's put in 30 gallon barrels for four years. There might be some set aside for longer aging (Brad would neither confirm nor deny). Bottling proof is 80.

Choice of 30 gallon barrel is based not so much on the slightly higher ratio of surface area to volume (20% compared to a 53 gallon barrel) but on the capacity of Brad's still, which produces about 26.7-26.8 gallons of 140 proof spirit per batch. Bringing this down to 125 results in 30 gallons. The other reason is that it's a one man operation, and Brad finds the smaller barrels a lot easier to manage.

Barrels come from The Barrel Mill, a Minnesota outfit that plants four trees for every one it cuts (sustainability being an important factor when dealing with us Oregonians). The whiskey barrels use wood seasoned for three years and have a #3 char.

Storage is in the 4,000 square foot distillery building, which is unheated. The distillery is located in Bend. It's a little warmer there than in Joseph (location of Stein distillery). Barrels are stored in two-level racks.

Production is about 20 30gal barrels per month.

"C. W. Irwin" is Brad's older brother. The bourbon is named after him because "his initials sound better than mine." I refrained from asking Brad if his middle name started with an S.

I decided to try a comparison between the Irwin bourbon and something equivalent. There being no 4/80 bourbons around priced over $20, I picked up a small bottle of Jack Daniels Black Label ($23.45/750ml in OR)(I do believe this is the first JD I’ve bought since before it dropped to 80 proof). Side-by-side, I wouldn't say one is better than the other, just different. Like the Jack Daniels, the Irwin's youth-imparted strong character would work well with cola or in other mixed drinks.

Compared to other Oregon whiskeys, it's way out in front, being both older than any others that I know of, and costing less than most.

I guess my final take on it is that it's a competent four year old bourbon, something I'd take on a fishing trip. Some of this on the rocks would be pretty good after a hard day of pulling in big rainbows, so I'll be taking it with me when I head down to Diamond Lake in May.

Tony
04-18-2012, 07:45
Great write up Scott with lots of detail. I will have to keep an eye out for these but imagine I will not be seeing them in Michigan soon.

Best regards, Tony

wadewood
04-18-2012, 08:33
nice reviews. An under $30 craft distilled 4 year old Straight Bourbon??? I think some others have something to learn.

mrviognier
04-18-2012, 09:18
A very enjoyable read...thanks for posting!

Gillman
04-18-2012, 09:30
Good report indeed. It's interesting how so many bourbons and ryes, of course commercial ones too but especially the new crop of craft products, vary in how the mashbill is approached. I wonder how the producers decide which way to go on it. I would think in some cases they run distillates from different mashes and taste the new make; in other cases perhaps they received advice from a technical consultant; in yet others maybe it depends on what they have to use or is in their area, this might apply where they want to source materials locally.

Gary

Leopold
04-18-2012, 09:37
Great write up. You might be mistaken about the age, however. I believe, but could be wrong, that Mr. Irwin's shop was licensed in 2010.

It's a very neat family run operation. I love shops like theirs.

CorvallisCracker
04-18-2012, 20:37
Great write up. You might be mistaken about the age, however. I believe, but could be wrong, that Mr. Irwin's shop was licensed in 2010.

Yes, it's true it was licensed in 2010. It's also true that I have scoured every square millimeter of the labels for an age statement. It's also true that if a whiskey labeled "straight bourbon" is less than four years old it must state the age in the label.

And last, but not least, it's true that Brad Irwin does know the regs. He's making rye whiskey too and putting it into the ex-bourbon barrels, and knows he'll have to call that "whiskey from a rye mash".

I've sent him an E-Mail on this issue (four year old whiskey from a distillery open less than two years at the point it went on sale), and will post his answer when I get it.

I think I already know how it was done, but I'm going to await confirmation.

wadewood
04-19-2012, 05:48
Yes, it's true it was licensed in 2010. It's also true that I have scoured every square millimeter of the labels for an age statement. It's also true that if a whiskey labeled "straight bourbon" is less than four years old it must state the age in the label.

