Clear Creek Pear Brandy has many fans who will tell you that it is the exact liquid definition of what a spirit is: the spirit of its ingredients. In this case, the only ingredients are yeast and 30 pounds of pears per bottle.
Spirit Journal founder F. Paul Pacult named Clear Creek Distillery’s Williams Pear Brandy his 8th favorite spirit of 2014. Their raspberry liqueur took the 34th spot on the list. That’s a big deal since Pacult’s Journal is independent and does not accept sponsorships or advertising, making him a very well-respected neutral party.
As one of the earliest distillers in the country, Steve McCarthy founded Clear Creek in Portland, Oregon in 1985. At the time, his biggest competition wasn’t other brandy distillers, but a market that didn’t know what in the hell eau-de-vie was.
McCarthy diligently worked with restauranteurs, bartenders, spirits distributors, writers, and anyone else who would listen to his story and try his spirits. Clear Creek’s products are considered by many to be the best eau-de-vies and brandies in the world, and McCarthy’s reputation for quality grew.
Photo by Jim Lommasson
“In the last five years that I owned Clear Creek,” tells McCarthy, “I didn’t have to say much anymore because I’d walk into a store and I’d basically hear the story that I’d been spreading for 30 years, which was super high quality, obsession with detail, respect for the fruit, the brandy and the people. They’d tell me that about Clear Creek, and it was really rewarding.”
After 30 years of clearing trail and building awareness for not only his spirits, but also the rest of the industry, McCarthy sold the distillery to Hood River Distillers, an Oregon company that holds the state’s first distilling license, DSP-OR-1.
This is how each of Clear Creek’s Pear-in-the-Bottle begins. Photo by Bruce Foster
Clear Creek’s National Sales Manager Jeanine Racht says things haven’t changed much under Hood River. She says their philosophy remains the same and that they don’t plan to grow any faster than they had been previously.
“We’re being extremely careful,” she tells. “You can’t double the recipe and have it come out the same, and fortunately Hood River understands that.”
Just like they always have, Clear Creek buys Hood River Valley pears. Now coincidentally home to their company headquarters, the town of Hood River is synonymous with pears, and a major contributor to Oregon’s top-three ranking in US pear production.
“We bought a million pounds of fruit last year, and half of that was Hood River Bartlett pears,” says Racht.
Steve McCarthy’s Advice to Brandy Distillers
Local brandies dominate the local spirits markets in many parts of the world. While demand for brandy in America will likely never rival whiskey, the spirit is growing in popularity. More distillers are making brandy, benefitting from the exclusive terroir their local fruit and wine producers offer, and more consumers are trying it for the same reason.
Offering advice to other brandy distillers, McCarthy explains that there are no secrets to making great pear brandy, but there are no shortcuts, either.
“It’s very simple,” explains McCarthy. “There’s nothing complicated about making pear brandy. You could take a good winemaker and in half an hour tell them everything they needed to know. The question, of course, would be whether they could do it or not. There’s nothing secret or exotic, it’s just getting every single step right from the very beginning.”
Above all, McCarthy stresses, remember that your product is the most important part of your business. He said that even with all the other business issues he faced, he never lost sight of the product.
A testament to American spirits, only one brandy ranked higher on Pacult’s list this year, a 50-75 year old French Armagnac that goes for $1,900.00. To have two spirits recognized for their excellence on an international level, McCarthy and Clear Creek have opened a lot of eyes to the colossal potential of small, local distilleries.
Photo by Jim Lommasson