Westland Whiskey

Craft distillers of the world, take note

It seems like every other month or two someone, somewhere in the world is setting up the newest, craftiest ‘craft’ distillery. Don’t let the term ‘craft’ fool you into thinking that they’re all created equally though. Some of these ventures are far better thought-out than others and one of the ones that has really caught my eye is Seattle’s Westland Distillery. But we’ll get to that in a sec.
Often when I’m trying a new whisky for the first time I like to do a bit of homework and find out as much as I can about what’s in my glass. No, it doesn’t always add to my enjoyment, but occasionally it does provide me with new-found appreciation for what I’m drinking and it also helps to satisfy my inner whisky nerd.

Westland Whiskey.jpg

So when I was recently sent a few samples of Westland’s core range by the new Australian importer – Alba Whisky – I went on this same homework journey and the amount of information that was forthcoming really surprised me. With many big, established whisky brands, getting any kind of detail out of them can sometimes be like pulling teeth. But a few emails back and forth between Alba and myself yielded a goldmine of information and in my mind, it would be a total shame not to share it. It’s a long post, but I reckon it’s worth it.

Westland’s grain bill

All single malt whisky starts off with the same base ingredient of malted barley. But at Westland they’ve taken this slightly further and have come up with a “five-malt” grain bill which is used in their American Oak expression (among others), and it contains:
– 70% Pale malt from Washington State
– 10% Munich malt from Washington State
– 12% Extra Special Malt from Wisconsin
– 4% Brown malt from the UK
– 4% Pale Chocolate malt from the UK

The whole concept of a grain bill is not something you hear about that often with Scottish whisky and is far more prevalent in the bourbon and beer worlds. But Westland believe that each one of these malts adds a slightly different dimension of malt flavour, which is something they want you to taste in their whiskeys.

The source of their malt

You’ll note in the above list that most of the malt is sourced locally from Washington State and there’s a good reason for that. According to Westland, Washington State has two distinct growing regions that make it one of the best places in the world to grow barley. The first being the Skagit Valley (about 60 miles north of Seattle) and the second being Palouse (about 250 miles east of Seattle), which roughly correlates to a UK and continental European climate respectively. Climate is just one aspect of it though. Many of the farmers in Washington State operate outside of the commodity system which allows them to grow barley varietals that aren’t accepted on the commodity market. What that means is that in Washington State there’s effectively a system of academics (barley breeders), farmers, maltsters and distillers who are all working together outside of the commodities and can focus on new varietals. For Westland, this means that they’ve already been able to lay down casks with three new varietals of barley that no other distiller anywhere in the world has access to. And they supposedly have many more coming.

Westland Single Cask.jpg

Peated malt is absent from the above, but in the case of Westland’s peated expression, sometimes their peated malt comes from Scotland’s Baird’s Maltings, alternatively they source it locally from Washington State at Skagit Valley Malting. Irrespective of where the malt is coming from, they target their peating levels to 55 parts per million (PPM).

The yeast

At Westland they use nothing but brewer’s yeast, specifically a Belgian saison strain which they believe gives them “amazing citrus, red fruit, and spice element that balances the malt components quite nicely”. I’ve tasted a single cask expression that was bottled for Binny’s in the US and it had the most outrageous stout profile I’ve ever tasted in a whiskey, with bucket loads of roasted, toasty malt, chocolate stout notes. No doubt the chocolate malt barley played a big role in this, but I’m convinced that the brewers yeast was also a big contributor to that true, stout flavour profile.

Wood and maturation

For their new oak casks, Westland fill exclusively into casks made from slow-grown, air-dried oak which has been dried for a minimum period of 18 months where they believe they see more refined oak notes and less bitter and resinous flavours. When it comes to their ex-sherry casks, they work with Toneleria del Sur to source both PX and oloroso sherry casks. In a rather costly move, they ship the casks whole from Spain instead of breaking them down into staves for transport.
If you’re wondering why – Westland believe it provides them with a certain depth and fresh sherry character that can’t be imitated. They’ve also recently released a pioneering whiskey in the States that has been matured in a local species of white oak, Quercus garryana. This oak only grows in the Pacific Northwest around the cities of Seattle, Vancouver B.C. and Portland.

