Whether you love Kentucky bourbon, Scotch, or are just curious about Oregon-made whiskey there are a ton of whiskey distilleries in Oregon producing brown spirits that capture the complexity and depth of whiskey made here. It’s not about finding a whiskey that tastes like your favorite Kentucky Bourbon though—it’s about learning what Oregon has to offer. All of these whiskies have something different to show you in terms of taste, nose, price, and aging methods.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt
If you love Scotch, check out McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt, especially if you’re keen on the smell and taste of an 8 or 10 year-old Islay. This solid single malt was originally a product of Clear Creek Distillery, and now Hood River Distillers, too. People are often surprised by the peatiness of the McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt. Don’t worry if you’re not accustomed to peat, there’s not need to avoid this single malt. Much of the peat is on the nose with a softer touch on the palate.
Whipper Snapper Whiskey by Ransom Spirits
Whipper Snapper is an Oregon-made whiskey at a great price point ($28) by Ransom Wine & Spirits. The aging process of using variety of barrels, including used French coopered pinot noir barrels, new American coopered whiskey barrels, and used American whiskey barrels adds to the complexity that won’t linger too long.
Fifty-Fifty By Tualatin Valley Distilling
Distiller and co-owner Jason O’Donnell of Tualatin Valley Distilling is influenced by historic traditions. For example, the distillery is the only distillery in the world to make the revival spirit called Morewood’s Usquebaugh. See what you can find of the Oregon Single Malt American Whiskey, Batch 5 & 6 in Oregon liquor stores or head to the distillery in Hillsboro. Either of these whiskies will satisfy a Scotch drinker’s palate with both char and caramel notes. They’re both traditional while reflecting Oregon’s craft distilling category.
Bull Run Distilling Company Oregon Single Malt
Northwest Portland’s Bull Run Distilling Company has set out to educate Portland whiskey drinkers in the school of Oregon whiskey with its Oregon Whiskey Hour. During these events (or in the tasting room) you can try the Oregon Single Malt released in 2016. You’ll taste ripe fruit, almost like you would in a brandy. You’ll also taste the Oregon-grown malt with flavors of roasted grain and cereal qualities.
Ottis Webber Oregon Wheat Whiskey by Oregon Spirit Distillers
Oregon Spirit Distillers of Bend aged the Ottis Webber Oregon Wheat Whiskey for three years in new American oak barrels. If you like higher-proof whiskey try this one proofed at 90. It’s still easy on the palate for a high-proof whiskey, and great in cocktails, too. If you’re in the Bend area check out this whiskey but also the tasting room called The Barrel Thief Lounge for food and cocktails.
Carronade Series by Cannon Beach Distillery
Every Carronade release is sold exclusively in the Cannon Beach Distillery tasting room. The Carronade Series is an assortment of single-release spirits, mostly whiskeys. Based on the fine craft spirits produced here, the Carronade Series is one to keep an eye on, especially for whiskey drinkers on the hunt for something brand new. Every few months the distillery releases a new spirits. According to the distillery’s website, some releases have sold out in an hour. Sign up for the distillery’s mailing list to plan for a release.
Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey by House Spirits
Portland’s House Spirits Distillery (also known for creating Aviation Gin) is gaining exposure from its Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey, too. Friends often ask me which Portland whiskey is my favorite. Westward makes it easy to favor a whiskey. I recommend this one to anyone who loves Irish whiskey, as this one is inspired by the Irish tradition but distilled in an American style. This rich and smooth whiskey is one to cross off your list.
Vinn Whiskey by Vinn Distillery
Looking for a whiskey unlike anything you’ve tried lately? This one differs from the rest of the whiskey on the list due to its base: rice. In fact, Vinn Whiskey was the first rice whiskey produced and bottled in the U.S. by Vinn Distillery. The family-owned distillery has a Southeast Portland tasting room and distills in Wilsonville, Oregon. Vinn Whiskey will have different tasting notes than you’re used to tasting in a corn or wheat based whiskey—making it unexpected but still reminiscent of the maltiness found in wheat whiskey.
Big Bottom Distilling Barlow Trail
Big Bottom Distilling located in Hillsboro, Oregon produces a range of whiskies, but I recommend Barlow Trail for it drinkability and availability. Not only is this one readily available in liquor stores, I often see it available at Portland-area bars. This American-style blended whiskey is a proprietary blend of three well-aged whiskeys.
Broken Top Bourbon by Cascade Street Distillery
Cascade Street Distillery in Sisters, Oregon uses a blend of American corn, rye and barley to make the smooth, approachable Broken Top Bourbon. One factor in the bourbon’s unique taste: Climate. The fluctuation and extreme temperatures of the high desert make barrels react differently than they might in an area of Oregon like Portland where the weather is more mild. Try this one if you’re interested in tasting how location (terroir) can affect taste.
McMenamins Billy Whiskey
Billy Whiskey is made in small batches at McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery in a very old Cognac still. The main aromas in this whiskey are of molasses and oak with hints of hazelnut and apple that come from aging in lightly-charred American oak barrels for three years. Go with Billy Whiskey if you’re looking for a wheat-heavy whiskey.
Crater Lake Rye by Bendistillery
Try Crater Lake Rye to familiarize yourself with rye whiskey. Expect deep toffee notes a peppery spice, which is common in American ryes. To be a rye whiskey it must be made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye, however Crater Lake’s rye is made from 95% rye grain. This gives it a little edge over other rye whiskies in its category.