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Issue 17 - The whisky lesson

Whisky Magazine Issue 17
July 2001


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The whisky lesson

Michael Jackson, friend of malt, learns the British way

One of my favourite restaurants is owned by a chef called Greg Higgins. When he decided to start his own place, he agonised over names, as any of us would. “Why don't you call it Higgins?” his wife eventually suggested. So he did. An unpretentious name for a gastronomically serious restaurant. Higgins is in one of the world's most pleasant cities, but one that is not especially well known. South of Seattle and north of San Francisco (and perhaps overshadowed by both), Portland, Oregon, has virtues of its own. We will hear more of Portland in the future – take my word for it.

The Pacific coast state of Oregon has excellent fish, grows wine grapes, pears and malting barley. In 1984, a local family that owned a winery started the Columbia River brew-pub, making rather Scottish-tasting malty ales. The Portland metro area now has about two dozen breweries, more than any other city in the world. Steve McCarthy was an environmental lawyer, a job in tune with Oregonian preoccupations, but turned to another pursuit well-suited to the landscape. He set up the Clear Creek Distillery to make pear brandies. He has also, more recently, begun to distil barley-malt so that Oregon now has its own whisky (several ‘boutique' whiskies are now being produced in the northern part of the West Coast). Such a career transformation is common place in the United States, especially the west.

This land of wine, beer and whisky first beckoned me more than two decades ago. I stayed at Portland...

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