Garry oak, or Quercus garryana, is a species of white oak native to the Pacific Northwest with a natural habitat ranging primarily from southern British Columbia, down through Western Washington and in to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It’s quite a unique white oak and very distinct from its cousins in the eastern half of the country. The wood must be treated more like European oak in how it is cut and dried. With a profoundly phenolic aromatic profile and tannin levels that demand years of air seasoning to soften, Garry oak may be the most assertive species of oak that I have ever encountered. The whiskey made for our first Garry oak casks were mashed and distilled using the same methods that lead to a balanced flavor profile when using Quercus alba. But this is not Quercus alba, nor does it behave like it, as we quickly discovered. Over the course of the 3-year maturation our understanding shifted from what Garry oak is not to what Garry oak is.
One of the great joys that comes with a new challenge like Garry oak is the sense of discovery, a learning process that stretches over the course of years or decades. The timeline for whiskey-making deserves its own scale. Unlike trades where the feedback is immediate, whiskey is the practice of true patience. Our first Garry oak casks were matured for more than three years and the results from those five casks, rather than conclusively revealing what the wood is about, merely raised more questions and provokes us to explore further. This may seem deflating to you, but for me this is what makes my profession so exciting. The possibility of endless learning, at a pace that’s largely out of our control and increasingly out of step with society, when everything else seems to be heading in the other direction, provides a fundamental satisfaction that feels real and human.