We’ll be seeing more of Westland and its whiskies in the coming years. Recently on Malt we tackled their sherry wood and peated expressions and were left fairly impressed. The combination of price and promise overcame the limitations of age. Clearly, there were some skills being displayed in the distillation and vatting of its produce.
A big inspiration for Westland is the work of Bruichladdich – the Islay distillery that has been going through a transition of late. The 2 distilleries on either side of the world were united by their parent company when Rémy Cointreau purchased Westland towards the end of 2016. Given that Westland has only been in existence since 2010, it marks a rapid rise to prominence and its pursuit of the American single malt market. Yes, you read that correctly. Not a bourbon or moonshine or some mashbill better suited for porridge, rather a single malt.
A recent trend across whisky or whiskey depending on your location is the acquisition and consolidation of craft distilleries. These outposts of handcrafted products offer an alternative to the boring Scotches we see loitering on the shelves today. With more disposable cash, some consumers are seeking to explore whisky/whiskey in more detail. Taking in new flavours, appreciation of the grains, fermentation and techniques etc. Perhaps even the bloody soil in some cases. Point being, out with the mass market who are quite happy with their staple blends and the odd Glenfiddich or Glenlivet, a new educated segment of the markets wants to go that little bit deeper. Ok, not to the same level as some German enthusiasts you may have shared a tour with, but there’s an appetite for more.
I often ask myself what is craft? Is it simply the volume of production? The number of staff versus that production? Fancy marketing and statements? The lack of computers? It’s not something you can simply put down clearly defined guidelines for. There’s a tangible outcome in liquid form but there’s some bad whisky out there from smaller distilleries and more to follow in the coming years. For the bigger companies, it represents a modest outlay that ticks off an Achilles heel in their current business portfolio. Diageo has invested into Starward distillery based in Australia and other companies are doing the same with William Grant & Sons recently acquiring Tuthilltown Spirits – first distillery in New York state since Prohibition.
Does such a takeover or investment immediately render these distilleries as being non-craft? It’s an interesting question. We’re always fed the line that such purchases are due to a candid love affair and the new arrival is left to go about its business without too much direction from its new owner. Many of these distilleries enjoy transparency. Giving the consumer more and more information about the whisky and its creation. Is Bruichladdich less of an upstart now given its Rémy Cointreau parentage? Should any craft distillery offer full disclosure on their ownership?
Compost Box, the young upstart independent bottler whom for many years tried to be different and reliant on stunts received an investment from Bacardi in 2015. Does this render such antics and marketing spiel a little shallow from then on in? Does it change the behaviour of a company – or distillery – towards a more corporate line? Given Compost Box’s recent behaviour around Box Destilleri, it’s a valid question. Forcing this very promising Swedish distillery to change its name to High Coast Distillery thereby avoiding a long and potentially costly legal battle. Big bully boys flexing their lawyers and financial clout? Interestingly, John Glaser – normally never short of a quote – has been strangely quiet on the whole chain of events. Oddly, when I want to buy a Swedish whisky I think of Box or Smögen, not Compost Box. And when I think of overpriced bling bottles, lots of marketing and ass kissing from onlookers too blinkered to question the brand, I think of Compost Box. As far as I’m concerned there was never an issue unless you cannot distinguish between both on a Google search.
Acquisitions are nothing new in whisky as its a generational thing. What is different now is pretending to be craft whilst taking finances from an entity that really doesn’t care about your craft. In some ways it reminds me of the music business when underground bands threatened the mainstream and offered a new alternative. So much so that these corporate beasts just purchased the record labels rather than trying to engineer an alternative. Consumers still purchased their favourite bands or record labels mostly unaware that the alternative was now just another entry in an investment portfolio.
We’re all here for the whisky or whiskey in this case. Westland does release an impressive degree of detail about what goes into this release. You can go check it out right here and lap up the detail. In summary, this whiskey is around 2 years in age, bottled at 46% strength and uses Belgian brewers yeast and a fermentation time of 144 hours. It’ll set you back around £63 and has an impressive degree of distribution – no doubt helped by Rémy Cointreau’s presence.
Westland American Oak – review
On the nose: there’s a slight charred or burnt edge to this but in a pleasant way like cinder toffee. Also reminiscent of blood oranges and roasted coffee beans. After time and the addition of water, vanilla marshmallows come through. Shortbread, varnish, maple syrup and a cracked black pepper twist.
In the mouth: pleasant without being too demanding or detailed. Time and a touch of water are beneficial here removing some of that char, lemon sponge, hazelnuts and woodiness, which revives on the finish. Letting the dram breath reveals more of the vanilla and oranges once again plus some caramel and cinnamon.
This whiskey does come across young but it has more to say than most American whiskies of the same age. There’s less reliance on the core characteristics of vanilla, caramel and more vanilla. Already there are subtle deviations and the hope that more time will deliver impressive whiskies. It’s a solid start and shouldn’t be heralded as anything else but. Exciting times ahead hopefully, craft or otherwise.
Lead image from Abbey Whisky.