While I was at House Spirits I was asked if I was going to make my way to Clear Creek. Clear Creek? I said, I hadn't heard of it. Turns out Clear Creek was one of the earliest distilleries in the Portland area, producing Eau Di Vies and the occasional Single Malt McCarthy's whiskey. Whiskey? They make Whiskey??? I was sold and had to visit. I needed no more excuses and set out for an early visit.
Opening at 9 it was to be my first stop. A bike was out of the question cause that would be a bit of a ride from downtown, so I hopped on a #15 bus and enjoyed a simple easy drive through Portland's beautiful Alphabet district. Arriving at a strong locked metal warehouse door, only available to enter if I hit a buzzer, I thought I should have been a delivery person rather than dropping by for a tasting. Nevertheless, I was greeted with much warmth and enthusiasm by the staff.
Clear Creek makes several Eau de Vies (translation water of life). You can think of these as after dinner drinks or commonly known as digestifs. They make brandys (pear, apple, plum) but there is also a Kirschwasser, a Framboise, and a spirit I'll get to reviewing shortly an Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir which takes pine needless from the forest and pear fruit. The company also makes, grappa, a signature pot still brandy, and a very well known single malt whiskey which when I was visiting was just being tested and going through a process of adding more barrels to get more peat smell out of it. More on that later also....
There were lots of products to taste so I couldn't figure out at first how this could be achieved. There was no way I could taste all of this properly. Turns out there was a way, the establishment by law is only allowed to let people try 5 things, so they give you a passport with all their products and you are to select 5 products for tasting. The whiskey unfortunately wasn't available... GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!! First off it isn't ready yet, and secondly chances are when it gets released at the store it will be gone FAST and there wont be much chance to just have some of it so come November you better come fast.
I settled in on their signature product the Pear Brandy, and decided on three grappas (Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir), and then finishing up with the Douglas Fir Eau Die Vie. The pear brandy is quite fascinating, it is a clear liquid brandy that they recommend serving ice cold from the freezer. There isn't anything else you can really detect but bountiful pears and a great finish, but the reality is the pear taste and smell is so ingeniously fruity that while you are consuming this brandy you feel as the skin is physically in your mouth. It's a pear bonanza, and doesn't taste fake or artificial at all, it's the real deal!
I decided on trying three grappas next. I normally don't drink grappa, but I wanted to compare three different kinds to see if there was any real difference between the grape varieties. There were some slight differences. The Muscat seemed a little piney-resiny maybe floral, the Noir had a better finish with perhaps some type of nut on the end, the Gewurztraminer had a softer palate than the other three, some sort of faint fruit on the end I couldn't discern. Nevertheless, the reality is they were all very similar and tasted well... like grappa.
I was very excited to try the next product when suddenly the owner/distiller Steve McCarthy came out with a large snifter. He was talking with the staff and just pulling barrels to check, and using other barrels to blend because he felt the whiskey needed more peat. His intention as was told to me by his staffer, was to add other barrels to it to improve the peat strength. He went up to the host who was running the tasting, "what do you think?", nearly ramming and shoving the snifter enthusiastically. I stood there like a deer in the headlights looking at what was to be the future, as the staff congregated around him swapping ideas of the whiskey. I figured there was no harm in doing what I was about to do next. I figured I wouldn't be overstepping my boundaries if I asked what I was about to say. The snifter and its owner were slowly making its way to the back of the warehouse, heading to the back where all the barrels and steel columns and all the magic happened... never to be seen again by my eyes. It was NOW or never....
I asked two things. One, if I could smell the bouquet, and two if I could take a photo. Luckily they said yes. Keep in mind this whiskey is not ready.
The smell had an incredible intense campfire smoke to it, it also had somewhat a bacon like aroma. The fascinating thing, and I am not sure after tasting a bunch of grappa that this helped me judge the quality of it, I smelled sweet grapes coming off the bouquet. I figured that couldn't be coming from the whiskey but from my own palate of the grappas I had consumed. It was really wonderful!!! Alas the grape smell of pure true grapes threw me in the end, I am not sure I'll ever know, but it was a fantastic sensation.
So after the brief whiskey sneak peek, it was on to tackle the Douglas Fir Eau de Vie. The appearance of the liquer is quite impressive. It has a very pale gorgeous emerald green color to it similar to absinthe except it looks much nicer. I was concerned that this would taste VERY resiny and extremely strong, since that is how evergreen and dried pines kind of smell and taste. It was anything but, it has a slight fruit taste which comes from pear that is made with it, and does have the faint whisper of pine and evergreen. It's a real neat product, I am not sure it is for everyone, but I already have an idea for a cocktail with this product which I can't wait to try out sometime soon.
After imbibing such good stuff, I couldn't leave empty handed. This was a real unexpected find and one I am glad I found at the last minute. Too bad the whiskey will have to wait (even if it is a Scotch) :)