Steve McCarthy, Pioneer of American Single Malt, Passes Away at 79

Steve McCarthy, Pioneer of American Single Malt, Passes Away at 79

January 7, 2023 –––––– David Fleming, , , ,

Steve McCarthy, creator of the American single malt category and one of craft distilling’s earliest pioneers, passed on January 2, five days shy of his 80th birthday. McCarthy founded Oregon-based Clear Creek Distillery in 1985, at a time when craft distilling in America was nearly barren terrain–St. George Spirits and brandy maker Germain-Robin had launched in 1982, but fellow pioneer Anchor Distilling would not fire up until 1993. McCarthy’s signature whiskey creation, McCarthy’s single malt, remains among the stars of the American single malt scene today.steve_orchard,_bottle_cmyk_(1).jpg

McCarthy’s initial passion was not whiskey but brandy. After tasting pear-based eaux-de-vie on a trip through France in the early 1980s, he came back to Oregon determined to become a distiller. This Oregon native’s plan was to utilize his family’s apple and pear orchards to create eaux-de-vie from Pacific Northwest fruit, a mission he accomplished successfully. After a trip to Ireland several years later, he decided to try his hand at making whiskey. A subsequent journey to Scotland led to a deeper dive into single malt scotch. He set about making an Oregon version of Scotland’s best, distilling his first batch of whiskey in 1991. Aged in sherry barrels and finished in Oregon oak, McCarthy’s was first released in 1996 as an Oregon Single Malt. The name was chosen to honor his family.

McCarthy sold Clear Creek to fellow Oregon craft player Hood River Distillers in 2014, staying on in an advisory role. McCarthy’s single malt continues to be made there, and its production is overseen by master distiller Joe O’Sullivan and head distiller Caitlin Bartelmay. The label’s recent 6 year old expression, launched last year, received a rating of 92 points from Whisky Advocate.

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