When it comes to maturation, Westland mature their casks outside of the city of Seattle, in a coastal town called Hoquiam, where humidity is always high, rainfall is prevalent, it rarely gets warmer than 23 C and it never freezes.

The whiskey

One of Westland’s chief concerns is balance.  They want the wood to be a part of the whiskey but not all of it and they’re upfront in saying that they want their whiskey to derive flavour from three sources: the malt, the yeast/ fermentation, and the cask. On that note, let’s see how that actually plays out.

Westland samples.jpg

Westland American Oak

The nose is loaded with rich malt notes, stewed apples and pears, light citrus and pastry sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar (the thick kind you’d find in the crust of a homemade apple pie). There’s a sweetness to it as well that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s balanced, integrated and cosy.

Sweet, round and creamy on entry with some nice oily notes followed immediately by a massive malt attack. Those heavier roasted/ dark malts really burst through here with flavours of chocolate-coated coffee beans, powdered drinking chocolate and roasted nuts. Anyone who’s a fan of a good dark beer (or even the Glenmorangie Signet) will find much to love here.

Westland Sherry Oak

The sherry influence is immediately apparent on the nose here, especially off the back of the American Oak expression. There’s an elevated sweet note, malt again, tart mixed dried fruits (dehydrated apples and apricots included!)

Sweet, round and creamy again on entry, showing a whole lot more restraint when it comes to the malt notes. There are still hints of those roasted, toasty notes (especially on the finish), but it seems softer, more balanced and integrated on the palate than the American Oak expression. Liquified pastry with a hint of boozy cherry-chocolate brownie (go on, imagine it!)

Westland Peated Whiskey

Malty and oily on the nose with an underlying soft smoke, char-grilled pears and citrus. It’s quite a dry nose. It’s creamy, sweet and oily again on entry, but there’s a tangy, sooty, earthy peat note that soon becomes apparent. I’m not sure I’d call it smoky and I definitely wouldn’t call it coastal (like I would a Caol Ila), but it’s more mature and earthy. Again, a really nicely balanced and integrated palate that shows off those roasted chocolate notes on the finish.

In the words of Westland “We do not want to simply replicate Scottish whiskey in the United States, we want to make as authentic a single malt whiskey as we can. The sum total of Westland is a mixture of tradition, local terroir in the ingredients and the innovative culture of the Pacific Northwest and America at large. All of these factors come together to make our single malt whiskey as authentic and compelling as possible”.

I think that sums it up pretty nicely. Westland might be fairly young in the scheme of things, but boy are they already hitting home runs and they still have plenty of rock-solid ideas up their sleeve. Whilst it can be difficult for the established players to experiment to this degree, it’s something that smaller ‘craft’ distillers can certainly do and Westland are producing some mighty impressive results.

The Balvenie Craft Bar is back!

The Balvenie will be hosting their annual pop-up Craft Bar next week (25-28 August) at the historic Strand Arcade in Sydney. I went along last year and had a great time (you can check it out here!)

Balvenie display

This time ‘round the 12 year old Balvenie DoubleWood will be on taste alongside a series of craft masterclasses hosted by some very well-respected local artisans. From guitar makers, to book binders, to milliners and shoe makers, there’s bound to be something for everyone.


As always, it’s completely free, so if you like the sound of sipping a Balvenie whilst hearing about your favourite (or perhaps a new) craft, visit this link to see the full programme and sign yourself up!



Lagavulin 8 year old

One of Islay’s favourites celebrates its 200th anniversary

Lagavulin hits the big two-zero-zero this year and to celebrate the milestone they’ve released a trio of limited expressions. At one end of the spectrum there’s a 25 year old Lagavulin matured solely in ex-sherry casks. Then there’s the 18 year Feis Ile bottle that was only available at the distillery during the Feis Ile festival.

