Tag Archives: Earthy

Distillery focus: Westland Distillery and their American Single Malt Whiskies

 

Westland Distillery LogoIf 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).

Malted-barley-at-Westland-DistilleryWhiskey 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)

Westland Distillery Stills

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).

Westland Distillery Casks and BarrelsWood 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:


Westland Distillery Flagship American Single Malt Whiskey
Whiskey # 1 – Flagship – aged 24mos, 46% ABV:

On the noseImmediately 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).

Westland-Distillery-1

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.

Westland-Distillery-2Very 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.

FinishLong 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!

Westland Distillery Deacon Seat American Single Malt WhiskeyWhiskey # 2 – Deacon Seat (limited edition) – aged 26mos, 46% ABV:

On the noseWow. Wow, wow.  This reminds me of some older releases of unpeated Bruichladdich whiskies.  There’s an incredible freshness with hints of coastal sea breeze.

Westland-Distillery-3Hints 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.

Westland-Distillery-4Let’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!

FinishAgain, 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.

Westland Distillery First Peated American Single Malt WhiskeyWhiskey # 3 – First Peated – aged 24mos, 46% ABV:

On the noseGreat 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).

Westland-Distillery-5Hints 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.

Westland-Distillery-6I’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).

FinishInterminable. 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,
etc…

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!

 

Abbey Whisky’s Bunnahabhain from their Rare Casks series. A 23yo elegant stunner.

 

Abbey Whisky BunnahabhainIslay region – 44%ABV – £80 (only available from Abbey Whisky)

I’m going to limit the preamble in today’s review because the whisky is going to be better than anything I have to say.

Let me quickly say, however, that Abbey Whisky seems to be on to something here, and that something is choosing good casks of whisky to bottle.  First they released a 17yo Caperdonich and now they have this 23yo peated Bunnahabhain.

Peated Bunnahabhain can be hit or miss but this one, good people, is a total hit.  Check it:

On the nose  Peated Bunnahabhain is *so* peated Bunnahabhain.  Quite unique.

Peppery upfront but the peat is soft which I am guessing is due to the 23 years in the refill bourbon cask.

Abbey-Whisky-Bunnahabhain-Rare-CasksSmoked and dried granny smith apples.  Bit-o-Honey candies (a wonderful honey and nutty mix of flavors).

Wildflower greens (minus the flowers) gives this whisky a very late summery feel.

A touch of pool water here as well.

Though bottled at 44% ABV, the peppery quality gives it a touch of sting in the nose.

Abbey-Whisky-Bunnahabhain-Rare-CasksHeavily salted Tomato Juice (like the V8 Spicy Hot stuff).  So far so yummy.

On the mouth Soft, delicate and nowhere near as peaty on the mouth as it was on the nose.

Very vegetal (as the nose suggested) with hints of lemon, minus any sugar that might be associated with lemons.

Abbey-Whisky-Bunnahabhain-Rare-CasksMedicinal and Listerine like but in a very comforting way.  Those wildflower greens are gone but the flowers make themselves know.

This is, ummm, lovely stuff and it begins to grow in intensity as the finish nears.

Finish Lovely spice and great Islay character.  The finish sticks to your gullet and you’re happy for that!

In sum One of the better, older, peated Bunnys I’ve ever had.  Like grilled peanut butter and jelly on seeded rye bread, all of pieces go together so well for me.  I sort of wish I had a full bottle to open and share with friends in a single night.  We’ll finish together in a few hours.  Yeah, it’s that good.

Special thanks to MS of Abbey Whisky for the surprise sample!

Lost Spirits Leviathan I, Cask #3

 

California – 53%ABV – $55 (solid pricing for single cask, cask strength whiskey!)

As I begin to write about this 3rd cask of Leviathan from Lost Spirits Distillery (Leviathan being a single malt whiskey from California peated with Canadian peat to 110ppm), I immediately began to wonder what to lead off with.

Sure, I could go right to the review but if I did, I’d be remiss in telling you that having looked at the awesome still at Lost Spirits, I was in some way reminded of Trogdor the Burninator.

Wait, come again?  You’ve not heard of Trogdor the Burninator?  I feel I must enlighten you:

(Yes.  I am still sort of 9 years old…)

My bit of fun off to the side now, seriously, check out the Lost Spirits still.  It’s a stunning work of art (that creates some fine juice).

Let’s review the whiskey!

Nose  Pushing initial thoughts of Mezcal out of my head and I find this to be a very grain-forward whiskey.  All upfront we have horse feed, barley draff and peated mash all ready to be turned into wash/beer.

It’s also very barn-yardy (to be expected with younger, peated whiskies).

Let’s not forget the fruits, shall we?  Milk chocolate covered strawberries.  Perhaps a touch of marzipan and peach pit.

Quite easy to nose at 53% ABV!  Smokey, for sure, but there’s a charred wood quality here, too.

Palate Big and juicy and fruity!  Tons of red berries, still getting some of those peach notes (the flesh right by the pit: tart yet over ripe).

Back to the barnyard-like notes.  In fact, and this note was pointed out to my by a good friend, there’s a touch of horse-hind.

Put your nose up to a horse and, bam!

Warming, comforting, almost a bit too fruity (if that’s possible).

Finish  Fruity notes increase as does a building spice along the sides of the tongue.

In sum Beyond the individual notes, taking the macro look and as previously reported, this is a very unique spirit!  While I thought the first one I had was a touch more balanced, this one was insanely enjoyable.  This to me is a summer dram.  Yes, it’s smokey & peaty, but the fruits and grain have their hands on the wheel with this one.  I’d love to have a dram of this while hanging out in a field of grains, reading a book.

