Originating in Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains in the mid-late 18th century, bourbon—still subject to time-honored distillation and quality standards—has (thankfully) in recent years been moving west. Keeping with the traditions of those before them, Oregon distilleries from Portland to Bend are now crafting, aging and bottling high-quality bourbons. Here are four bottles worth indulging in:
CW Irwin Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Oregon Spirit Distillers (Bend) $28
One of Oregon's few "grain to glass" bourbons (meaning that they grind and ferment their own mash, then distill and bottle the product), this whiskey is local from start to finish. With a lighter amber coloring, crisp nose and hints of cinnamon and vanilla, CW Irwin stayed with my palate well beyond each sip. Bonus: CW Irwin is readily available at many Bend restaurants, and at the Oregon Spirit Distillery tasting room.
Big Bottom Small Batch Straight Bourbon, Big Bottom Distillery (Hillsboro) $30
Big Bottom Bourbon, named for an old-growth forest in the Mount Hood Wilderness, is distilled in Indiana and finished in Oregon in Port wine casks, which give this imported whiskey an amazing burnt caramel color and spicy sweet nose. The hints of clove and cherry give sipping Big Bottom a feel of total luxury, but its $30 price tag means it can be enjoyed by us plebians.
Henry DuYore's Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Ransom Spirits (Sheridan) $45
The flavors of Ransom Spirits' bourbon are as complex and mysterious as its moonshiner namesake, Henry DuYore. This ultra-premium whiskey was, at $45 a bottle, the most expensive I tasted, but after one sip of the4-year-old bourbon the reasons for its higher price were clear. It was, in a word, glorious.
Temperance Trader Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bull Run Distilling (Portland) $30
Another whiskey "curated" in Oregon and proofed with the waters of Bull Run, which experts believe to be the purest in North America, this corn-heavy bourbon is bold and richly flavored. While I didn't get to sample the 112-proof, barrel-aged version of Temperance, the 84-proof version had a soft ginger taste that gave way to a honey finish.