equipment is so old that the manufacturers are no longer in the business and the technical manuals have been gone forever,” says Nate Linquist, cooper. “I’m pretty sure some are pre-World War II out of France.” After they got the equipment through customs, Rogue built a 9,000-square-foot cooperage, sent one of their longest-tenured employees to apprentice with DeFerrari at Oregon Barrel Works for nine months, and launched Oregon’s newest cooperage in 2015. They work exclusively with air-dried Oregon Oak, sourcing raw staves from Oregon Barrel Works and dressing, bending, assembling, and charring the casks in-house, by hand. Eventually, they plan to bring milling in-house as well. They’re now cranking out seven or eight complete barrels each week, all of which are used in-house to age whiskey as well as an imperial stout called Rolling Thunder. Holshue says Oregon Oak is a natural fit for Rogue. “Rogue has always been very proud of its Oregon history and its Oregon roots ... so for us, Oregon Oak is really special.”
THE FUTURE Decades of industry research has given distillers detailed information about what to expect from French and American oaks, but Oregon Oak remains largely unstudied. For some, that lack of information might be off-putting—but for these pioneering distilleries, it represents an opportunity to learn and grow. “It’s really, really exciting,” says Westland’s Hofmann. “If you look
at French oak, that’s all one or two species, and they know which forests are going to produce which kinds of oak. They’re mapping the terroir of this species of oak through France and Europe. That’s something we have no idea about here in the Northwest, but we see that as a big potential thing. There’s a lot to play with there.” Could different populations of Oregon Oak—say, trees growing in damp and mild Western Washington versus trees growing in the warmer, drier Rogue River Valley—have flavor profiles as distinct from one another as casks made from Limosin and Allier French Oak? Only time will tell. Procurement is also on everybody’s mind. “Sourcing is always a challenge,” says Matacin at Immortal Spirits, especially since Oregon Oak benefits from an extended air-drying time. “Garry Oak, with all its tannins, needs to be air dried for three years, so we’re working on finding the oak for casks we’ll be using in 2020,” says Hofmann. With so many distilleries wanting to use the material— and so little lumber to be had—growth could be limited for years to come. Fortunately, some forward-looking distillers are hoping to change that. In recognition of Garry Oak’s diminished habitat in Washington State, Westland has also partnered with a nonprofit organization called Forterra to help restore oak savannah, recently planting 10 acres of Garry Oak in a forestry restoration project. For anybody who values the unique character of Oregon Oak—distillers, winemakers, and consumers—it’s an investment in our collective, delicious future.
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