Special thanks to BD for the official ample sample!

Glen Moray – 8yo Chenin Blanc, Distillery Only, Single Cask bottled at 60.7% ABV

Image shown is not of the actual bottle itself but shows you what the Glen Moray distillery bottlings look like.

Speyside region – 60.7%ABV – £60 (distillery only)

Many people in the states have not heard of Glen Moray or if they have, they only know of their 12yo whisky (a solid, solid whisky if you ask me).

Most people in the UK think of Glen Moray as the supermarket single malt.  A bargain malt, if you will.

My initial experience with Glen Moray was quite different…

It started with a chance purchase of a single cask expression.  While at the time I had not known much about the distillery, I was attracted to this single cask of Glen Moray as the whisky had spent its full 13 years of life in a new charred oak cask.  Sort of like a Scottish bourbon, I thought.

Yes, obviously, nothing like a bourbon being that the distillate is 100% malted barley but perhaps a bit like an American whiskey in that the maturation took place inside a new charred oak cask (a very un-Scotch whisky thing to do, mind you).  The cask choice intrigued me so I had to buy a bottle.

In four words: I fell in love.

After this my friend David B treated me to their standard 12yo and even at lower 40% ABV – I am usually an anti-40% ABV elitist-whisky-geek prick but often find myself enjoying the strength.  A difficult position to be in… perhaps I’m a mystery broken into a jigsaw puzzle, wrapped in a conundrum, hidden in a Chinese box, a riddle – I found it to be robust, well balanced and had an amazing mouthfeel.  Thanks again David, I am a convert.

Since then I have had my good share of Glen Moray whiskies.

During my last trip to Scotland I had the good chance to visit their amazing distillery which had, perhaps, one of the most beautiful distillery welcome centers (Iain, you’ve done a bang up job!) I had ever seen.

While at their distillery shop I had the chance to taste the following whisky: Glen Moray Chenin Blanc Distillery Only Single Cask bottled at 60.7% ABV.

At only 260 bottles and being a distillery only bottle… this stuff is like hens teeth!

On the nose Earthy, pungent & sweet.  This is big and bold – a powerful smelling 8yo whisky.

Fresh cut (green) tubers come to mind as I sniff this whisky as do white cherries but, and perhaps more so, white raisins make quite an impression.

(I’m fairly positive that the preceding sentence was grammatically incorrect in some way.  Please forgive me.)

Golden birch, cinnamon sweetened fruit biscuits and the distinct smell of a burning cotton t-shirt.

On the mouth Well, if I thought the nose was big and bold, it’s a veritable pussy cat compared to the attack of this whisky upon first sip.  Massive stuff!

It let’s you know that it’s 60.7% ABV.  It’s not hot, just *incredibly* forceful.

More (dark) birch beer, quite spicy and drying with touches of over cinnamoned french toast, maple sugar candies and honey reduction.

It’s almost like drinking hi-octane Chenin Blanc except that the malt content is quite obvious (yet so is the cask effect).

Finish Very sweet and filled with boozy peaches.  Long too.  Let’s not forget that bit!

In sum  Sweet and puckering stuff.  You might want to put on your big boy/girl boots before delving in!  A little bit goes a long way.  You’re going to want to spend time with this one.

Whether you choose to add water or not is up to you.  I decided not to but a little bit might help (as you’ll learn from the review over at guidscotchdrink.com and another great review from Matt and Karen at Whisky For Everyone.)

Special thanks goes out to IA for the sample – cheers!

The final in the Icons of Arran Series – The Golden Eagle

Islands region – 46% ABV – £41 (£34 excluding VAT – Value Added Tax) – not sold in US shops…

Let’s hear it for the fourth and final Icon of Arran bottling!

They started off with the “Peacock” then went onto the “Rowan Tree”.  “The Westie” did not have its tail between its legs when he appeared as the third Icon of Arran and following that one is this: The Golden Eagle.

If you look closely on any Arran bottle, you’ll see that, embossed in the glass of the bottles, there are birds.  Those birds are the famous Golden Eagles that nest themselves around the distillery.  On any given day, if you look up in the sky, you’ll see those beauties flying about.  They fly so strong and sure – gorgeous creatures and a fitting end the the title of the last Icon of Arran.

On the nose  Incredibly soft (like sniffing the softness of a baby’s behind… sans the poop and such).

I detect and interesting mix of tangerines and light incense (sandalwood – again, light).

Baby aspirin (orange cream) followed by some pear candies and a tad spice of spice…

On the mouth Great mouthfeel – very… Arran.  Very full/viscous.

This flavors here follow the lead of what I got on the nose – very soft and delicate, *subdued*.

The Arran apples are here in baked form (I often find apples in Arran whiskies).

Fresh rain on a spring day.

Reminiscent of many Arrans I’ve had but a much more restrained version. Like and aerated chocolate bar, if you catch my meaning… it’s still a chocolate bar but something is different about it, the flavors are held back/elusive.

Finish Speaking of chocolate, there’s a touch of milk chocolate on the finish which, by the way, is medium in length.

In sum This is such an easy going whisky!  Perfect on a cool spring night or a warm fall evening and a good entree for your friends that are scared to try Scotch whisky.

For me, I was hoping for a bit more presence for the final Icon – something that would go out in a bang.  Then again, perhaps the goal was to match the elegance of the Golden Eagles that fly about the Arran distillery.  If this is the case, Arran has met their goal.

Special thanks to JJY for the sample!  

Speaking of JJY, you can check out his review over at guidscotchdrink.com