Malt Mileage Rating: ★★★★☆
Type: Single malt whiskey
Origin: Seattle, United States
Westland distillery American Oak is viewed by the distillery as its ‘flagship malt’. It is made from a “five-malt” grain bill – 70% Pale malt from Washington State, 10% Munich malt from Washington State, 12% “Extra Special Malt” from Wisconsin, 4% Brown malt from the UK, and 4% Pale Chocolate malt from the UK.
Matt Hofmann, the Master Distiller at Westland Distillery, explains:
“Each one of these malts adds a slightly different dimension of malt flavor derived from altering the drying procedure. This of course is standard for the beer world when you are making styles like a porter or a stout, but it is rarely done in Scotland. We believe strongly that you should be able to taste the malt in all of our expressions.”
For Hofmann, Westland’s philosophy is focused on achieving balance between the flavours derived from the malt, fermentation, and the oak. ‘One of the saddest things in the malt whiskey business right now is that the malted barley flavors in whiskey gets so little attention in Scotland.’, he says.
The grain, once made into wort, is fermented into a wash using a Belgian saison strain of brewer’s yeast. For Hofmann this gives Westland single malt a ‘citrus, red fruit, and spice element that balances the malt components quite nicely’.
Once the wash is distilled into new make spirit, the new make spirit is aged for at least two years in new American oak and first fill ex-bourbon oak. Hofmann says:
“Our casks mature outside of the city of Seattle, in a coastal town called Hoquiam, and we do no artificial maturation of any kind, just standard-sized casks (53 gallons and up) and the ambient climate. Humidity is always high here, and rainfall is prevalent given the proximity to the only temperate rainforests in the continental US. It rarely gets warmer than 23 C and never freezes. While we certainly prefer this style of maturation to any other, with high oxidation reactions and low cask extraction, we believe that using our natural climate is one of many things we do that gives our whiskey a true sense of place.”
In keeping with Westland distillery’s focus on highlighting the flavours of the malt in its whiskey, the new American oak casks are carefully prepared to ensure that their flavours do not outweigh the flavours from the malt and fermentation. Hofmann explains:
“We want the wood to be a part of the whiskey but certainly not all of it. Although we use new American oak, we do so to help maintain the balance, not throw it off. I think of a whiskey deriving flavor from three sources: the malt, the yeast/ fermentation, and the cask. We’ve made each dimension a bit bigger with specialty malts, brewer’s yeast, and new oak and therefore the whiskey should remain balanced, just a bit bolder in every dimension.
With the new oak we also take a great deal of care in the sourcing. We fill exclusively into slow-grown, air-dried oak and might be the only distillery, big or small, in the US to do so. With a minimum air-drying period of 18 months, we see more refined oak notes and less bitter and resinous flavors. We want to embrace the flavors that come from the wood but there is certainly such a thing as “too much.”
Malt Mileage Tasting Notes – Westland American Oak
Nose: The oak driven caramels and vanillas bask in the midst of the glorious grain rich distillate, which smells something like a top shelf baijiu with its heavy and expressive sorghum grain. But this is malt. The bouquet is complex and vibrant, zesty and fresh with pepper, wood smoke, lemon and dry floral notes. You won’t believe this is malt whisk(e)y until you taste it.
Palate: Raisin, cherries, quite rummy and syrupy, with dark honey, mint, bay-leaf, spice and citrus peel; leaves me chewing and wanting more.
Finish: More chocolate than the Wonka factory, with ground coffee and a malty aftertaste; similar in taste to a chocolate stout. Then, relish in the taste of kopiko coffee lollies.
Well, what can I say. Rarely do I come across such a grain-led masterpiece. Forget what you know about Scotch, Irish, or Australian whisk(e)y; Westland have re-drawn the goal posts.
*Thank you to Alba Whisky for this sample of Westland American Oak.