And last, but not least, it's true that Brad Irwin does know the regs. He's making rye whiskey too and putting it into the ex-bourbon barrels, and knows he'll have to call that "whiskey from a rye mash".

I've sent him an E-Mail on this issue (four year old whiskey from a distillery open less than two years at the point it went on sale), and will post his answer when I get it.

I think I already know how it was done, but I'm going to await confirmation.

I sent him a message as well asking what the age is on this bourbon. I tweeted about a 4 year old craft distilled product for under $30, so my journalistic integrity is on the line (to my 62 followers....)

callmeox
04-19-2012, 05:54
I sent him a message as well asking what the age is on this bourbon. I tweeted about a 4 year old craft distilled product for under $30, so my journalistic integrity is on the line (to my 62 followers....)

If you are found to to be a prevaricator, that number may drop to 61.

tanstaafl2
12-12-2012, 12:06
Yes, it's true it was licensed in 2010. It's also true that I have scoured every square millimeter of the labels for an age statement. It's also true that if a whiskey labeled "straight bourbon" is less than four years old it must state the age in the label.

And last, but not least, it's true that Brad Irwin does know the regs. He's making rye whiskey too and putting it into the ex-bourbon barrels, and knows he'll have to call that "whiskey from a rye mash".

I've sent him an E-Mail on this issue (four year old whiskey from a distillery open less than two years at the point it went on sale), and will post his answer when I get it.

I think I already know how it was done, but I'm going to await confirmation.

Was there ever an answer to this question? I have not seen the Irwin bourbon but the Stein Bourbon has apparently made it to Georgia. I was going to ask the cost and then the owner, with whom I am trying to cultivate a good relationship with (nice guy and seems to know about and have an interest in bourbon even if his first passion is scotch. But then he grew up in London so I guess he can be forgiven!), mentioned he had a couple of Amrut Indian whiskeys in and would I like a taste?

14539

Why yes, I believe I would! Promptly forgot all about asking the price of the Stein Bourbon.

dementedavenger
12-12-2012, 20:29
I live in Seattle and I've purchased Stein bourbon and rye. I've enjoyed both though I don't have any tasting notes and used them mainly for cocktails. I have a bottle of the bourbon at the moment. Talking to some folks in the Portland "cocktail scene" there's a belief that Stein is on a very good path to eventually putting out some very high quality bourbon. I agree.

There is another Oregon whiskey, though finding it will be difficult for most people. McMenamins, which operates a group of hotels, bars, restaurants and venues in Oregon and Washington, also operates its own brewery, winery and distillery. Their products are only served at their properties and only a few of those properties can retail the wine and spirits. They have a single malt whiskey, Hogshead Whiskey (not to be confused with a blended Scotch of the same name), that I rather enjoyed when I stopped in a McMenamins property recently. It won the American Distilling Institute's 2011 Single Malt of the Year award, for whatever that's worth.

humchan2k
12-13-2012, 15:42
McMenamin's also makes a crazy spruce gin that's pretty solid.....I love McMenamin's and wish that more businesses operated the way they do: save old buildings, repurpose them for modern use, preserve your city for future generations.

I'll take a pint of Hammerhead, please.

MonsterMashBill
12-13-2012, 20:08
I got to talk to the folks at Bull Run Distilling a couple weeks ago (they do Temperance Trader). They recently put out a cask strength version of their bourbon, which I got to taste, and it's not bad. A little rough around the edges, but the concentration means that the youth isn't as much of an issue, as there's some flavor there. In talking to them, it's clear that they're using LDI juice. But the interesting thing is, they're aging it in NW Portland. I went by their space, and I saw the barrels. So it's not just a matter of buying a bunch of whiskey and putting it in a bottle.

Also, they said that they're working on their own distillate, which should be ready for the market in 2 or 3 years. I'm interested enough to keep an eye on them.