Lagavulin 8.jpg

They’re two expressions that sound absolutely incredible, but probably not what you’d describe as overly ‘accessible’ to the average Lagavulin fan. For that reason, I think Diageo has been rather clever in releasing a third expression, one that the vast majority of us fans will be able to access, afford and enjoy. Say hello to the 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old.

Lagavulin to me

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Lagavulin. If I were to rewind the whisky clock a number of years, I can honestly say that the very first bottle of peated Islay whisky I ever purchased was the Lagavulin 16 year old. I vividly remember the first time I tried it. I was out to dinner for my birthday and being new to the world of whisky I thought I’d try something I’d never heard of. Out came a glass of this smoulderingly smoky, sweet yet salty whisky. At that point, my interest was well and truly piqued. It was the kind of whisky that made me riase an eyebrow each time I brought the glass close to my face and it was barely a couple of days before one of the three bottles on my shelf was a brand spanking new Lagavulin 16 year old.

Lagavulin 200 news

I’m not the only one who’s been charmed by it either. You still regularly see people post on facebook or message forums who’ve newly discovered the world of peat when trying their first Lagavulin. It’s quite incredible to think that the distillery has garnered such a fan base with essentially one core bottle; the mainstay 16 year old.

Lagavulin 8 launches in Sydney

So all of that being the case, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to trying the new 8 year old ever since it was launched overseas back in March and I recently had the chance when I was invited along to the Sydney launch event at The Wild Rover.

Sean Baxter

Diageo National Ambassador, Sean Baxter, was on hand to walk us through the 8, 12 and 16 year old expressions, but before we did so, we were treated to a sensory experience unlike anything I’ve encountered before – a 3D virtual tour of the Lagavulin distillery!

I’ve always found the whole 3D goggle thing to be a bit of a kitsch novelty, but using it for a virtual distillery tour? Now that’s pure genius! We donned our branded goggles, put on our headphones and were transported to the isle of Islay.

Lagavulin VR.jpg

Starting on the pier, we took in our surroundings before moving through to a field of barley, then to a malting room where the raging kiln was charged with peat. The still house was up next, followed by the warehouse and finally to the Lagavulin tasting room. I wish I could have somehow captured the tour itself in photos, but you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it was pretty damn cool.


Our visual and auditory senses weren’t the only ones being tantalised. As the tour progressed, a team of helpers (or as I like to call them, scent ninjas) introduced various scents to complement the scenes. Think being misted with sea spray when we were on the pier, the smell of oak and earth whilst we were in the dunnage warehouse and even the the burning of peat whilst we were checking out the kiln (damn it smells good).

Lagavulin Oysters.jpg

Oysters were shucked, canapés were served and some blazing libations were crafted to round out the evening, but not before the hero was sampled.

Lagavulin Cocktail

Tasting notes

The new Lagavulin 8 year old is solely matured in refill American Oak casks and bottled at 48% ABV. Before I get stuck into the notes, I’ve got to hand it to Diageo for releasing this at a very respectable ABV and with a young age statement boldly (and proudly) printed on the label. Well done chaps!


Where the 16 year old could possibly be described as round, even supple, I’d say this is bright, punchy and active. A clean pronounced sweet peat note, oily charred citrus zest, face-puckering lemons, fresh tart pineapple and a salty saline tang. It smells youngish, a tad mescal-ish, feisty and fun.


Again, compared to the 16 year old, the palate is noticeably oily and creamy in texture, thanks in large part to the higher alcohol strength and lack of chill-filtering (a very welcome addition in my books). It’s bright and hits the palate high with a sweet rock-salt tang, crisp smoke, smouldering coals and ash before some fruit kicks in (green pears and underripe peach). On the finish I felt it turned sweeter again, whilst being both drying and ashy, with very little in the way of oak or bitterness.


