Pendleton Whiskey is a Canadian whiskey bottled by Hood River Distillers in Hood River, Oregon and owned by Becle, SAB, the parent company of Jose Cuervo Tequila. It is distributed in North America by Proximo Spirits, also owned by Becle.
The brand is closely associated with the cowboy lifestyle and culture and has long been associated with the Pendleton Round Up. The Bucking Horse logo and “Let’er Buck” label which appears prominently on each bottle of whiskey is the official Round Up logo and label.
The Round Up, one of the largest rodeos in the United States, dates back to 1910. Held during the second full week of September each year, it attracts over 50,000 visitors. Pendleton is also associated with Cheyenne Frontier Days and Walla Walla Frontier Days.
The Pendleton Whiskey brand, however, was only created in 2003. According to the brand, it was created “to celebrate the spirit of the American cowboy”. It is the official spirit of the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) and the official whiskey of the Professional Bull Riding Velocity Tour.
Neither Hood River Distillers nor Becle disclose where Pendleton whiskey is produced, except to state that it is distilled in Canada. However, it was long believed in the beverage industry that the whiskey was distilled and aged by Alberta Distillers in Calgary, Alberta.
The whiskey is cut at bottling strength using water that comes from the glacier of Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest peak, and is still bottled by Hood River Distillers. The brand was sold by Hood River to Becle in 2017, for approximately $205 million.
At the time, sales were around 250,000 9-litre cases per year across the entire range. In 2020, volume reached approximately 390,000 cases, making Pendleton the 10th best-selling Canadian whiskey in the United States.
Pendleton Whiskey’s core range consists of Pendleton Whisky, Pendleton Midnight, Pendleton Rye 12 Year Old and Pendleton Directors’ Reserve 20 Year Old. Below are tasting notes on the entire range.
Pendleton Whiskey, No Age Statement, (NAS), 40% ABV, 750ml
A honeyed sweetness is one of the defining characteristics of Pendleton Whisky. It is evident on the nose, but especially on the palate. This is especially true for the entry-level Pendleton whisky, but it carries over to the brand’s other expressions as well. Softness is an integral part of Pendleton’s DNA.
Sweetness can be a controversial issue in whisky. Some consumers like it because it makes whiskey smoother and improves its texture and mouthfeel, and it works well in cocktails. Others hate it and see it as a flaw, often dismissing these whiskeys as unsophisticated or only suitable for inexperienced palates.
In my opinion, gentleness is neither a virtue nor a defect. It’s simply a matter of what you like about your whisky. If you like sweetness then you will enjoy Pendleton. If not, better look elsewhere.
On the nose, the whiskey is quite light, as is the case with many Canadian whiskies. There is a pronounced honey sweetness, with caramel and vanilla, which gradually gives way to an aroma of maple syrup accompanied by light floral notes.
On the palate, we find the same pronounced honey sweetness, accompanied by notes of maple sugar candies, cinnamon and vanilla. The whiskey is very smooth with a pronounced viscosity and a noticeable weight in the mouth.
The finish is long, not particularly complex, with lingering sweetness and some pepper.
Drunk on ice, the sweetness is more discreet.
Pendleton, Midnight, NAS, 45% ABV, 750ml
Pendleton Midnight was introduced in 2015 as a premium version of its entry level whisky. It is usually aged for a period of 3 to 6 years with some of the whiskey matured in casks that previously held American brandy. The result is a dark colored whisky, hence its name, with the same characteristic Pendleton sweetness but more pronounced floral and fruity notes.
On the nose there is a noticeable note of honey, accompanied by a slight trace of alcohol and floral aromas of potpourri.
On the palate there is the usual sweetness of Pendleton sweets, but it is complemented by dried fruit, in particular golden raisins, candied orange peel, a hint of peach and some tropical fruit notes of melon and mango.
There are also spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and a little cardamom, as well as caramel/caramel and vanilla, as well as a hint of marzipan and a little milk chocolate. .
The whiskey is very smooth and creamy, almost satiny, with a viscous, oily quality and noticeable weight in the mouth.
The finish is long but one-dimensional, although more nuanced than the entry-level whisky, with lingering notes of sweet honey and some dried fruit.
Pendleton, 1910 Pendleton Rye, 12 Year Old, 40% ABV, 750ml
The reference to 1910 on the label is intended to commemorate the founding of the Pendleton Round Up. It is a 100% rye whisky.
On the nose, the Canadian origins of rye whiskey are undeniable. It lacks the overt spiciness and pronounced stone fruit notes that are typical of 100% rye American whiskies.
It is more subtle, still showing the characteristic sweetness of Pendleton honey, along with hints of brown sugar and maple syrup, and fruit flavors of plum and cherry.
In the mouth, it is soft but less than its siblings. It offers notes of well-seasoned oak, the same stone fruits mentioned above, a little orange zest, as well as butterscotch and vanilla.
There are spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a little pepper; the latter is very well integrated. There are also some light grassy notes, as well as a hint of smoke.
The finish is creamy and smooth, with lingering honey sweetness and some fruitiness.
Pendleton, Director Reserve 2020, 20 Year Old, 40% ABV, 750ml
On the nose, there is a distinctive aroma of well-seasoned oak barrel wood, along with aromas of leather and a pronounced salty note. There are the typical sweet honey notes of Pendleton, but they are well integrated and less forward.
There are additional aromas of brown sugar and maple syrup, candied orange zest and hints of spice.
On the palate, the whiskey has the typical Pendleton sweetness. There are hints of dried orange peel, hints of herbs, especially dried mint, as well as caramel and vanilla. There are flavors of baked apple, with some tropical fruit notes, particularly banana and dried mango, as well as spicy notes of cinnamon and clove, as well as some earthiness.
The whiskey is viscous, oily and creamy. It is very creamy, almost buttery, with a remarkable weight in the mouth and a coating quality in the mouth.
The finish is long, with notes of dried fruit and well-seasoned oak, some pepper and the lingering sweetness of the Pendleton trademark.
Pendleton is a great whisky, whether you like it will depend on how smooth you want in a whisky. Entry-level whiskeys are easy to drink, especially on the rocks, although they don’t show much complexity, while older, aged expressions offer a more balanced and nuanced profile.
If you prefer your whiskey to be less sweet, serve the Pendleton chilled or over ice, this will diminish the sweetness on the palate.
Either way, they are exceptionally smooth and well-balanced whiskeys that will make excellent glasses.