WESTLAND American Whiskey: A Brave New Tradition

For centuries, a well-charted tradition in whiskey has established a covenant about how it is made. But there is another, decidedly American, tradition to uphold—to challenge accepted conventions with the conviction that there is always more to be discovered.

Westland believe that the world of whiskey is not flat and that it is time to step beyond what they have inherited. They found themselves at the edge of a new frontier, but the edge is not the end of what they know, it is just the beginning of what they have yet to explore.

To produce their single malts, they have adopted the same basic raw materials and processes used for generations in the old world, but they don’t simply seek to replicate the results. With each expression they endeavour to create something that both honours the traditions of distilling that they admire and adds something worthwhile at the same time. Something new and distinctly American.

For centuries, single malt whiskey has been considered solely the domain of Scotland. Now, Westland is leading the emergence of an entirely new category of single malt whiskey.

GUIDED BY A SENSE OF PLACE

Westland’s Pacific Northwest climate is ideally suited for the production of single malt whiskey. Washington contains two of the best barley-growing regions in the world, their remarkable water is sourced from the Cascade Mountains and they’re surrounded by a cultural heritage that encourages questioning of long-standing conventional thinking.

Westland American Single Malt Whiskeys

The three expressions in Westland's core range of American Single Malt Whiskeys each exhibit the fundamental intention of their house style: a balanced, barley-forward whiskey that honours tradition but also moves it forward in a new way.

Their core expressions are all made from 100% malted barley, fermented with a unique Belgian Saison brewer’s yeast and matured in a variety of cask types—leading to new and distinctly American flavor profiles. From that starting point, each expression offers a variation of a house style that departs from expected conventions of single malt whiskey in their own way.

THE 5-MALT MASH BILL

The only grain permitted to be used in the world’s most historic and prestigious style of whiskey, single malt, is malted barley. Commonly referred to simply as “malt,” this germinated grain has been used in alcoholic beverages for millennia. You would be forgiven then, for thinking that this grain is revered in our industry. You might think that—like the world of wine where they also only rely on one fundamental raw ingredient, grapes—our industry celebrates the differences between various types of barley and that distinct styles revolve around it. Unfortunately, that assumption couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s no great secret that Westland are relatively new to the world of whiskey. They were founded in 2010, carrying with them ambition and a confidence in their own wherewithal. But they haven’t been mashing, distilling, and vatting for decades. They don’t come from a long lineage of whiskey makers who have passed the business on from generation to generation, each time with the same notions and formulas for how whiskey should be made. Theirs is a very American story—one that places the freedom to pursue new possibilities on the highest order.

Breaking into this industry, they were surprised to find that there was little regard for whiskey’s primary raw ingredient. Not only is highlighting varietal difference not practiced, but the idea is actively denigrated. “Barley has no flavour.” “Barley doesn’t matter.” “Varietal flavour doesn’t exist.” These are real quotes that they had seen multiple times over since their founding. Compared to the wine business, most of the Scottish whisky industry couldn’t be farther behind in their thinking.

Make no mistake, they reject those assertions outright and are actively proving them wrong in trials with dozens of new barley varietals never before used in whiskey-making. But there’s another aspect of malted barley that is also not widely considered today—the “malted” part of it. Barley must be malted in order to develop enzymes in the grain that will convert the starch into sugar during the mashing process at a distillery or brewery. This process has profound implications on the eventual flavour profile of the malt as well as any products made from it. During the drying process in malting, a broad variety of flavours can be produced based on the technique and duration of heating the germinated barley grain.

Certainly, it is a longstanding conviction in the brewing industry that these roasting levels contribute a great deal to the final character and flavour profile of a beer. For hundreds of years (not just in the recent craft brewing renaissance) unique styles of beer have developed based on the diversity of malt available to their breweries. From the lightest pilsners, through ambers, browns, porters, and finally to stouts, the spectrum of malt flavour is showcased and understood at a fundamental level. However, the whisky business has dismissed this concept almost out of hand.