The 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old is available in Australia right now at a recommended retail price of $95. A big thanks to Sean and the team from Diageo for inviting The Whisky Ledger along as a guest.

Jack Daniel’s celebrates its 150th

Jack Daniel’s, one of world’s iconic whiskey brands, celebrates it’s 150th anniversary this year. And even though Sydney Australia is a mighty long way from Lynchburg Tennessee, we were very privileged to have Chris Fletcher – Jack Daniel’s Assistant Master Distiller – in town recently to help us raise a glass and celebrate the milestone.

Old No 7

First time in Australia

Kicking of his first ever Australian tour in Sydney, I received an invitation to what was billed as a ‘time travelling whiskey experience’, one that would take us on a ‘journey through 150 years of craft and cocktail culture’. I’m not going to lie. When I first read that description I honestly thought it was just crafty marketing-speak for ‘come along to a rad Jack Daniel’s tasting hosted by Chris’. Boy was I wrong. Very, very wrong. I’m going to struggle to put this experience into words, but pour yourself a Jack, sit back and I’ll do my best to convey it.

The Jack Daniel’s range

The night started out along the lines of what I had originally expected. Arriving at Hotel Harry we were politely ushered upstairs to an ultra-rustic yet cosy room where tasting glasses lay in wait.

Chris Fletcher

Chris greeted us, filled us in on his background and ran us through the process of what makes Jack Daniel’s, well, Jack Daniel’s – their sugar maple charcoal mellowing process (check the link, there’s some pretty cool videos).

Jack Daniels Mellowing
Not only did we get to hear about this process, but we also had the chance to sample their new make spirit (aka white dog) both before and after charcoal mellowing. Having tasted the before and after samples I can attest to the difference it makes. Before mellowing, the new make has got some really pronunced grain notes, a prickly herbaceous quality to it (almost mezcal-like) and let’s be honest, it’s fairly sharp and somewhat astringent. After mellowing though it’s noticeably smoother, has a much rounder profile overall and really pronounced notes and favours of banana and apple. Fascinating stuff.


Following the new make sampling, Chris moved us on to some current expressions from Jack Daniel’s core range; Gentleman Jack, the classic Old No. 7 and their Single Barrel Select. Last in the lineup was the limited release No. 27 Gold which we’d just taseted when the door swung open to the sight of a rather disheveled looking sleep-walker. That’s right, a stumbling character, mid-dream, dressed head to toe in his pyjamas.



Unbeknownst to me at that stage, but our dishevelled friend was here to actually take us on that time-travelling journey through his memories of years gone by. We blindly obeyed, following him up some stairs whilst he theatrically reminisced about the early 1920s through to the days of prohibition. Before we knew it we’d rounded door number one where he encouraged us to enter, but only after giving a secret password.


We knocked, the door opened a crack. A shady-looking chap asked for the password and we were ushered inside where a bootlegging duo gave us some insight into the life of a booze-runner. We go the run-down on the origins of the Old Fashioned (apparently it used to be considered a breakfast cocktail?!), solved a puzzle using jars scattered throughout the room and then got to enjoy our very own Old No. 7 libation. It wasn’t long though before the door burst open once more and our dreamy friend had us on the move, leading us down a corridor this time to door number two.

Vegas baby!

Door number two looked remarkably like the first, but we’d travelled a few decades in the process and were greeted by none other than Mr Frank Sinatra.


It was now the 50s, Vegas was the place to be and Frank was chaperoned by a young dame with a heavy New Yorker accent (uncannily similar to that of George Costanza’s mother). Between their entertaining banter Ol’ Blue Eyes had us fix him a drink, just the way he liked it; two ice cubes, two fingers of Old No. 7 and a dash of water. Rumour has it that Frank was such a fan that he’s actually buried with a bottle of Jack.


In our glasses though, we were treated to neat pour of the Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select, a premium expression containing barrels that were personally selected by Frank Sinatra Jr. Just as Frank broke into a ditty our dreamer entered once more, the actors froze and we were transported down the hall to room number three. We’d time-travelled a few more decades in the process and rock-n-roll awaited us.

