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Jan. 24, 2022

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Get into the spirit of alluring brown spirits at Clark County bars

Whiskey, scotch, rye, bourbon gain favor with customers

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Northwood Public House and Brewery in Battle Ground offers whiskey tasting. This is the Old School flight ($18).
Northwood Public House and Brewery in Battle Ground offers whiskey tasting. This is the Old School flight ($18). (Rachel Pinsky) Photo Gallery

Brown spirits (not including rum) can cause some confusion. They have a variety of names — whiskey, whisky, scotch, bourbon and rye. Flavor profiles range from a smooth, satiny Japanese whisky to an astringent rye.

Here’s a bit of clarification. Whiskey is made in Ireland and the United States. Whisky comes from Scotland, Canada and Japan. Further, many of these spirits are classified by the type of grain used to make them. Scotch is primarily barley. Bourbon uses at least 50 percent corn. And rye is made with, well, rye. Whiskey/whisky is classified by its content (cereal grains such as barley, wheat and corn) and an aging process in wooden casks.

As with any sensual experience, the important thing is finding what you personally enjoy. Simply visit a business with a variety of these spirits and enlist the aid of a knowledgeable server. Northwood Public House and Brewery (1401 S.E. Rasmussen Blvd., Battle Ground; 360-723-0937) is a local spot that provides both.

Owner Eric Starr keeps as many as 180 bottles of whiskey, rye and bourbon on the shelves of his well-stocked bar. He’s studied whiskey and brown spirits for 25 years.

Starr became interested in brown spirits when he was marketing director at Portland Brewing. He wondered how the business could sell more beer. The company’s products were in beer stores, but not in liquor stores. He decided that it would be a good idea for Portland Brewing to team up with a scotch maker to create a product to sell in liquor stores.

This led to a visit to Scotland, where Starr met several distillers and learned more about scotch. He then met his mentor, Stuart MacLean Ramsay, who was born and raised in the Scottish Highlands and currently lives in Portland. (Ramsay, the first curator for the Multnomah Whiskey Library in Portland, is a lifetime member of the Keepers of the Quaich Society and an inductee into the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.)

“I was a scotch guy,” Starr said. “But as my career evolved, I realized that bourbon and brown spirits were very popular.”

Starr started Northwood’s brown spirit collection with a list from Ramsay. Although Starr stopped drinking alcohol 25 years ago, he tirelessly adds to his curated collection by extensive reading, relying on distributors and liquor company representatives, and keeping track of which bottles his customers like.

On Whiskey Wednesdays, the entire menu — including Northwood’s barrel-aged Manhattans — are 25 percent off. On a recent Wednesday, I met a friend and we each selected a flight. I chose the Old School flight, a high-proof, Prohibition-influenced lineup ($18) with Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style (115 proof), Old Grand Dad 114 (114 proof), Old Ezra 7-year-old (117 proof), and Old Bardstown (90 proof).

My friend, a fan of Weller and other wheated bourbons, ordered the Amber Waves of Wheat flight ($25) with a Weller Special Reserve (90 proof), Woodford Reserve Wheat, (90.4 proof), Journeyman Buggy Whip (90 proof) and Redemption Wheated Bourbon (96 proof). According to Starr, customers like wheated bourbon because the wheat gives a softer mouthfeel. He’s seeing more offerings of this increasing popular velvety spirit.

On my next visit, I plan on ordering the Zen Spirit flight ($28), which is a slate of Japanese whiskies, three malt-based and one rice-based.

“Japanese whisky tends to be very elegant in style and understated,” said Starr. “People who like wheated bourbons like Japanese whiskies because they’re smooth.”

I also sampled a barrel-aged Manhattan. Northwood’s was inspired by Starr’s son. He worked at a high-end steakhouse in Cleveland where they barrel aged their Manhattans. To make these drinks, Starr mixes up a Manhattan and places it in a charred oak barrel and lets it age for three to five months.

“We end up with a well-rounded cocktail,” he said. “The vermouth and bourbon get an additional complexity with the wood. The wood also rounds out the sharp edges of the liquor.”

The type of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters changes each time.

On the night of my visit, the barrel-aged Manhattan was made with Eagle Rare Bourbon Whiskey, Cocchi and Scrappy’s orange bitters. It came served in a squat, fluted Manhattan glass garnished with a cherry. The flavors were exactly as Starr described — smooth and well-rounded. I look forward to returning to try another one of these barrel-aged cocktails.

Here are some other places to try whiskey, bourbon and scotch in Clark County:


Rachel Pinsky can be reached at couveeats@gmail.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @couveeats.

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