A New Hope
Many of us in the industry had been hearing rumors about a single malt whisky coming out of the Pacific Northwest—one that supposedly tasted like its Scottish counterparts. The local demand was apparently outrageous (akin to what Bay Area residents feel towards St. George distillery) and the small releases were selling out faster than the distillery could bottle them. The reviews were solid, the feedback genuine, and the excitement was palpable—depending on who you talked to. The distillery was called Westland and, supposedly, their single malt whiskey was the real deal; not something wildly-different, radical, or new-makey—just plain delicious.
We were all very intrigued. Of course, we wouldn't know anything for sure until we tasted it.
Sometime later this bottle (pictured above) appeared on my desk. Westland had signed on with a California distributor and their whiskey was finally going to be sold statewide; I was finally getting my chance to taste this heralded elixir. The price wasn't going to be inexpensive (around $70, I was told), but the quality was for once going to back up the hype (again, I was told). After years and years of beery, crafty, "interesting", immature, "promising" American single malt whiskey dominating the marketplace, was this the moment I had been waiting for? Was Westland going to be the one domestic distillery to stop fucking around with gimmicky experimentation and make something delicious we could all get behind as fans of single malt whisky? Was their American Single Malt Whiskey going to change the face of the domestic market, offering consumers something double-distilled from malted barley on both a wash and spirit still at their own facility—just like actual Scottish distilleries do—and not simply a hybrid spirit distilled from brewer's mash and run through an alembic column still?
That's right, folks—Seattle's Westland distillery is the "new hope" we've been looking for in the battle for microdistillery quality. The whiskey is indeed delicious, and the hype well-deserved—the Westland American Single Malt is a landmark release for American single malt whiskey. Made of five different types of roasted barley, the flavors are familiar yet not exactly Scottish in nature. There's much more new wood infiltrating the palate, but it's nothing like you'd expect from a Bourbon or rye whiskey. There's absolutely no question—from the first whiff on the nose, to the moment it hits your tongue—that you're drinking single malt whiskey. The soft-fruited flavors of a classic Highland expression come racing in immediately, bolstered by a wave of vanilla from the new oak. The richness maintains its composure all the way to the finish, which is more dominated by the wood and not quite as impressive as the entry. All in all, it's not an entirely mindblowing experience, but it is pretty impressive juice given what we've been subjected to for the last few years.
But then something happens—you keep drinking it and it starts to grow on you; like a song you keep hearing on the radio or a movie on TBS every night that you watch repeatedly. You start craving the Westland—you want that extra dose of new oak that the Scottish selections on your bar don't quite provide. You start thinking about what would happen if more Scottish distilleries aged their malts in new oak, and the lovely combination of fruit, dark cocoa, and vanilla begins to call your name as you sleep. My take on the Westland after having an open bottle for a few weeks is much more heartfelt than it was after my first few sips (which is why spending time with a bottle is so important). What started as simply a positive and mildly-exciting experience has now grown into a more-affectionate relationship.
Had I tasted the Westland American Single Malt five months ago, it would definitely be—without a doubt—the best American single malt whisky I've ever tasted. But as Yoda tells Ben Kenobi in Return of the Jedi: "There is another."
As of right now we have the Westland in stock, so you can try it out for yourselves. If you're searching for exciting new whiskies of quality, this is definitely something you're going to want to check out. In a few weeks, I'll be back to tell you about the other upcoming American single malt that really impressed me recently—and that one will only be sold at K&L.
There is reason to be hopeful about the future. The Luke and Leia of American Single Malt whisky are finally upon us.