After my previous gushing review of Westland’s core American Oak expression, I tasted the other two members of the core range. This one uses the same 5-malt mash bill of malted barley (barlies? barleys?) but includes a percentage of whiskey aged in sherry casks. Make sure to read that American Oak review first, since I go over Westland’s unique approach to whiskymaking.
Westland’s website has a meandering article about the sherry wine industry, its future, and Westland’s approach to it. This is worth reading if you’ve any interest in the use of sherry casks in whisky production, but to turn a mountain back into a molehill, suffice it to say that Westland only uses sherry casks that were used (mostly by small Spanish producers) to mature actual D.O.C. sherry. They have rejected the industry-wide (indeed, nearly the modern standard) practice of “seasoning” casks with throwaway low-grade sherry or related wines. They admit that this decision is not sustainable, so it will be interesting to see where Westland takes this disciplined approach as the market for “real” sherry casks continues to implode.
Westland’s meticulously-sourced sherry casks are shipped whole (rather than broken down into staves and re-coopered, which is how most whisky producers handle them) to the States and then filled with the same five-malt new make as the American Oak release. The distillery uses both ex-Oloroso and ex-PX sherry casks, and blends the resulting full-term sherry-matured malt whiskey with the Westland whiskey aged in new American oak. This is similar to the now-widespread trend in Scotland of “double cask” products. Like the American Oak, the Sherry Wood release is aged a minimum of 3 years and bottled at 46% ABV without chill-filtration or added coloring.
Nose: Straightforward sherry notes – fig, plum/prune, date, and balsamic vinegar (including a slight tart note) – but on the dry side. Underneath, mild oak with a bit of nuttiness. A rest in the glass adds some dried cranberries and the whole thing becomes a tad sweeter (added caramel).
Palate: Heavy body, almost viscous. Chocolate-covered cherries (dark ones) up front, with a moderate tongue burn. Roasted coffee beans, cocoa nibs, and a reprise of the dark dried fruit notes from the aroma. Underneath, the mild oak continues to support.
Finish: Medium-short. Drying – with a lot of dusty cocoa and fruit leather. The fruit and chocolate notes fade quicker than I expected, leaving just oak sawdust and mouth-drying (but not bitter!) tannins.
With Water: A few drops of water amp up that tart note (increasing the impression of balsamic vinegar) but cover up some of the dried fruit. The palate also seems more tart, with less chocolate. I suggest skipping the water – 46% ABV is just right.
Overall: Westland’s malt is so good that the coating of sherry almost seems like unnecessary window dressing. The classic Westland coffee-and-chocolate notes are present in abundance, and although the sherry notes pair well with them (chocolate-covered cherries yes please), they feel like a layer on top rather than integrated into the whole. This is nit-picking; It’s tasty stuff, but don’t pass over the Westland American Oak just because this one has sherry notes too.