While there have been a few (to our best understanding, three) examples of roasted malts being used in this business, there is little acceptance of the flavour contribution of malt and less motivation to push the frontier of whiskey beyond where it has languished for generations. After all, not only do roasted malts yield less but they also cost more. Sadly, if there’s anything that the current whisky industry has demonstrated, it’s that low cost and high yield are the primary requirements for grain.

At Westland, they’ve taken a fundamentally different approach. Why don’t they find the most flavourful raw ingredients to use first, then seek to coax from them the best yields they can? There is nothing inherently wrong with high yields or low cost, but when they come at the expense of flavour, then one must begin to consider that the priorities in this business are out of order. For Westland, their first priority is to champion the flavours of the raw ingredients. This represents a remarkable shift away from how most single malt whisky distilleries operate.

To do this, they use a mash bill (an American whiskey-making term for a recipe of grains) of five different types of malted barley. 5-malt, as they call it, starts with a base of pale malt grown and malted in Washington State. The name “pale malt” refers to a standard, low-temperature drying process in malting. For reference, the pale malt they use is similar to what is used in Scotland when they are not making peated spirit. With the foundation of the grain bill set, they begin to add high-kilned and roasted malts. While they sometimes refer to them all as roasted malts for ease of conversation with those new to this topic, there is technically a difference: high-kilned malts are made by simply raising the drying temperatures in a normal malting cycle, whereas roasted malts undergo higher temperature exposure in specially designed equipment similar to a coffee roaster. But in the end, the effects are similar—by applying heat to germinated barley, flavor compounds are being produced via the Maillard reaction pathway. When amino acids are combined with sugars and the application of heat, flavour compounds will be produced. It’s similar to, and commonly mistaken for, caramelization (the combination of a sugar with another sugar under heat), and you likely see this reaction every day. The browning of bread in your toaster, the blackening char when you sear a steak, the goldening of your cake in the oven; all of these are examples of flavours being produced by the Maillard reaction. If you would like to learn more about these malts, visit their website.

Westland’s Core Range of Single Malt Whiskies include, American Oak, Peated and Sherry Oak.

Below is a quick summary of each of these outstanding American whiskies.

WESTLAND AMERICAN OAK SINGLE MALT WHISKEY

In their pursuit of an authentically American single malt whiskey, they bring their signature five-malt barley bill together with new American oak casks—two things practically unheard of in the old world. This combination produces a dramatically different whiskey from what is now commonplace and expected in the single malt category. But just as traditional styles of single malt from Scotland emerged as a reflection of regions such as Islay and Speyside, so too does their American Oak stay true to the provenance of their Pacific Northwest home.

SPECIFICATIONS

Release Number: 0006
Initial Release Date: June 2014
Format: 750ml
Total Bottled: N/A
Minimum Maturation Time: 36 Months
ABV: 46%

BARLEY BILL:

Washington Select Pale Malt
Munich Malt
Extra Special Malt
Pale Chocolate Malt
Brown Malt

CASK TYPE(S):

Cooper’s Select New American Oak
Cooper’s Reserve New American Oak
First Fill Ex-Bourbon

YEAST STRAIN:

Belgian Brewer’s Yeast

FERMENTATION TIME:

96 - 144 Hours

FLAVOUR PROFILE

NOSE: Lemon and orange custard, waffle cone, crème brûlée, chocolate custard, jasmine.
PALATE: Rich fruit, Rainier cherries, Swiss chocolate, almond, bananas, cream, Turkish coffee.

