Sandwiched between our Canadian neighbors to the north and the towering California redwood trees to the south, the picturesque Pacific Northwest is making waves in the craft beverage world for all the right reasons. Wine and beer established Cascadia on the fermented map and whiskey has followed into the spotlight in a big way.
The traditions and flavors of American whiskey have greatly evolved since the early Colonial settlers set up cottage stills in the late 1700’s. American Whiskey really only matured into what we know to be the classic complex flavors we enjoy today in the last 60 years. Western whiskey emerged more recent than that while Oregon’s first distilled whiskey was bottled in the 1990’s!
Bourbon made its way across the Mississippi to places like Colorado and Utah - later venturing further through the Rocky Mountains to the temperate climate and douglas fir forests of the Western slopes. Bourbon here has become like the people: mellow and mild tempered; trading in the wild spice and smoke of Appalachia country for decadent coffee and damp deciduous wood.
So what happens when these classic whiskeys are born in the South then reared in the West? They adopt the terroir in which they’re nurtured. Rye whiskey calms its heat into subtly toasted spices. Hints of candied orange peel and stone fruit expose themselves while the oak takes a back seat. Bourbon develops extra layers of dessert tannins like brown sugar and caramel on top of the woody earth notes we’ve become accustomed to. The Pacific Northwest breeds very unique whiskeys unlike any other and these Cascadian hallmarks reared the genesis of a new whiskey era.
The beautiful thing about producing brown spirits in the Pacific Northwest is that creativity is abound and distilleries and their distillers have the freedom to experiment without ruffling the feathers on an old guard. Take us, Eastside Distilling, who have been on the forefront of the West Coast Whiskey frontier for 8 years and who first produced a Bourbon in the state of Oregon in 2012. Distiller/Blenders like Mel Heim are exploring and exploiting the full potential of whiskey making in Portland, OR. Gleaning inspiration from bourbons, whiskeys and ryes produced around the country her blends are renowned for bridging tradition and innovation in a sophisticated way all the while incorporating flavors unique to the Pacific Northwest.
“We are not forgetting the bourbon of the past, we are boldly celebrating bourbon of the present and future.”
-Mel Heim, Master Distiller/Blender
The wide range of the whiskey portfolio showcases a homegrown approach in a way that is innovative yet incredibly inviting to the novice and the connoisseur. The use of Quercus Garryana, or native Oregon oak, lovingly stamps each of the 5 Burnside Whiskey expressions with the state’s unique fingerprint.
For instance, the Burnside Buckman RSV Bourbon bundles all of the elements of Heim’s talent and vision into one big ole’ bottle of woody goodness.
“The Burnside Buckman RSV Bourbon is a celebration of our company’s 10-year anniversary and the newest member of our highly acclaimed Burnside Whiskey family. We’ve mellowed 10, 12 and 14 years aged bourbons in charred Quercus Garryana casks to manipulate the established provenance. My hand-picked barrels were charred to extrapolate toffee, maple and vanilla to mingle with the charcoal and clove. It defies a blender’s intuition to double age in extra charred barrels but the Garryana is full of surprises.”
This single expression elevates Pacific Northwest whiskeys’ reputation as a formidable powerhouse in it’s elegant yet bold style. As the character of the region’s whiskey distilling and blending matures, spirits like the Burnside Buckman RSV Bourbon will continue to build momentum. Heim says she’s thankful for the 220 days of rain in the Willamette Valley because without it, we would have had to harvest Hemlocks.
It’s not all about bourbon though for Heim and Eastside. Burnside Oregon Oaked Rye was launched in time to ryed (ok, ride, bad pun) the rye wave. Rye Whiskey is blossoming into a tour-de-force spirit and unexpected foundation for classic whiskey-based cocktails and the Burnside Rye is a no-brainer with its Best in Class status.
“Like wine, whiskey gets its personality from the ground up. Different grounds, different character.”
-Mel Heim, Master Distiller/Blender
It is a new and exciting time to broaden your horizons. Come explore with us.