With its industrial-hip distillery and hosting facilities in South Seattle, across from Harbor Island, Westland Distillery represents a terrific intersection of Pacific Northwest subculture and Pacific Northwest agriculture. Dedicated to creating a terroir-based 100% barley single malt, the distillery uses local grains, local water, and even local peat moss in their wonderfully divergent approach to creating scotch you can’t call scotch. The dedication is deep, and contagious. Two of Westland’s founders are also the founders of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, a collaborative body trying to establish standards and garner recognition and protection for the booming U.S. single malt industry. Evangelism is great, to be sure, but the sense of locality, experimentation, and innovation is abundantly apparent in their wares, as well. (Westland’s hard-to-find special editions can go for well over $150 a bottle, but the core line tasted here runs from $75 to $80 a bottle.)
Westland American Oak
This is the distillery’s base offering, and, in a sense, is the biggest departure from traditional Scots production and methods. A five-strain mash of Pacific Northwest barley is fermented and distilled, then barreled in new American oak casks for a minimum of three years. New wood generally imbues stronger botanical notes than former bourbon casks, and the nose is very light and reedy. On sipping, a very accessible floral/grassy flavor gives way to a significant alcohol burst. It’s an easy sipper, and a single rock releases a degree of additional sweetness. By way of comparison, I’d peg this fairly close to a good traditional Lowland scotch.
Westland Sherry Wood
This cask-finished version takes that same five-grain mashbill and adds a stay in former olorosso and Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels for a final kiss. To me, the sweetness showed up prominently and pleasantly in the nose, but unlike some sherry cask finished scotches, the subtle finishing serves as balancer to the core spirit without adding a large degree of sweetness to the taste. The sherry cask process is called “finishing,” after all, and this is a fine example of how what some distillers might use as a gimmick, can be executed with some appealing restraint.
Another superb departure from traditional peated scotches, which often use 100% peat-smoked malted barley, Westland uses its core unpeated five strains of barley in this mashbill and adds a sixth hit of peated malt barley, but only about a 55ppm whack. In addition, the vast majority of American single malt makers use imported Scottish peat moss to produce their peated versions, but Westland uses peat harvested from local Washington State bogs. Needless to say, this doesn’t taste quite like any other peated whisky I’ve tried. Like the sherry casking, you can look at Westland’s peating experiments as more of a finishing tool than a dominant flavor addition. The nose is caramel-sweet and buttery, with only a hint of smokiness. On the tongue, you get the peaty iodine note right away, and a pleasing subtle smokiness that kind of bundles all the flavors together into a more sophisticated experience that belies a relatively young age and new wood barreling. This is a version that really approaches what you expect to taste from a “scotch,” but is also wholly unique unto itself.