Greetings once again from your resident booze bibliophile.
When I picked it up my first book on bourbon, I did so because I realized just how little I knew about a beverage that I was starting to love. Once I grabbed my first bourbon book, I quickly began expanding my booze bibliography. Bourbon turned to rum, Prohibition, and American alcohol history and culture in general. As of this writing, I’ve completed 381 booze history books. I’ve read a lot on American liquor history, but one topic was more glaringly absent than Pappy at MSRP: American single malt whiskey.
The great American poet Toby Keith tells us “Go west young man, haven’t you been told? California is full of whiskey, women, and gold.” Mr. Keith was certainly right in his assessment of the West being full of whiskey. Today, we’re going to travel a bit north of California to the great state of Washington.
Kentucky and Tennessee rightfully claim their glory in the world of American whiskey. However, the newest hombre on the frontier seems to be American single malt whiskey. While bourbon and rye have been around for generations, American single malt is a newer endeavor in American whiskey. If you’d like to find a good starting point in getting your feet wet, might I suggest Westland Distillery?
American single malt whiskey is definitely short on heritage, but there are a couple of single malt distilleries with more history than others. Seattle’s Westland Distillery is one of the older single malt distilleries in America, and one that produces a whiskey worthy of your trust and exploration. In 2021, upon their 10th anniversary, Westland released a book detailing their history and vision for their future. Their book is titled “Our West is Whiskey: Ten Years of Exploring Provenance in American Single Malt Whiskey.”
Before we get into the content, I must say that Our West is Whiskey is an extremely nice hardcover book that would look very pretty sitting on your coffee table. In addition to reading, I love photography. The Westland book is filled with a plethora of absolutely gorgeous photographs. The book itself is comprised of numerous very short chapters that the authors refer to as individual essays. The essays are written in a manner that would allow you to skip around as you read. You don’t need to read the pages in chronological order; one essay does not build upon the other. It also must be noted that, for a book authored by distillers, the writing itself is beautiful and articulate.
When we think of the West, we envision manifest destiny and expanding into new and uncharted territory. For early Americans, their West meant forging new paths on new land, in the unknown. The West meant going somewhere that others before them had not gone. When Westland says “our West is whiskey”, they feel the same way.
Westland sits in the western United States, but “going West” means they are trying something new in the world of American whiskey. Westland had no intention of trying to reproduce the whiskey that was already commonplace in American history. The trail of bourbon and rye has already largely been blazed; Westland sought out a new path for single malt whiskey in America. Most importantly, Westland did not want to make Scotch or Irish single malt whiskey simply with the word “American” slapped in front. Westland sought to make a style of single malt that was unique and different from single malts of the old world. More than simply making it in America, Westland wanted to make a single malt that is unique to America.
“Our West is Whiskey” provides an account of the early days of the distillery and its metamorphosis to what it is today. Westland has grown from the concept of a college student still too young to legally buy booze to one of the premier small whiskey distilleries in America. “Our West is Whiskey” details the growth and development over Westland’s history. Today, Westland is an icon in the young but burgeoning American single malt community. The icon you likely think of is their logo, which they refer to as “the Treecoil.” The tree symbolizes the logging industry. The roots symbolize the copper cooling coil from a still. The logo itself is intended to look like a hammer stamp used in the logging industry to mark felled trees.
What makes Westland so vastly different? One of the most unique attributes is the use of new oak. Much of the world of single malt whiskey revolves around used cooperage. Westland brings new flavors by incorporating virgin charred oak into offerings such as Westland American Oak. The concept of terroir in whiskey has been a popular one recently. Westland attempts to impart terroir by using Garryana oak, a type of oak that is native to the Pacific Northwest.
Further, Westland works closely with local grain scientists. Much of the whiskey industry operates with commodity grain. Commodity grain is cheaper and more cost effective, but you lose the ability to tease out unique flavors from unique grains. Westland has chosen to steer away from commodity grain, choosing to be less cost effective in order to use grain that produces unique flavors. Over the past few years, using non-commodity grains has become more popular with smaller distilleries across the nation. This is another trail that has been blazed by Westland, and more will follow.
“Our West is Whiskey” points out that much of the whiskey industry is incentivized to not try new things. Distilleries see financial stability in the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Westland seeks to break down a good thing to try to make it better. Westland isn’t necessarily looking for cost effective; they’re looking for innovation and continuing to move West. If you’re interested in quality innovation and new territory, I strongly suggest you order this book. At the moment, the only place you can purchase the book is on Westland’s website for a price of $40.
Westland American Single Malt Whiskey is the flagship expression coming out of Seattle. American Single Malt utilizes peat but is far from a peat monster. If you’re looking for a heavily peated expression, Westland offers their Peat Week bottling.
The mashbill for American Single Malt is 100% malted barley, consisting of 70% Washington Select Pale Malt, 9% Munich Malt, 13% Extra Special Malt, and 4% Brown Malt. Aged for at least 40 months, the cooperage is a combination of new charred oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. Bottled at 92 proof, it is non-chill filtered. Price on Westland’s online shop is $75.
Westland American Single Malt – Review
Color: Brass. Natural color, no additives.
On the nose: There is a lovely malt scent, a like a fresh biscuit. There is a bakery chain in my Kentucky city that does orange scones. Perhaps more than just a biscuit, it’s the orange scone from Great Harvest Bread Company, with a light vanilla glaze. While not too strong, I detect spices that might go with a pumpkin pie or winter mulled wine.
In the mouth: There is a slight smokiness. To those who are accustomed to pungent Scotches, the smokiness is not going to blow you away, but for me, it’s the perfect amount of smoke. The orange and vanilla scone nose easily carries to the tongue. I feel like there’s quite a bit more complexity in the mouth as compared to the nose. I feel some floral notes to go with a soft leather. There’s a slight nutty character, but I can’t quite identify what nut it would be; I lean toward black walnut. The finish takes a positive and slight detour from the initial experience. The finish is of a medium length. My first thought was simply to say “chocolate.” I think it’s more accurate to call it hot cocoa; definitely not overly sweet, but not particularly bitter either. I’m now finding some slight dark fruit notes. The nutty character hangs on to the finish as well.
As I assign a rating, my experience is going to be different than that of many readers. My Kentucky city has a plethora of good Kentucky bourbon, but American single malt whiskey is virtually non-existent. If I want to buy American single malt whiskey, it has to come from the mail or other cities. I’ve been able to acquire a couple of American single malt whiskeys prior to Westland American Oak. While I’ve approached my other experiences with great anticipation, I’ve usually been let down.
In my limited experience of about 10 American malt whiskeys, Westland is the first one that really grabbed me by the tongue. American Oak was the first to make think “I’m happy to have this. It’s worth the money. No qualms at all.” This bottle is the first to make me quite excited to try more American single malt in hopes that I find others that I enjoy just as much, despite being burned by others in the past. I’m choosing to give Westland American Oak Single Malt a 6. If the price was a bit less, I’d have no problem giving it a higher score. I enjoy this bottle and look forward to further Westward expansion.
Westland has given me reason to expect big things for the future of American single malt whiskey. If you’re an experienced single malt lover, please realize that Westland isn’t trying to reproduce what you’re accustomed to drinking. They don’t want to be American Scotch. Westland is intentionally going West to produce something new and innovative. Westland is expanding the conversation and not retelling the same story in a different language.
Go West young man… and woman.
Lead photo author’s own. Bottle photo courtesy of Westland.