If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of the United States, chances are you’ve not heard of Westland Distillery. As a Connecticutian born and raised I’ve not heard of them so, don’t feel so bad. They reached out to me a couple of weeks ago to A) get some whiskey samples to taste and B) have a phone conversation so I could learn more about their distillery and what makes Westland… Westland.
I was quite impressed with what I had to hear and very VERY impressed with their whiskies. While their whiskies are currently only distributed in the PWN, we can expect to see wider distribution in the US and overseas during the coming months of 2014.
Are you ready to get your whisk(e)y geek, geekin’ on? I know I am. Let’s learn about Westland Distillery:
Location: Seattle Washington – home to one of my favorite record labels, “Sub Pop,” who had signed (at one time or another) such great bands as Sunny Day Real Estate, Mudhoney, Low, Iron and Wine, Sleater-Kinney, Get Up Kids and many, many more (and yeah, that includes Nirvana and Soundgarden).
Whiskey style: Single Malt, 100% Barley – this includes 6 different barley types which are Washington Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Brown Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt and Scottish malt peated to the tune of 55ppm.
(Note: their standard mash bill consists of all the above malts sans the peated malt. Furthermore, the bulk of said mash bill is the Washington Pale Malt which is at approximately 70% of the bill)
Average whiskey age is at least 24mos.
(Note # 2: Westland doesn’t use a standard distillers yeast when creating their wash. They instead use Belgian brewers yeast.)
(Note # 3, the last of these notes: Rather than purchase cereal flour/grist, Westland houses their own Grist Mill to grind up their barley)
Still style and capacity – you can see the stills just to the left but their capacity is at about 60,000 proof gallons of spirit per year which is at the maximum limit to retain the term “Craft Distillery.” In fact, Westland is the largest Craft Distillery in Washington State (and perhaps the largest single malt distillery in the US).
Wood management (I know 40% of you chuckled when you read “Wood Management.” I know I chuckled whilst typing it and re-reading it) – Westland primarily uses new charred American oak barrels no smaller than the standard 53gal. They also use a good deal of sherry butts, sherry hogsheads and ex-bourbon barrels. This is somewhat uncommon for American Craft Distilleries where it is quite common to use smaller 5 gallon, 10 gallon, 15 gallon, etc… barrels.
What’s more, regarding their new charred oak barrels is that, like Glenmorangie, they source very porous slow-growth American oak and these barrels are only coopered after the wood has air dried for a minimum 18mos.
For those of you interested in knowing what their whiskies taste like (and why wouldn’t you?), read on:
Whiskey # 1 – Flagship – aged 24mos, 46% ABV:
On the nose — Immediately takes me elsewhere when I nose this and *try* think of American Single Malt. This has got, from the outset, a more Scotch feel to it (especially considering the new charred American oak maturation).
Let’s pull out some notes: ground green coffee beans, cayenne peppered dark chocolate (think Lindt), espresso foam, wild cherry Pine Bros cough drops.
This is *not* your typical American single malt. Wet pocket change after a swim in your local swimming hole (most notably like wet pennies).
Hints of burnt licorice and an earthen hiking trail on a sunny, bright and crisp winter day. Really, really inviting.
On the mouth — It starts youthful but not young and surely not immature. Then a raspberry component returns in place of the wild cherry cough drops yet its bundled up in a canvas bag.
Very sweet with hints of coconut infused vanilla beans and a good handful of Heide brand Jujuyfruits (flavors are there even the licorice yet like on the nose, it’s slightly burnt).
Solid mouthfeel, oily and feel in’ good! Add in the cardboard box from said Jujyfruits – this is a mild note but there. Spicy on the back of the tongue.
Finish — Long and malty, incredibly malty like a high octane beer.
In sum – It’s a new style to the category of American Single Malt. This is one for the Scotch lovers of the world who want something unique and wish to dabble in American hooch. This is one for American Whiskey lovers that wish to dabble in spirits closer to the Scotch category. Really well done and, dare I say, an every day drinker!
Whiskey # 2 – Deacon Seat (limited edition) – aged 26mos, 46% ABV:
On the nose — Wow. Wow, wow. This reminds me of some older releases of unpeated Bruichladdich whiskies. There’s an incredible freshness with hints of coastal sea breeze.
