The bottling is hyper-local, using grains from the surrounding area. (photo courtesy of the brand)

I have a respectable whiskey collection, spanning the gamut of types, styles, and originating countries. I never get bored. But I’m always up for something new. A buddy invited me over last week for a wee bit of tippling. With my mask, goggles, gloves, hazmat suit, and the rest of my anti-COVID accouterments, I arrived to a freshly opened bottle of Westward’s American Single Malt Whiskey.

As a seasoned Scotch aficionado, it’s taken a fair bit of convincing for me to jump on the American Single Malt bandwagon, but now I am a “true believer.” Pioneering brands such as Westward and others have not only created a viable alternative to Scotch, they’ve successfully matched and often surpassed the original. Every bit as complex and varied, these new single malts are less inhibited by the dogma of traditions, not to mention those pesky laws, resulting in greater experimentation, and quite often, superb quality.

Westward Whiskey started in 2004 as an outgrowth of the Portland, Oregon brewing culture—a “Grain to Glass” ideology that ensures hands-on management of the whiskeys. Cementing their roles as leaders in the American Single Malt community, distillery founders Thomas Mooney and Christian Krogstad also cofounded the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, the official industry organization actively pushing for TTB standing for the product category.

Their core expression, Westward American Single Malt Whiskey, is a worthy flagship. It begins in textbook fashion as beer—pale ale, to be exact. To maintain close control, the makers use only use locally malted barley and American ale yeast. The resulting beer is then double distilled into whiskey and aged in lightly charred new American oak barrels until achieving their target flavor. And that flavor is impressively complex.

Out of the bottle, the whiskey is a clear mid-amber color. Although Westward’s official tasting notes focus on fruity, sweet vanilla aromas, it also exhibits earthy herbal notes and hints of butterscotch, lemon, and a youthful oakiness. As expected for a younger whiskey, the initial palate is slightly hot, but it has unexpected oily fatness and cayenne spice. The flavor starts with notes of herbaceous pine tar and rich earth, leading into fresh apple, orange peel, and hints of bitter cocoa and cinnamon. The finish exhibits more young oak with some brown sugar sweetness and butterscotch, followed by more herbal notes and a long drying finish.

Westward Whiskey is at the forefront of the relatively new American Single Malt Whiskey movement, and they’ve nailed the genre. At its price point ($70 retail), you’d expect exceedingly high quality, and within the category of American Single Malt whiskey, it delivers in spades.