...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Westland Week ends

As of late 2015, I ranked Westland's core range as follows:

1. Sherry Wood
2. Peated
3. American Single Malt

Sherry Wood and Peated were the two I had considered purchasing.

Four years later, after a corporate buyout, an increased age statement and one name change, the core trio is ranked as follows:

1. Peated
2. American Oak
3. Sherry Wood

Peated and American Oak are the only two I would consider purchasing.

The Sherry Wood went from a balanced somewhat-complex whiskey to a lumpy oaky yet sort of raw Craft Whiskey. The "American" improved a little bit, actually showing less oak than the Sherry Wood. The peated expression held its strengths, and possibly improved, over the years.

But you may notice I used the words "considered" and "consider" when it comes to actually buying a 750mL bottle. Westland's prices have always been steep. For years they were 2 year old whiskies selling for $70-$75. Even though they're 3 years old, $70 still seems bloated. I'm not sure what audience they're aiming for. Bourbon geeks will spend that amount of money on a bottle, but only when it's 10+ years old or extra limited or flippable. Casual bourbon drinkers (which is almost all of the market) can still get quality brown likker for less than $40. Scotch fiends will spend $70 on a 3-year-old bottle, but only if the brand lies to us really well in a Scottish accent while bestowing a Gaelic name upon the whisky. So who's left? I understand single malts are more expensive to produce than other whiskies, and that Westland hasn't cut corners, historically. But how does the company grow their business at these prices?

I may get a bottle of the Peated malt if I can find it for under $70 (with shipping, because Ohio). Otherwise, if I were to recommend anything it would be the 3-pack. It's a great way to test the whole range out, and 200mL is a lot more fun than a mini (says the man with many minis).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Westland Peated single malt

Though it seems as if every distillery is attempting a peaty or smoky whisky this decade, Westland has shown more competence than most. I've found their single casks of peated stuff to be comparable to Kilchoman's. And that is not something I state casually.

As of 2016, Westland's 55ppm peated malt came from Baird's in Scotland. Not sure if that's still their source. If anyone knows, please share in the comment section. Thanks!


Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
Mashbillsix malted barley strains
Maturation: three types of American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

NOTES
Islay-style oceanic peat (full of band aids!) hits first in the nose, then comes a metallic-tinged smoke. Tropical fruit punch, canned peaches and eucalyptus add an impressive complexity.

On the palate it's a baby Islay, but without the violence or mezcal. Antiseptic, band aids and dunnage(!). Gathers bright mint and menthol notes with time.

The longest and most balanced of the finishes. It has a gentler smoke than the palate, along with tangy citrus and sweet mint.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The winner! This will be the first bottle of the three I'll finish. I would be happy to buy this in lieu of most soon-to-be-25%-more expensive Islays. It's solid spirit-driven stuff, without any clunky oak. Though this likely took the distillery years to perfect, Westland makes this style seem pretty effortless.

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 (750mL), usually priced the same as the Sherry Wood
Rating - 86

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Westland Sherry Wood single malt

Here's an American take on sherry cask single malt, something scotch fans have been enjoying for decades. It's the busiest of Westland's core trio, with a slew of different cask types. They used to add a little bit of their peated malt to the mix, though their website doesn't show that listed anymore. Though this may not matter a whit, the whiskey isn't that much darker than the American Oak.


Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
MashbillFive malted barley strains
Maturation: four types of sherry casks, two types of new American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

NOTES
Lots and lots of grapey things on the nose, especially a Pedro Ximenez jamminess. In fact, that's almost the entire show. There are some tiny bits of smoked almonds, mint, graphite and dirty stones in the background.

The palate is a spicy, chocolatey sherry bomb. The new oak character shouts louder here than in the American Oak expression, giving off plenty of smoked caramel and vanilla. Some dark cherries in there, as well as citric acid.

The finish is similar to the palate, though with more raw heat and imitation vanilla extract. Tangy and peppery, with plenty of PX.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This one was a surprise too, but in the other direction. It's the most Craft Whiskey of the three. Westland's treasured malt mix has been silenced by all the casks. This will probably appeal to someone who just wants a shite-load of sherry and vanilla, more than it appeals to me. Perhaps this was a wonky batch, because they've done better than this in the past.

