In 1993, the late Steve McCarthy, founder of Clear Creek Distillery, ignited a spirited craft revolution when he distilled the first U.S.-based American single malt whiskey. McCarthy’s 3-year Oregon Single Malt made using 100% peated barley from Scotland and 100% garryana oak was released in 1996. Since being acquired by Hood River Distillers, other McCarthy single malts have been released, including a 6-year single malt finished in sherry casks.
In recent years, a select number of Pacific Northwest distillers have focused on producing award-winning American single malts that speak to the terroir of this region, as well as the distiller’s unique style. Along those lines, a growing number of area distillers hail from the craft-brew culture, a background that informs their distilling process such as brewing their wort similar to how one brews beer, sans the hops.
From its inception in 2013, Copperworks co-founder Jason Parker set out to make an American single malt that spoke to Washington state’s unique terroir. To this end, all of Copperworks’ American single malt whiskey is created from 100% non-commodity malts sourced from Skagit Valley Malting and other like-minded companies, and twice-distilled in Scottish copper pot stills. As a testament to its sustainable practices, the American Distilling Institute named Copperworks as Distillery of the Year in 2018. Two successful crowdfunding campaigns will allow the distillery to open a second tasting room in Kenmore, Washington, as well as plans to expand its Seattle waterfront distillery and tasting room.
Each of Copperworks’ single malt releases comes with its own batch number that speaks to the unique characteristics of that particular spirit. The most current whiskies are Release 046 (a Salmon-Safe certified whiskey) and Release 047, which happens to be the largest blend to date. Special limited-edition releases, from single casks to unique cask finishes, are often available, as well as collaborations with local breweries and other craft beverage producers. Copperworks also has a subscription program called First Cut 2023. The subscription includes a bottle of an exclusive single cask, plus the ability to purchase any Copperworks special release one week before it is available to the public throughout 2023.
Wanderback Whiskey Company partners with various single malt producers in the United States to make their whiskey using a grain bill that’s grown in the Pacific Northwest. Wanderback then ages, blends and bottles small batch releases on a family farm in Hood River, Oregon. The most recent release is The Lone Star Collection. This is a collaboration between Wanderback and Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas. Batch 6 is the first release from this series, with more to come. This is a single malt whiskey made entirely with malted barley, aged in new and previously used oak barrels. As a family run boutique distillery, wanderback is not open to the public, but tours and tastings can be scheduled upon request.
Westland Distillery, according to co-founder Matt Hoffman, chose to focus on American single malt whiskey because the state of Washington represents one of the best places to grow barley in the world. In addition to their flagship whiskey, Westland has been working with partners on a holistic barley program with a focus on breeding unique flavorful varieties suited to this region.
A new collection of American single malt whiskeys is called the Outpost Range. This includes the Garryana American Single Malt Whiskey, aged in oak barrels fashioned out of garryana oak that’s only available in a very limited region within the Pacific Northwest. Another Outpost Range offering is called Solum, made with local peat that is distinctive in its botanical mix compared to peat sourced from Scotland.
According to Westward Whiskey’s Miles Munroe, since launching under the House Spirits brand in 2008, the label has grown into the largest whiskey distiller in the American Northwest. Westward has a kiosk at the Portland International Airport in addition to their newly remodeled distillery/tasting room in Southeast Portland. As they brew their wort, Westward has the distinction of being one of the largest breweries in Portland as well.
In addition to their original signature American Single Malt whiskey, Westward features special releases of whiskey finished in Pinot Noir, rum and stout casks. Whiskey club members have exclusive access to rare whiskey releases like their Westward Whiskey Two Malts Rye, along with other members-only benefits.A growing number of Pacific Northwest distilleries either feature a single malt whiskey in their current portfolio or plan to introduce one in the foreseeable future. With the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) about to recognize and define American Single Malt as a new category of whiskey, expect to see this spirit expand across the country with the Pacific continuing to lead the way.