A “Blink-and-You’ll-Miss-It” Single Cask Whiskey from Clear Creek – K&L California Whiskey News

A “Blink-and-You’ll-Miss-It” Single Cask Whiskey from Clear Creek
Clear Creek McCarthy’s “Hard Water Exclusive” Single Barrel #168 Cask Strength Oregon Single Malt Whiskey (750ml) ($89.99)
“We can’t imagine having found a better barrel ourselves.” — David Othenin-Girard, K&L SoCal Buyer

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It’s been nearly a decade since we last offered a cask strength bottling from McCarthy’s. This is not for lack of trying but is a testament to just how in-demand these category-defining whiskies are. As a result of bar closures, one of our favorite whisky bars in San Francisco, Hard Water, could not take their exclusive allocation of this coveted spirit. While we would have much preferred to have enjoyed this single malt while taking in the view at Pier 3 along the Embarcadero, circumstances make it possible for us to offer it here. At full proof, this incredible single malt really shows its outsized personality. We could go on and on, but we will simply summarize by saying this is American single malt at its very best. If you’ve ever enjoyed a bottle of McCarthy’s, then you absolutely must pick this one up. And if true Scotch is your thing, we urge you to compare this beauty against your favorite Islay—to say it holds its own would be an understatement. There’s no way this whiskey will be around for long, so make sure to get a jump on it before it is gone for good.

Clear Creek McCarthy’s “Hard Water Exclusive” Single Barrel #168 Cask Strength Oregon Single Malt Whiskey (750ml) ($89.99)

The wonderful McCarthy’s Single Malt whisky has been a staple on our shelves since Steve McCarthy first thought to import Scottish peated malt and distill the grain on his little Holstein pot still. Steve is one of the godfathers of American craft distilling and fired up his first still to make pear eau-de-vie in 1985. His interesting idea to blend very smoky spirits with active air-dried Oregon oak is one of the great revelations in craft whisky. In so many ways, Steve was ahead of his time. We were lucky years ago to bottle their first cask strength barrel for K&L and we’re just as proud to have this exceptional barrel in stock. That first barrel we did, all those years ago, pissed more people off than perhaps any other special bottling we’ve done to date. Steve was only filling a couple of barrels a year and so our one barrel depleted the entire country’s stock for the year by half. Our friends at Hard Water in San Francisco selected this special cask and while it’s not nearly as impossible to get a single barrel of McCarthy’s now, this is the only one they’ve bottled for California at cask strength. We’re sad that things are such that Hard Water isn’t able to sell this barrel themselves, but we’re honored to be able to share it with the world. We can’t imagine having found a better barrel ourselves. It was bottled at cask strength of 111.2 proof without chillfiltration on February 3rd, 2020.

David Othenin-Girard | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: January 13, 2021

We’ve always had a great relationship with Clear Creek and that’s not changed since Steve McCarthy handed over the reins to Hood River Distillers back in 2014. While we’ve consistently stocked the regular whisky and the excellent eau-de-vie, we’ve not been offered the opportunity to sell cask strength single barrel McCarthy in nearly a decade. So when I got a call from the distributor that one of our favorite bars in San Francisco wasn’t able to take their barrel due to restaurant closures, I jumped at the chance to help. Of course, we tasted the whisky before buying it and were quickly reminded of what we loved all those years ago about the cask strength version of this special distillate. At full proof, there’s an added depth and weight that’s simply lost when brought to proof. The color is deep copper. The nose is a gorgeous mixture of sweet oak spice, mesquite smoke, espresso bean, ripe plums and hints of salinity. It’s smoke but not as obviously peated as the standard release, showing a lot more oak influence in a good way. On the palate the opposite is true. A slightly Band-Aid-y but much more obvious peat comes rushing straight through the center of the palate at first with the sweet oak and bold spice kicking up behind. The palate is relatively oily and round but the bold spice is nearly as strong as the peat. With a drop of water this gorgeous spirit finally relinquishes some of the spice and the whole thing seems to open up quite perfectly. More obvious malt, some citrus and earthy smoke on the nose now. A perfectly balanced peat on the palate with a clear line to Islay now, showing some more yellow citrus and much more salinity. This is incredibly good whisky considering the age and offers a glimpse of what American craft distillers could be doing if they followed in the footsteps of the category’s founders. Some might enjoy the overt woodiness straight out of the bottle, which is nicely balanced and not at all astringent, but with water we start to really see this thing click into gear. A great barrel and hopefully one of more to come in the future.

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