Malt Mileage Rating: ★★★★
Type: Single malt whiskey
Origin: Seattle, United States
Not long ago, “American whiskey” tended to be synonymous with bourbon or Tennessee whiskey – whiskey made from a mash of at least half corn, a bit or rye, some barley and aged in new charred American oak barrels. These days, “American whiskey” conjures thoughts of craft distilleries that push the boundaries but which tend to follow the Scottish tradition of whisky making – that is, whisky made from a wash of malt and aged in used, and in some cases new or “virgin”, barrels (the barrels may have previously held sherry, bourbon, port or something else). One American distillery that is following the Scottish tradition, but being true to its “new world” American sense of place in the world of whisk(e)y, is Westland distillery in Seattle.
Whilst Westland distill spirit from a wash of malt and then age the spirit in used and new barrels, the distillery purposely sets out to create “grain forward” whiskey which highlights the flavour of the malt. They try to achieve this “grain forward” flavour profile by using certain drying procedures as well as specific malts and yeast strains which, when combined to ferment, create an alcoholic wash with (desired) flavours that carry though in distillation. I have already covered this in my review of the Westland American Oak and Westland Sherry Wood.
The Westland peated malt is targeted at 55 ppm (parts per million), which is a measure of the level of peat in a whisk(e)y (the higher the ppm, the higher the “peatiness” of whisk(e)y). Matt Hofmann, Westland’s Master Distiller, had this to say to me about the distillery’s peated malt:
“We get peated malt from Scotland at Baird’s Maltings and from Washington State at Skagit Valley Malting. Washington State has many peat bogs and we’ve been working on a local peated malt for years now. Only recently has this been made possible with Skagit Valley Malting. The peat we source for our Washington State peated malt comes from about 60 miles south of Seattle. This is another aspect of our belief that the Pacific Northwest is ideally suited to the production of single malt whiskey.”
The peated malt is aged in new American oak and 1st-fill used American oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
Nose: There is a fusion of licorice, vanilla, and smoke sitting over a foundation of chocolaty and nutty malt with cereals. The malt is fragrant and dominates over the oak, and the barley dominates over the peat influence. The peat smoke is soft, integrated as a part of the whiskey’s profile rather than leaping out as what we might recognise as “peat” (as it would present itself in most Scottish malts).
Taste: There is something about the malt that I love. It has a base of licorice and a sweet sugary profile. There are plumes of smoke and flavours of soot/embers that satisfy my craving for peat; but not as a Coal Ila or Lagavulin would satisfy my cravings for peat. The peat smoke is a large part of this whiskey, but it struggles to outshine the characterful malt. That is where the adventure begins as we venture beyond Scotch, or Irish, or Taiwanese, or even Australian whisky. Westland, clearly, aims to be different. It is robust and grain-led, like a good Chinese Baijju. There is an earthiness about it; coffee, dark chocolate. And the spice from the wood is very nice. I get lots of cinnamon and warming spices. This may be young whiskey, but it is delicious whiskey.
Finish: Ash and soot remain with some sugary sweetness. Cedar joins the lingering caramels, and there is a curious fusion of vanillas and the tarry butt of a smoking cigar with hints of herbal notes.
Overall: I get the feeling that some people may hate, while others will love, this whiskey. It floats my boat. The flavours may be cluttered and jumbled up. The whiskey may be young. The malt may dominate over the wood. But, for me, Westland’s peated whiskey is a well crafted malt that hits the spot.