PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Steve McCarthy founded the Pacific Northwest’s first-ever distillery — and the nation’s third-ever — in 1985. After nearly 40 years of the founder’s pioneering in the spirits industry, the Clear Creek Distillery has announced McCarthy’s death.

“He was a giant among men, an adventurer, conservationist, community leader, father, mentor, and friend,” Clear Creek Distillery wrote in an Instagram post on Thursday. “We cannot begin to express our gratitude at having the opportunity to know and work for him, for what he has done for us both personally and professionally, or how deeply we feel this loss.”

McCarthy was 79 years old, and would have turned 80 on Saturday, Jan. 7. He was considered a father figure by many on the Clear Creek crew. 

Joseph O’Sullivan started working with McCarthy in 2005. He is now the master distiller at Hood River Distillers, the company that acquired Clear Creek Distillery in 2014. The master distiller said that McCarthy acted as his mentor and taught him everything he knows about his current position.

“Steve has done that for many, many people,” O’Sullivan said. “I don’t know how he did such a good job of picking groups of 25-year-old idiots that would probably not want to kill each other when they’re lumped together, but he trusted us amazingly… And that level of kindness, that level of attention, the fact that he heard people and didn’t just order them around, has gone on to shape everyone who knows him.”

He added that McCarthy fulfilled many roles throughout his life. According to O’Sullivan, McCarthy worked for TriMet, was a New York City lawyer and co-ran a company called Michael’s of Oregon all before launching Clear Creek Distillery in 1985.

Starting the first distillery in the region couldn’t have been an easy feat for McCarthy, but O’Sullivan said that the founder’s love of the Pacific Northwest kept him motivated. 

In the years since the birth of Clear Creek Distillery, McCarthy has been crowned the godfather of Oregon distilling — but it seems as though his impact reached far beyond just the Beaver State.

“He was a hysterical giant. He just was a larger-than-life person.  I’ve received comments from distillers across the world in the last couple of days, all telling me about the times that he’s helped them and the opportunities that he provided for them,” O’Sullivan said.

McCarthy was a huge proponent of shopping locally, taking pride in his region and sharing his passions with others. McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, America’s first single malt whiskey that is fittingly named after the founder, is an amalgamation of all of those things. The product marks a highlight in McCarthy’s everlasting legacy.

“What Steve was able to show was that there is a world where you can do something that’s a reflection of your passions and the respect from where you are and that there’s a consumer who will get that. He basically allowed people to be curious and helped to tell them that it’s okay to want to try things that are niche,” O’Sullivan said.