A few days after an interview with Steve McCarthy, the proprietor of Portland, Oregon’s Clear Creek Distillery, I joked with my husband that I wouldn’t mind starting my own operation. Perhaps the impulse was deeply rooted from childhood—my grandfather, a PhD scholar of chemical engineering, had built his own laboratory out of concrete blocks adjacent to the main house on his property. I grew up with the periodic table of the elements in the periphery and, one Christmas, crystalline rock candy growing on string within the controlled conditions of this eerie outbuilding. Delightfully forbidden, its glass test tubes, Bunsen burners, and luminous colored liquids were always a source of wild fascination.
Yet, for me, this sudden notion transcended the chemistry of steaming copper-topped distillation pots and spoke to a more spiritual philosophy regarding the purity and preservation of the fruit. Mr. McCarthy’s eaux-de-vie, which he has painstakingly perfected for twenty-eight years, now rivals the best in Europe. But what impressed me most about our conversation was his utter passion for the treatment of the Pacific Northwest pears, apples, cherries, plums, and raspberries that flavor his exceptional brandies. Beyond the gentle nurturing of water and sunlight, it is the intuition of peak ripeness and precision fermentation that is a true art form—determined only in part by the laws of nature, but mostly by the wisdom and experience of the grower.
—Jeanne de Lathouder, Contributing Editor, Victoria magazine
Photographs: Kate Sears
To read more about Clear Creek Distillery, see “Bottled to Perfection,” in the January/February 2013 issue of Victoria.