If I had to pick a category of whisk(e)y that is growing and improving the fastest, I would probably pick the burgeoning category of American Single Malt Whiskey. These whiskies are differentiated from the venerable bourbon and rye industries not only because they all come from small “craft” producers, but also because they use only one grain in the mashbill: malted barley. In turn, these whiskies are differentiated from European single malt whiskies such as single malt scotch and single malt Irish whiskey by the prevalent use of full-term maturation in virgin charred American oak (as opposed to re-used cooperage). Note that some American Single Malts like the pioneering Oregon distiller McCarthy’s take the European approach and mature in used barrels. Still, malt whiskey distilled and matured entirely in virgin (new) charred American oak creates a unique and novel flavor profile. And they’re only getting better.
Not to be confused with Seattle producer Westland (which also makes amazing American single malt whiskey in the US Pacific Northwest), Westward is a Portland, Oregon based distillery founded in 2004 by Christian Krogstad, who has a brewing and winemaking background. Westward uses two custom-designed copper pot stills to distill an ale-style wash (utilizing ale yeasts instead of more traditional distiller’s yeast strains) from locally-sourced and locally-malted Pacific Northwest two-row barley. The resulting spirit is aged in lightly charred (as opposed to bourbon’s heavy char) new American oak barrels. The result is bottled at 45% ABV and retails for an elevated $65+ per bottle. These are the prices we pay for craft.
Westward’s single malt is bottled in small batches without chill filtration. The age is not disclosed, but it’s likely somewhere between 2 and 5 years, which is pretty standard for American products aging in new oak. Westward also produces special releases that are finished in wine or beer casks.
Honestly the only complaint I have so far is that Westward’s website is a vapid brochure that contains the absolute bare minimum of information. Read the room, Westward, modern whisky consumers want information.
Nose: What. Dripping with dense, nougaty, syrupy, notes. Hazelnut butter. Dark roast coffee. Amber tree sap (not quite maple syrup). Bubbling baked bananas. Coconut cream. Every one of these aromas is DENSE in a way that is a little hard to put into words.
Palate: Silky body. A moderate tongue burn is followed by wave after wave of those same notes from the aroma. Very consistent. Baked bananas with heavy caramelized syrups. Roasted nuts. A latte.
Finish: Medium length. A little bitterness balances out all the heavy dark sugars, like black coffee with cream. Evolves into various kinds of nuts (hazelnut, brazil nut, cashew) before fading. Fades sooner than you’d think, but keeps up the theme and the complexity throughout.
With Water: Several drops of water bring out a little wood smoke on the nose and (sigh) more banana. The palate seems unaltered. The finish might have an extra vegetal note, like anise seed or cardamom. Water optional here.
Overall: My first thought is that this is a lot like Cut Spike, with the major difference that this has a lot more complexity in the flavors. Instead of straight dense heavy oaky sweetness like Cut Spike, this has convolutions of roasty by-products like coffee and toasted nuts. Think of the difference between cream soda (Cut Spike) and cola or root beer. Excellent and challenging.
I would like it better if there weren’t so much banana, which just kind of triggers me. That’s a personal issue, though. This is really quite extraordinary whiskey.