Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rogue Spirits: Whiskey & Gin From Oregon

Dead Guy Ale to Rogue Sriracha Hot Stour, Yellow Snow Pilsner to Hazelutely Choctabulous, 8 Hope IPA to Morimoto Soba Ale. You might be familiar with these and other beers produced by the Rogue Brewery in Oregon. For over 30 years, this brewery has been at the forefront of the craft brewing movement. However, you might not know that they also own a distillery, producing primarily Whiskey and Gin, and these spirits are definitely worthy of your attention.

Initially, the Rogue team obtained the first distilling license in Washington, with plans to make Rum, but that lasted only a few days. Unfortunately, the distillery was shut down by the fire department so Rogue moved the facility to Oregon, which opened in 2003. Rogue Ale & Spirits became the first rum distillery in Oregon since the repeal of Prohibition. Their first spirits were Vodkas and Rums (such as Dark Rum and Hazelnut Spiced Rum), though those are now being phased out so the distillery can concentrate on producing quality Whiskey and Gin.

Recently, I met up with Dewey Weddington, the Director of Spirits at Rogue Ale & Spirits, and he tasted me through several of Rogue's new spirits. We met at Saloon, in Davis Square, sampling these spirits while accompanied with food. I've known Dewey for over six years, and respect his knowledge of wine, Sake, spirits and Oregon. It was a pleasure to raise a glass with him again, as well as learn about Rogue's intriguing spirits.

Rogue is creating artisan spirits, often using local ingredients, and aren't afraid to be innovative. They are also more unique as they are the only brewery in the U.S., and one of the very few distilleries, that owns their own cooperage. With the importance of barrel aging for whiskey, then owning their own cooperage is a significant advantage. Currently, they are using American oak for their barrels though they have started experimenting with some Oregon Oak, which they've found to possess less vanilla flavor and more citrus and baking spice. Next year, they are likely to release their first spirit that was aged in Oregon Oak, so that is certainly a fascinating item for the future.

Rogue's concentration will be on three different Whiskies and two Gins, and I tasted four of the five as their Rye Whiskey was not yet available. As you'll see from the photos below, the bottles are relatively simple in design, and I like that simplicity as it presents a more serious note. They aren't trying to cover up anything with a splashy design and amusing name. Instead, they want the exterior to be more understated, and let the liquid make the bolder statement.

The Rogue Spirits Dead Guy Whiskey ($49) uses the same base as their Dead Guy Ale, the same four malts just without any hops. The four malts include 2-Row, Maier Munich, C15 & Rogue Farms Dare™ and Risk™ Malts, while the other two ingredients are Pacman Yeast & Free Range Coastal Water. This whiskey is aged for 1-3 years, in Charred 3 American oak, and is said to be "ocean aged." What that means is that the distillery is located close to the Pacific Ocean and Yaquina Bay, and that the aging room is open to the outside, open to the elements. In this region, aging is considered to be slow and steady as there are few high temperatures and a high humidity from the ocean.

Bottled at 40% ABV, the whiskey has a pleasant aroma, with hints of orange and vanilla. On the palate, there is an interesting blend of flavors, with notes of citrus, caramel, maltiness, and hints of salinity. There is also a subtle taste reminiscent of beer which permeates the whiskey. It would be good on its own, or could be used in a variety of cocktails.

My favorite spirit of the evening was the Rogue Spirits Oregon Single Malt Whiskey ($65), which was only released a couple months ago and isn't yet available in Boston though will be in the near future. It is made from only three ingredients, including the Rogue Farms Risk™ Malt, Free-Range Coastal Water & Pacman Yeast, and was aged for about five years in American oak. Their website states: "The grains used are plowed, disced, harrowed, seeded, fed, watered, threshed, winnowed, malted, milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, smithed, barrel-aged and bottled by hand. When you grow it, you know it."

This light-colored whiskey possesses an alluring aroma, a complex blend of intriguing scents, which will make you simply sit and sniff your glass for a time, enjoying the aroma alone. On the palate, the complexity remains, with such a fascinating melange of flavors, caramel to vanilla, baking spice to stonefruit, citrus to chocolate. Silky smooth, well-balanced and with a lengthy & satisfying finish. Absolutely delicious and it will please any whiskey lover. Dewey stated he felt it reminded him of a Speyside whisky.

The Rogue Spirits Oregon Rye Whiskey has not yet been released. They used to have a rye farm in Independence, Oregon, but there were significant problems with slugs so they decided to move the farm, eventually selecting Tygh Valley. They are hopeful this new area will prove more beneficial for their rye. As a lover of Rye Whiskey, and based on the high quality of their Single Malt, I'm anxious to taste the Rye once it is released.

While sipping these spirits, we enjoyed some of Saloon's tasty cuisine. The Single Malt paired exquisitely with the briny Oysters, and more restaurants need to embrace the pairing of Whiskey & Oysters. The Devils On Horseback, feta-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, are a decadent treat and also went well with the whiskey. The Poutine, potato wedges with garlic cheese curds & bacon gravy, was also a tasty comfort food, a fine bar snack. Though you might like drinking Whiskey on its own, it can pair well with a variety of dishes, an idea that isn't promoted enough.

I'm very particular as to the Gins I like, preferring a gin which has a more balanced taste of botanicals rather than one that is all about the juniper. The Rogue Spirits Spruce Gin ($35-$40) fits into my preferences, presenting a delicious, intriguing and balanced mix of botanicals from Oregon. The ingredient lists includes Spruce, Juniper Berries, Ginger, Fresh Cucumber, Orris Root, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Tangerine, Grains of Paradise, Angelica Root, Coriander & Free Range Coastal Water. It was fascinating to learn that around August, when the thousands of cucumbers are harvested, they are then peeled, one-by-one, a lengthy and laborious process. Approximately 100 pounds of cucumbers have to be added to each batch. The fall is also the only time of the year that they produce this gin.

On the nose, there is an intense smell of juniper, but beneath the dominant juniper were more subtle notes of the other botanicals, such as the spruce and citrus. On the palate, the botanicals balance out into a delicious and interesting combination, from fresh cucumber to herbal spruce, bright citrus and hints of spice. This could easily be drank on its own, with a little tonic, or make for an excellent component in a cocktail. This is certainly a Gin I would recommend.

The Rogue Spirits Pinot Spruce Gin ($35-$40) is the same gin as above, except this gin has been aged for about six months in former Pinot Noir barrels, mostly obtained from Chehalem Winery. As expected, the gin has a pleasing pink color from the barrels. In addition, the flavor profile adds an element of red berries to the botanicals, as well as some subtle notes of vanilla and baking spice. It is a more unique gin variation and works quite well. It is almost as if you created a Gin cocktail with Pinot Noir, though this would work well in other cocktails. Even gin haters may have an interest in this gin.

Within time, Rogue will be known for far more than just their craft beers, forging a name for themselves in the spirit world as well. Their Single Malt is compelling and should impress any whiskey lover. Their Gins are also compelling, worthy of your attention. Some might feel these spirits are too expensive however you should understand what you are purchasing. These are spirits made from local ingredients, created by a small, artisan distillery, and they are quality products. You should also ask yourself, do you want to support small, U.S. craft distilleries? I believe these spirts are worth the price and highly recommend them.

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