Malt Mileage Rating: ★★★★★
Type: Single malt whiskey
Origin: Seattle, United States
Westland sherry wood is made using a five malt grain bill. Once the grain is fermented into a wash, the wash is distilled into new make spirit. The new make spirit is aged in ex-oloroso hogsheads and butts, ex Pedro Ximénez hogsheads and butts, and new American oak for at least 26 months.
According to Westland distillery the oloroso and Pedro Ximénez ‘casks held some of the world’s finest Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry for nearly a century’. Matt Hofmann, Master Distiller at Westland distillery, says that an ‘old sherry cask has nuances of flavor buried deeper in the wood’.
The use of near century old sherry casks to mature whiskey may sound impressive, but there is one problem: old casks can sometimes be defective and have certain off-notes. These off-notes can leach into the whiskey while the whiskey rests in those casks for the purposes of maturation, and ruin the whiskey. So, quality control is very important. ‘Quality control is indeed important and off-flavors, especially sulphur, are screened for in Spain well in advance of us receiving these casks’ Hofmann says. ‘To this day we’ve not had a sulphured cask’, he adds.
Apart from using its grain forward whiskey (which highlights the flavours of the malt and fermentation so that these flavours are balanced with, rather than lost to, the flavour of oak) to distinguish it from Scotch whisky, Westland distillery also try to differentiate itself by its wood policy. ‘We also ship the casks whole from Spain, a rare and expensive move relative to what happens in Scotland where they are usually broken down into staves and shipped’, Hofmann says.
Westland whiskey seems to be designed with one simple goal in mind: to ensure people who drink the whiskey can taste and appreciate the flavour of the malt, not just the sherry wood or the oak. This focus lends to Westland’s distinctiveness as American single malt whiskey, not just copy cat Scotch. Hofmann clarifies:
“Ultimately, our goal at Westland is to be the vanguard of American Single Malt Whiskey. We do not want to simply replicate Scottish whiskey in the United States… Our use of local malt and varietals of barley that are only grown here, as well as our local peat and oak species, make that happen. All the while though we are mindful of tradition. Using sherry casks is a great example of this commitment to traditional techniques. The sum total of Westland is a mixture of this tradition, local terroir in the ingredients, and the innovative culture of the Pacific Northwest and America at large. All of these factors come together to make our single malt whiskey as authentic and compelling as possible.”
Malt Mileage Tasting Notes – Westland Sherry Wood
Nose: Dry panettone, with chocolate, black cherries, balsamic, and pepper.
Palate: Golden honey, raisin, dark cherries, wood smoke, balsamic, spice, hints of eucalyptus, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and waffles.
Finish: Stewed red berries, lemon, drying wood, herbal wood smoke, chocolate and coffee. Breath in, and taste bubblegum with spearmint.
The done to death sherry matured malt has finally met its Dr Frankenstein in the Westland Distillery; a composite of grains, yeast, new American oak and ex-sherry oak successfully grafted together (and probably brought to life by a lightning bolt, judging by its sublime taste!).
* Thank you to Alba Whisky for this sample of Westland sherry wood.