Hints of lemon and salted pineapple and shards of dried and sugared mango. This noses like a 15-16yo, not 2 years 2 months. Again, wow.
Back with the jujyfruits (like I got with the Flagship) but this time it’s focused on the yellow ones. There’s something herbaceous neath all of these fruity layers but it’s unidentifiable and just enough to balance the fruit. Need to taste. Like, now.
On the mouth — From the go it’s the mouth feel that grabs me. The oils are incredible. Liqueurish in mouthfeel (a la Sabra). Initial reaction is that all the flavors are round or rounded.
Let’s pick this apart: steamed pineapple and lemon meets white tea while hiking through an oak forrest. This is not over oaked but the wood is there, again, rounding out the overall experience.
Some of the green herbs are there but, oddly enough, I just can not pick that apart. It’s a mixture of herbs without one being more prominent than the other.
Hints, mere hints of salt on the tongue as well. Here’s something that *just* popped in my head: This Whiskey feels “hopeful.” It’s like the little Whiskey that could but then does!
Finish — Again, a malty finish but there’s spice left on the tongue and an effervescence/tingly feel that I did not notice until focusing on the finish.
In sum – A total winner of a Whiskey. So balanced and well integrated. You could easily fool your Scotch loving friends into thinking that this is A) a Scotch whisky and B) a teenager. Another everyday drinker. I can actually picture this as a nice whisky for a warm spring day.
Whiskey # 3 – First Peated – aged 24mos, 46% ABV:
On the nose — Great googly-moogly! This is like a Highland peated Scotch whisky. It doesn’t nose like a young peated whisky, the peat is soft and rounded. It actually noses like a lighter, fresher Amrut Fusion (but nothing like Amrut Fusion).
Hints of peat and sea breeze, gorse flowers (could be that there’s new charred oak here, too, adding to the coconuty notes) and a dunnage warehouse. Ever been to a whisky dunnage warehouse? If no, nose this and it’ll take you there.
New popsicle sticks and vinyl records (I imagine them being Elvis records). This is a very confident whisky (with chops to back itself up).
On the mouth — The peat says hello first (Hi peat!). It’s much bigger than the nose lead on. I want to say that I taste Lapsang Souchong tea but it’s not artificial enough (as many of that variety of tea can taste).
There’s whiffs smoke here but what’s really grabbing my attention is the peat. Notes of earthen floor and wet flowery twig fire.
24mos? Bullcrap. You taste like a 12yo, easily.
The mouthfeel is less oily than the Deacon Seat but still silky and there’s an effervescence to this Whiskey as well.
I’m taken back to my last trip to Bruichladdich where I tasted some 2yo sherried Lochindaal and thought, “this is only 2 years old?! No. Way.” It is quite fresh as there are flowers and fruits and peat and smoke and salt and fizzy stuffs and salt water and salt water taffies (a shit ton of salt water taffies, come to think of it).
Finish — Interminable. The smoke and fizz and now spice stick with you for a long, long time.
In sum – Westland distillery seems to be a well kept secret around my parts but I am so glad they found me and now I can pay some hard earned cash on their whisky. This First Peated from Westland is up there with some of the better whiskies I’ve tasted so far this year. Really cracking stuff. Look for some. Keep and eye on these guys as you will not be disappointed. If you are, just send me the the bottles and any unfinished whiskey.
Closing comments — The American craft distillery movement, simply put, is booming. There is so much good stuff happening out there right now and right now is a good time to be a whisk(e)y geek.
While classified on paper as an American Craft Distiller, I would submit, given the flavor profiles and the fact that Westland Distillery produces Single Malt and nothing else, that Westland Distillery (from a world perspective) be ranked up there with other great world producers of single malt whisky a la Nikka, Suntory, Amrut, Kavalan, Lark, Brenne,
Westland Distillery’s focus is on producing and bottling world class single malt whisk(e)y and in my opinion they have a great grasp of the craft!
Special thanks to Steve and Matt for the samples and their openness regarding their distillery!