On May 9, 2018, I had the opportunity to celebrate the release of Portland based House Spirits Distillery’s Westward American Single Malt Whiskey: Oregon Grown & Malted. This special release is made using barley entirely grown and malted by farmer Zach Christensen of Christensen Farms in Mcminnville, Oregon. Then this spirit is distilled under the watchful supervision of Christian Krogstad, Master Distiller and Founder of House Spirits.
The evening started at House Spirit’s outside patio, where I had the opportunity to savor a highball made with Westward’s American Single Malt Whiskey.
Single malt whiskey is the term used for whiskey made by a single distillery. Also, Scottish law states that Single Malt Scotch Whiskey must be bottled in Scotland. Any whiskey bottled in the United States is called “Single Malt American Whiskey.”
My taste buds titillated, I then journeyed inside the distillery for a full tour of their operations. From barley to bottle, I saw how House Spirits produces their craft whiskey. Given Krogstad’s background as a winemaker and brewer, no wonder they brew a high quality craft beer for their whiskey instead of the down and dirty beer wash employed by most distillers. We got to sample this beer, and I could sense this was a craft product even in this early stage.
Then we moved on to a station containing bottles labeled “White Dog Whiskey,” a clear 45-proof whiskey ready to be aged via the barreling process. When I sipped this clear spirit, I could feel the signs something delightful was awaiting me at the end of this tour.
Our next stop featured a demonstration of the charring process used on the New American Oak barrels that give this whiskey its distinctive taste. I learned that their Oregon Grown & Malted whiskey was aged in a medium-char, 36 month air dried cask for 5 years 10 months.
We concluded our tour in the tasting room. Here we tried a shot of their 90-proof "Oregon Grown & Malted" version of Westward accompanied by a selection of food. This whiskey has a smooth nutty brown sugar taste with some notes of cherry and chocolate and a sweet grass finish that had a touch of licorice/fennel.
According to Krogstad, they started working on this whiskey adventure eight years ago. While they waited for their whiskey to age to perfection, they produced Aviation Gin. Following this gin’s runaway success, they sold the Aviation Gin to a New York marketing firm called Davos Brands. Even though they still make Aviation Gin, they do so as a contracted distiller not the owner. This enables them to focus their energies on producing single malt whiskey, as well as several other exceptional craft spirits including Krogstad Aquavit, Volstead Vodka, Casa Magdalena Rum, and unique limited-release spirits. With Westward, Krogstad fulfilled his lifelong pursuit to create a malt whiskey that personifies the spirit of the Pacific Northwest’s pioneering craft tradition.
As part of the embodiment of the local Portland culture, House Spirits launched a company wide-participation in the Bike More Challenge initiative. During the month of May, employees were encouraged to cycle to work. Also, tasting room employee Otis attached two mini barrels filled with House Spirits cocktails to his bike, thus barrel aging these cocktails when he cycles. This initiative concludes on June 3, 2018 at the distillery with a free event. Those riding their bike to the distillery will get a free bike ride along with a photo booth with bike-themed photo props, and demos teaching people how to barrel age their own cocktails.
Also, House Spirits offers daily tours and tastings of their distillery every day, so others can have the opportunity of observing the whiskey-making process first-hand like I did.
Those wishing to continue their exploration of Pacific Northwest Single Malts even further can check out my post for Epicure & Culture. This article includes references to such regional festivals like Feast Portland, Proof (Seattle), and Toast (Portland) that feature opportunities to taste a range of spirits including Single Malt American Whiskeys.