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$80 (750mL), often $5-$10 more expensive than the American Oak expression
Rating - 77

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Westland American Oak single malt

Once upon a time this was just Westland American single malt. Then at some point, possibly after Rémy Cointreau took over, the "American Oak" part was added, which is helpful for those of us who'd mistake it for their Azerbaijani Pine core expression. Now the front label says "American" twice, again to clear up any confusion.

They appear to still be using the five-malt mash bill they'd had before, most of which comes from Washington state. I've noticed something new: the whiskey's age is no longer 26 months, but at least 36 months. Progress!


Distillery: Westland
Region: Seattle, Washington
Type: Single Malt
Age: at least 3 years
Mashbill: Five malted barley strains
Maturation: three types of American oak casks
Alcohol by volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from my bottle)

NOTES
Though rich oak notes are present in the nose, they're much less aggressive than any bourbon. No lumber, no sawdust, no outright vanilla. Instead, the nose holds roses, orange Smarties, lime candy, Cow Tales candy and milky coffee.

The moderately sweet palate shows cashew butter, toasted almonds and marshmallows. A little bit of black cherry soda here and there. The nuttiness gets bolder and toastier with time.

A good balance of toastiness, nuttiness, sweetness and subtle smoke highlight the warm finish. No vanilla!

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This one surprised me, as I'd set my expectations low. Perhaps three years is the optimum maturation length when dealing with new oak in Washington warehouses. It is a very easy drinker that works as either an anytime-pour or dessert whiskey. It's also its own style, much different than any single malt coming from the rest of the world. Perhaps it could appeal to scotch haters?

Availability - Most American specialty whiskey retailers, as well as many European retailers
Pricing - $60-$75 (750mL), its average price price has dropped 10% in four years, per winesearcher
Rating - 83

Monday, October 14, 2019

Westland Week

Have the tariff turkeys and their enablers gotten you down? Never fear. Blended scotch, Irish pot still, cognac and many other brown spirits won't be affected. Yet.

Or you can, like, not buy stuff. Yeah, I know, I know. I know the struggle.

For my American readers, there is at least one decent single malt made in these United(?) States. As one of the only 21st century American distilleries that was backed with ample private investment, Westland produces a steady stream of single casks and limited edition malts. They also have a regular range that's widely available here and abroad.

I visited Westland Distillery nearly four years ago, enjoying the experience and the whisky. Rémy Cointreau bought the company the company a year later (yes, it's my fault), and wisely kept the lead distiller, Matthew Hoffman. There's been very little obvious corporate tinkering since then. Much like Westland, Rémy's scotch distillery, Bruichladdich, is all about barley varieties. The ownership has let both facilities continue to fly that experimental flag.

Westland sells their trio of regular bottlings in a 3x200mL set, something I wish more scotch companies would consider. When I found one of these sets selling at half price this year, I scooped it up and open the bottles relatively promptly.

Yes, the word 'American' appears six times.
I'm going to review each of these three whiskies this week, then sum it up on Friday, comparing the results to my expectations and previous experiences. Hopefully each post will be bite-sized or dram-sized or at least not TL;DR. But no guarantees!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Bowmore 21 year old 1973

The 9-to-5 (or rather then 7-to-5) work life leaves parents with a minimum of positive time with their children. We get to see our wee ones just after they wake up and just before they go to sleep. Those are not Happy Kid Times.

Recently I was blessed with an opportunity to hang out with Beatrice, just we two, for a number of hours during the day, and it was delightful. Here are some things we did:
  • Read eleven board books without pause. I'd exhausted my various character voices, most of which are offensive stereotypes, by book five. As narrator, I was not allowed to break for tea or potty.
  • Watched baseball, or rather BAY-BALL. (She speaks in bold and caps.) My girls now request to watch baseball highlights, which is a-ma-zing! The playoffs last only three more weeks, but the girls will have likely grown out of it by then. Treasuring it now.
  • My favorite: a makeover. For at least 20 minutes, I was instructed to SIT PAPA SIT, during which time zoo stickers were applied to my forehead (ample space!), and every item from the girls' play kitchen was rubbed all over my face and hair. She had incredible focus, taking seven different calls on her toy(?) phone without pausing her esthetician work. I look younger and prettier as a result.
Life went back to normal the next day. Remind me to schedule a followup appointment.


