Spend some time in Oregon, and you’re likely to come away thinking that the Sixties never really ended. The residents are fiercely individualistic and proudly iconoclastic. They grow and eat organically, aggressively safeguard the environment, and do everything they can to protect themselves against the ravages of corporate greed.
Rogue Ales & Spirits is an excellent example of Oregonian spunk. Surf through their website and you will read talk of giving back to the local community, along with boasts about being David to the bureaucratic Goliath. You’ll hear about the tenets of their “revolution” (“Throw out the old rules that don’t make sense”; “build relationships, not just ales”; “be dedicated to the Rogue in each of us”). It’s enough to make you grow your hair, join a commune and move off the grid.
Yet Rogue is a business, and a thriving one. From a small rural pub in the late 1980s, the company has grown into an enterprise with national distribution. They produce sodas and cider, more than 30 different beers and ales, and an assortment of small batch, hand-crafted spirits.
One of the most interesting of those spirits is Dead Guy Whiskey ($45), made from the same three malts as Rogue’s award-winning Dead Guy Ale. This is not as unusual as it might seem: as the explosion in craft spirits continues, many brewers are branching out into the realm of distilling, sometimes with intriguing results. The bottle tells us that it has been “ocean aged in oak barrels.” There’s no specific age statement, but the whiskey’s pale amber color indicates that the aging period was not prolonged.
On the nose, Dead Guy Whiskey exudes strong floral aromas coupled with scents of malt and grain. The mouth feel resembles a hypothetical single malt Scotch which was bottled after scant time in barrel. For that reason, this is a spirit you don’t want to drink neat. The Rogue website recommends standard cocktails such as Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, and the sweet vermouth in both drinks definitely helps balance the harshness of some of the whiskey’s flavors.
Dead Guy Whiskey has received some rough press from the nation’s spirits geeks. With more time in barrel, it might have been terrific. The truth is that it takes more than organic ingredients, skill and noble intentions to make good whiskey. It also takes patience.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com