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Whisky Reviews

Westland Flagship American Single Malt Whiskey

 

In whisky time, 2010 is not all that long ago - sure, lots have happened since that has pulled at the whisky world in more ways than one, but perhaps one of the biggest developments since is the proliferation of new distilleries all around the world. Now if you thought whiskymaking was a build-it-and-they-will-come situation, you'd be in for a big surprise. If anything, fans have benefited from the unprecedented variety, and distillers on the other hand have, more than ever before, had their work cut out for them.

And yet, while elusive, success if not magical thinking - just take a look at US's Westland. 

 

And sure, the US has an intensely feverish Bourbon fanbase, but Westland could not be more different - which makes their success all the more incredulous.

Based out of the Pacific Northwest in Seattle, Washington (not exactly Whisky Town), Westland has completely eschewed the tenets of Bourbon-making, for something much more unusual - a Scotch-esque malt whisky made with beer principles. Who woulda thunk?

 

Matt Hofmann. (Image Source: Breakthru)

 

According to founder Matt Hofmann, it made simple sense given US's vibrant craft beer scene and the Pacific Northwest's climate that is more suitable for growing barley rather than corn (recall that the Bourbon industry was founded upon the US's proficiency at growing corn over barley).

This led to the distillery being established in 2010, opting to use a five malt barley mashbill (Pale Malt and Munich Malt from Washington, Extra Special Malt from Wisconsin, Brown Malt and Pale Chocolate Malt from the UK), brewer's Saison yeast, a pot and column custom made still, and oak barrels that include Virgin Oak and Garryana Oak from the US, along with staples such as ex-Sherry barrels from Spain.

 

A unique five malt combination. (Image Source: Tales of the Cocktail)

 

So where does that place Westland? Unlike Scotch distillers who only use one standard malted barley variety, Westland uses five varieties, but veering away from the Bourbon and Rye scene native to the US, they don't use any corn, rye or wheat. Unlike most whisky distillers, they've gone for brewer's yeast that is used by beer brewers, their distillation still is a combination of both pot and column rather than pot or column, and most uniquely, they've brought into the scene the use of Garryana Oak that is native to Oregon.

 

American peat bogs represent the next frontier of American whiskey. (Image Source: Spokesman)

 

All of that combined has created not just a unique whiskey expression, but one that is almost uncannily American. That must have done the trick because Westland has done remarkably well for itself in the past decade plus of its operation.

They've since even gone above and beyond, campaigning to change rules around the use of peat bogs native to the US, which are currently controlled by the US government, but which Westland believes will imbue its expressions with an even more local smoky and herbaceous flavour.

 

Garryana Oak native to Oregon. (Image Source: Sparrowhawk Native Plants)

 

The same is the case for Garryana Oak, which too is protected by the US government and can't be felled for us. Accordingly, the team has to keep their ears out for thunder, which on occasion strikes down Garryana trees, and that'll be their signal to hop on a truck and go out into vast kilometers of forests in search of fallen Garryana oak. The oak is said to impart darker tones of the classic American oak flavours of caramel, vanilla and baking spices, providing flavours of molasses and clove, as well as strong BBQ smokiness.

But Westland does not stop there, noting the rarity of Garryana Oak, which once grew massively along the Pacific Northwest, the distillery has worked with forestry experts to help revitalise the specialty American oak.

 

Westland's maturation facility in Washington. (Image Source: Tales of the Cocktail)

  

Once all that fermenting and distilling is done, it's time to load the trucks with barrels of Westland whiskies to the distillery's maturation site over at Hoquiam, Washington, which sits approximately two hours south from the distillery itself. That location allows the whisky to sit right alongside the Pacific Ocean, absorbing the coastal sea breeze, and in that more humid environment, take on an angel's share of just 2%, which is closer to Scotch standards as opposed to the much higher share for Bourbon's maturing in super hot Kentucky. This allows the whisky to mature more slowly and for much longer, without risk of being over-oaked and becoming too bitter or woody.

With all that said, let's give it a go. Onward!

Westland Flagship American Single Malt Whiskey - Review

 

Tasting Notes

Color: Light Gold

Aroma: Deep honey notes, accompanied by some distinct woody scents of polished wood, air dried oak, musty wood attics and libraries - lots of depth here, really rich too. There’s also intermediary chewy and malty notes of beeswax, buttermilk biscuits, toasted oat, nougat, with some sweeter notes of chocolate. As it continues to open, brighter more floral notes of rose water and Turkish delight, more fruity notes of red apples and pears as well. Super aromatic!

Taste: Medium-bodied here - more on brown sugar, milk chocolates. There’s a sort of chewy, nutty maltiness reminiscent of Maltesers candy, nougat, oats, marzipan, rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon. The nuttiness somehow goes back to those oak logs sitting along temperate forests, dried grass too. There’s some light bitter tannins - black tea, leather. Also noticeably a light oiliness in its texture. More on manuka honey and herbal cough drops.

Finish: Very mellow, super long seamless receding aftertaste of marshmallows, chocolate sauce, cocoa powder and clove spices.

  

My Thoughts

Wow! This really stood out as a very different flavour profile than I’ve come across thus far. Specifically there’s all these aromas of wood logs you’d find in a temperate forest - it’s aromatic and somewhat nutty, but also neither sharp not tannic or even dense. 

It’s certainly not your typical woodiness you’d find in most whiskies. It also leads into flavours on the palate that are are more chewy and nougat like, with lots of chewy sweetness of oats, beeswax, rice pudding, malt candy - yet at the same time it’s a sort of lifted quality.

The finish was also pretty remarkable with this soft pillowy confectionary sweetness of marshmallows.

If there were really any drawback, it’d be that the palate was abit thinner than the aromas, which sort of lagged keeping up with the really rich flavours.

But overall, incredibly enjoyable - definitely solidified my interest in Westland.

My Rating: 8/10

 

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

 

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot