In a clever stroke of marketing adeptness, the people of Publichouse Hub & Whisk(e)y Lab in Springfield, along with representatives from Deschutes Brewery and Bendistillery, convened a cohort of industry so-and-sos for a fête of flavorful finery on February first. Ensconced in the choir loft, and unbeknownst to the patrons below, they took in and bantered about samples of three rare barrel-aged birds of varying plumage.
In Bend, it was only a matter of time before a brewery and a distillery were stirred into the same pot; one must make beer before they make whiskey. Indeed, a passing whim and forgotten barrel some years ago resulted in the first release of Bendistillery’s Black Butte Whiskey, which uses the wash (that is, the grain bill) from Deschutes’ famed Black Butte Porter. This year marks the third release of Black Butte Whiskey, which earned immediate cult status upon release, even prompting employees of the respective businesses to stake out liquor stores for a chance at acquisition like beer geeks at a Broken Truck release.
Now, here’s a technical question: how does the character of the wash translate to a distilled product? It’s distilled (double distilled in this case), which separates the alcohol from the rest of the liquid, and yet part of any whiskey’s distinction comes from its base. This is why rye and wheat whiskies are so different. I’m no boozologist, but the transfer of power, as it were, from the Black Butte wash to the finished whiskey was, as you’ll read, remarkable. I remark on it.
At this gathering, two versions of Black Butte Whiskey were passed around: the O.G., and a rare and exciting sherry barrel-aged version. And, in a true stoner move, Deschutes brewers decided to make an amplified Black Butte Porter and age it in the barrels used to make Black Butte Whiskey. Mind blown. We tasted that, too, just to bring it all back home.
In the beverage tasting system, drinks are evaluated by two separate but equally important groups: the nerds, who overthink everything, and the average fan, who has more fun. These are their stories. DUN DUN
Black Butte Whiskey
This whiskey comes in a glass bottle just like most other whiskies; it doesn’t need to be served from an animal skull or hollowed-out juniper branch. It has the appearance of clean, freshly refined motor oil; liquid amber without any flecks of Jurassic protozoa. When swirled in the right vessel it leaves an even sine wave, and trails languidly back down, no rush.
People say that beverages have a “Nose,” but those people are silly synechdochists. They have the noses. Whiskey has aroma that is typically smelled by a nose. This nose smelled, at first whiff, powdered cacao, bananas Foster (whatever that smells like, I don’t dine at the Doubletree often), and, I wrote, “cookies.” Yeah, I took notes. Later on, as I tried not to down my ounce in a single swig, the barrel and grain notes became more prominent, and some raw cereal grain grassiness bristled upward into my schnoz.
And while all that sounds like dessert, you ain’t seen nothin’ till you taste it. Vanilla and lightly caramelized sugar play “Satin Doll” on your tastebuds, but are chased off by the lecherous cartoon wolf – pure toasted oak woodiness – who somehow hasn’t been 86’d from the nightclub; he’s a smooth player until he’s had one too many. Its narrative is a coming-of-age, lessons learned in soul-building ways.
Sherry Barrel Black Butte Whiskey
aka “Instant Karmal”
Here’s a horse of a different color, a chestnut cimarron. This is how I like my sherry: sweet, and not too sherry-like. A swell smell of dulce de leche and flan (sans custard, just the sauce) changes up the sweet game from the original, but fades into more earthy tones of ginger, cinnamon, and jasmine. It plays mind games, like Memory, as it opens up. It plays “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on a Victrola for that crackly warmth. It’s an antique, but ahead of its time.
The double-wooding, instead of being mutually enhancing, finds that last corner piece to the puzzle. The new oak was bold and just fine on his own, but also enjoys the domestic reassurance of no longer being single. Sherry baby, won’t you come out tonight.
Kris, our local Deschutes representative and connoisseur of cold-blooded creatures, literally rustled up a bunch of bottles of this Deschutes Pub-Only release to complete this ensemble. With a lasso, I’m told. What a talented guy.
The beer is enjoying its fourth incarnation, and probably its best. It is far less opaque than its strong cousins Black Butte Reserve and The Abyss; it actually looks like a porter, and acts like one, too. Unlike its predecessors, its foamy cap hangs on (long enough for a photo-op), and the beer below has a gradient that goes from chocolate lab to dachshund, if you look with the right kind of eyes.
New York’s Hottest Club is Black Butte “Cubed.” This beer has everything: maple treats, coconut bras, a sculpted chocolate ganache bust of Wayne Newton… If you’re a “sweets for brunch” fan, look no further. This 14.1% beer is like Warren Buffet, rich but balanced.