This sample has been sitting unopened for much too long. It's a good time for something special.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner at time of distillation: Stanley Morrison
Owner at time of bottling: Suntory Holdings
Region: Islay
Age: 21 years
Distilled in: 1973
Maturation: sherry butts
Alcohol by Volume: 43%abv
(from a purchased sample)

The Nose - Yes there are ripe melons, yuzu, kabosu and summer peaches, but I cannot overstate the fruits' intensity. It fills the the nose from across the room. Just beneath that one can find the ocean, salty air, bonfire, kelp and seaweed. Gentler notes of ground cloves, shisha, antiseptic and honey linger around the edges.

The Palate - A swirl of dense gorgeous oceanic peat and delicate baking spices. Some of the nose's bright Japanese citrus (though beware of taking a bite of kabosu, those can be tart as a MFer), along with California lemons. The citrus takes over after 30 minutes and fills whatever sensory nooks haven't succumbed to the nose.

The Finish - The citrus peels and peat have merged and remain for a long, long time with just the right amount of sweetness.

Words Words Words - I don't really understand how this intensity came to exist in a 43%abv whisky that sat in its bottle 20 years, then in a sample bottle for 4-5 years. And had I been born twenty years earlier, and been used to consuming whisky of this quality, I would have quit scotch whisky in this decade. There's nothing like this now. Yes, Bowmore still hits doubles and triples with some of their independent single casks. But those ain't this. This is a remarkable whisky.

Availability - Auctions, maybe
Pricing - A whole lot of money
Rating - 93

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Bea's Birthday Booze: Charbay single barrel hop-flavored whiskey, bottled for T5C

Nearly every weekend morning begins with "PAPA! UP! PAPA GET UP! GET! UP! GET! UP!" Beatrice will even run over to the bed and grab the blanket and try to pull it off.

(I'm not complaining. She does this at 7:00am and not 5:00am. Not yet.)

Later that morning, "Can Papa give you a hug?" "NO!" Papa is proud of his confident girl. Papa also crawls into a cave in his mind to sob by hi-- "NO! PAPA OUT!"

Some Charbay perhaps?


As I mentioned to the gentleman who shared this sample, I basically lose my brains when I drink Charbay. My bias towards single pot still Irish whiskey proves quaint compared to my feelings about full-power Charbay.

Distillery: Charbay
Type: Charbay-flavored whiskey
Region: Charbay, Charbay
Mashbill: 100% Charbay
Age: 3 Charbays old
Maturation: Charbay cask
Exclusive to: T5C who selected this Charbay
Alcohol by Volume: 73.4% (yes, Charbay)
(Thank you to Secret Agent Man)

The nose: One would have no idea that this is 73.4%abv judging by the nose. There are pine needles, cherries and vanilla beans wrapped in a heavy hops blanket. Lots of fragrant wood: sandalwood, cedar and Palo Santo. It shifts with time, releasing maple, fennel, butterscotch sauce and more cherries. No burn.

The palate:

So yeah, dank. Unlike most Charbays it strikes right up front rather than unfolding later on. There are also mint leaves and fried plantains in honey. Lime candies and dried oregano amongst bitter herbal moments. More drinkable than most whiskies bottled 20 percentage points lower.

The finish: Looooooong. Graceful old oak, IPA, mint leaves and hints of bell peppers. It's gentler on the ganja than other Charbays. BUT IT'S THERE. Man.

Words Words Words: While this pick doesn't ascend to the heights of some of the numbered (I-VII?) series, it's still a tremendous thing. I don't understand how it can be so easily consumed when bottled at such a violent strength. It's scary and wonderful and yo where are the cupcakes and peanut butter and those really crunchy kettle chips. Oh, I'm sorry that's the "hops" talking. Meanwhile, the oak notes are lovely. It's as if the cask was fashioned with a variety of aromatic woods and some old furniture. The mad and marvelous Marko does it again.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89