FEATURED ACCOLADES

BEST SINGLE MALT / VATTED MALT

Drammie Awards 2018

GOLD MEDAL

New York International Spirits Competition 2017

BEST IN CLASS/GOLD MEDAL

Whiskies of the World Awards 2017

CHAIRMAN’S TROPHY

Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2016

GOLD MEDAL 93 POINTS

Beverage Tasting Institute 2015

93 POINTS

Wine Enthusiast 2015

 

WESTLAND PEATED AMERICAN SINGLE MALT WHISKEY

While many peated whiskies follow the very traditional model of 100% peated malt to displaying a raw and heavy smoke character, they work to build on this tradition with new world sensibilities. They introduce non-peated malts, most of which are grown locally in Washington State, in a ratio that outweighs the peated malt. The addition of their innovative five-malt spirit in each bottling brings a balance of malty notes to the peat that reflects local creative culture.

SPECIFICATIONS

Release Number: 0011
Initial Release Date: October 2014
Format: 750ml
Total Bottled: N/A
Minimum Maturation Time: 36 Months
ABV: 46%

BARLEY BILL:

Peated Malt
Washington Select Pale Malt
Munich Malt
Extra Special Malt
Pale Chocolate Malt
Brown Malt

CASK TYPE(S):

Cooper’s Select New American Oak
Cooper’s Reserve New American Oak
First Fill Ex-Bourbon

YEAST STRAIN:

Belgian Brewer’s Yeast

FERMENTATION TIME:

144 Hours

FLAVOUR PROFILE

Nose: Nuts, smouldering moss, flamed orange peel, roasted plantains.
Palate: Campfire, iodine, roasted pistachios, green herbs.

FEATURED ACCOLADES

DOUBLE GOLD / 96 POINTS

NY International Spirits Competition 2018

DOUBLE GOLD / BEST SINGLE MALT WHISKEY

SIP Best of the Northwest 2017

USA PEATED WHISKEY OF THE YEAR

Berlin International Spirits Competition 2017

GOLD MEDAL

Whiskies of the World Awards 2016

WHISKEY OF THE YEAR / GOLD MEDAL

American Distilling Institute 2015

 

WESTLAND SHERRY WOOD AMERICAN SINGLE MALT WHISKEY

While the practice of maturing whiskey in sherry casks isn’t as long-standing as peated whiskies, it has become a standard of old world sensibilities. They celebrate this custom by filling hogsheads and butts sourced from the same region the Scottish find their casks. But what they do with them differs. Again, Westland’s five-malt spirit plays a significant role, allowing them to balance the sherry influence with their local malted barley flavour. They have their sherry casks shipped whole, which is unusual in the business of whiskey. This provides a sherry character that is still incredibly vibrant in this whiskey, but they always ensure the barley notes have an equal voice, something rarely done in Scotland.

SPECIFICATIONS

Release Number: 0022
Initial Release Date: December 2014
Format: 750ml
Total Bottled: N/A
Minimum Maturation Time: 36 Months
ABV: 46%

BARLEY BILL:

Washington Select Pale Malt
Munich Malt
Extra Special Malt
Pale Chocolate Malt
Brown Malt

CASK TYPE(S):

Ex-Oloroso Hogsheads and Butts
Ex-Pedro Ximénez Hogsheads and Butts
Cooper’s Select New American Oak
Cooper’s Reserve New American Oak

YEAST STRAIN:

Belgian Brewer’s Yeast

FERMENTATION TIME:

96 - 144 Hours

FLAVOUR PROFILE

Nose: Honey-dipped oatmeal raisin cookies, maple syrup, banana pancakes.
Palate: Kiwi, maple syrup, raisins, sweet cookies, pastries, stewed yellow fruits.

FEATURED ACCOLADES

MASTER AWARD

American Whiskey Masters 2017

CHAIRMAN'S TROPHY FINALIST 96 POINTS

Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2017

GOLD MEDAL

American Craft Spirits Association Awards 2017

GOLD MEDAL / MALT USA

Whiskies if the World Awards

DOUBLE GOLD/CRAFT WHISKEY OF THE YEAR

San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2015

To learn more about this unique and outstanding American Single Malt Whiskey, visit the Westland website.