Friday, April 13, 2012

ANOTHER Distilled in Oregon Bourbon!

Some weeks ago, while visiting Big Y Liquors in Eugene, I spotted another made-in-Oregon bourbon, C. W. Irwin. No age statement on the bottle meant that it was at least four years old (twice as old as Stein), and, at $28, $10.45 less expensive. Brought a bottle home.

Nose was recognizably bourbon in character, taste was caramel corn, butterscotch and a hint of rye. On the finish there was this slightly resiny thing going that had me wondering about barrel size and how long the staves had been seasoned.

Over the next couple of weeks, subsequent samplings showed progressively less of the resin character.

Efforts to reach the distillery owner, Brad Irwin, were not successful until late Monday, March 12. I conducted a brief interview, but backyard activities that and several more weekends (French drain project), busy work week (auditors coming on March 27th), and trip out of town the weekend of March 24 (wedding anniversary) got in the way of compiling notes and posting this report.

The Irwin bourbon (distillery name is Oregon Spirit Distillers) is a four grain whiskey (58% corn, 8% rye, 17% wheat and 17% malted barley). Distilled at 140 proof and entering the barrel at 125, it's put in 30 gallon barrels for four years. There might be some set aside for longer aging (Brad would neither confirm nor deny). Bottling proof is 80.

Choice of 30 gallon barrel is based not so much on the slightly higher ratio of surface area to volume (20% compared to a 53 gallon barrel) but on the capacity of Brad's still, which produces about 26.7-26.8 gallons of 140 proof spirit per batch. Bringing this down to 125 results in 30 gallons. The other reason is that it's a one man operation, and Brad finds the smaller barrels a lot easier to manage.

Barrels come from The Barrel Mill, a Minnesota outfit that plants four trees for every one it cuts (sustainability being an important factor when dealing with us Oregonians). The whiskey barrels use wood seasoned for three years and have a #3 char.

Storage is in the 4,000 square foot distillery building, which is unheated. The distillery is located in Bend. It's a little warmer there than in Joseph (location of Stein distillery). Barrels are stored in two-level racks.

Production is about 20 30gal barrels per month.

"C. W. Irwin" is Brad's older brother. The bourbon is named after him because "his initials sound better than mine." I refrained from asking Brad if his middle name started with an s.

In addition to bourbon, Irwin produces "Oregon Spirit" vodka ($27.95), a marionberry liqueur ("Black Mariah", $33.35), and a Genever type gin ("Merrylegs", $29.95). This last is made in an "oude genever" style, using a mash of 85% malted barley and 15% wheat, and is distilled at 160 proof.

I decided to try a comparison between the Irwin bourbon and something equivalent. There being no 4/80 bourbons around priced over $20, I picked up a small bottle of Jack Daniels Black Label ($23.45/750ml in OR). Side-by-side, I wouldn't say one is better than the other, just different. Like the Jack Daniels, the Irwin's youth-imparted strong character would work well with cola or in other mixed drinks.

Compared to other Oregon whiskeys, it's way out in front, being both older than any others that I know of, and costing less than most.

I guess my final take on it is that it's a competent four year old bourbon, something I'd take on a fishing trip. Some of this on the rocks would be pretty good after a hard day of pulling in big rainbows, so I'll be taking it with me when I head down to Diamond Lake in May.

OLCC Product codes:
0753B C. W. Irwin Bourbon
6754B Oregon Spirit Vodka
0188B Black Mariah Marionberry Liqueur
0752C Merrylegs Gin

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