Rock ’n’ Roll

Good old Jack ‘n Cola was the drink of the era and check out the presentation!


Our rocker friends Ziv and Sass welcomed us backstage and got us to come up with the name for their new band. I can’t remember what the winning name ended up being, but one lucky back-stager walked away with a bottle of Old No. 7 for their efforts.


Our time travelling was over for the evening, but not before cocktails and canapés were served back at the bar. The evening ended with each of us being presented with a very special bottle of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select, from a barrel that was personally chosen by Chris Fletcher to suit the Australian palate. I’ve not opened mine yet, but I’m told it’s rich, robust and full of flavour, so I can’t wait!

Here’s to Jack

So, did this live up to the promise of ‘time travelling whiskey experience’ that would take us on a ‘journey through 150 years of craft and cocktail culture’? You’re damn right it did. Each step of this journey I took a brief moment to scout the room and it was impossible to miss the grin on everyone’s face. This was a genuinely fun and memorable tasting experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Jack Daniels Chris Fletcher

A big thanks to Chris for making the effort to come and visit us down here in Oz and also to the Brown Forman and SoundCampaign teams for making it all happen and inviting The Whisky Ledger along for the ride.

This event was also free to the public and was advertised on The Whisky Ledger’s Facebook page, so if you like the sound of it and would love to be involved in future events, head on over and like our page to stay in the loop.

Whisky & Wisdom 2007 Glenfarclas

A private single cask Glenfarclas for whiskyandwisdom.com

I love sherried whisky. Auto-correct tells me that ‘sherried’ isn’t even a real word and it’s probably correct, but as a far as I’m concerned it should be. When I say sherried whisky, I’m referring to that gorgeous mahogany or ruby-coloured whisky that’s spent its life maturing ex-sherry casks, imparting rich notes of dried fruit, spice and sweetness.


I’ve been fortunate enough to taste many different sherried whiskies, ranging from three-month old spirit from an ex-sherry cask, all the way to a 1967 43 year old Longmorn that had the opacity of black coffee. In amongst all of those sherried whiskies I’ve also encountered the broad spectrum of what can make a sherried whisky great, and what can make some of them borderline undrinkable.

There’s sherried whisky out there that’s sulphur tainted, presenting notes of gunpowder, struck matches and – at worst – an eggy rotten gas vibe. I’ve also had the heavily oaked, tannic and overly bitter drams, ones that were totally out of whack and just didn’t seem to gel with the European Oak casks they were matured in. Or ones that were perhaps left in the cask too long. Then there’s the one-dimensional, super sweet, cloying drams that taste as though a good few litres of sherry was left in the cask before it was filled with spirit. The point I’m trying to make is that sherried whisky is incredibly alluring, but it can also be incredibly varied in quality. That’s especially the case when you’re talking about first fill, single cask offerings. Get it wrong and there’s nowhere to hide!

There are two distilleries that immediately spring to mind for me when I think of high-quality, heavily sherried whisky; GlenDronach and Glenfarclas. GlenDronach happens to be my vice and I find it hard to resist the urge to pick up a new single cask bottling whenever I come across one. I know someone who happens to feel the same about Glenfarclas, but he’s taken this love (or shall we say, obsession) one step further. He’s gone and bought himself half a damn cask! Enter; Andrew from whiskyandwisdom.com and his 2007 single cask Glenfarclas.

Glenfarclas 2


The nose on this thing is sherry magic. It’s so incredibly clean and clear (there isn’t a single hint of sulphur) with a nice balance of sweet and savoury notes. On the sweet front there’s plenty of classic dried fruit notes (saltanas, flame raisins, figs and dates), there’s damp brown sugar and a syrupy molasses/treacle element. On the savoury front, old leather sofas, tobacco, sour cherry scented solvent, furniture polish and cigar-box spice. There’s a faint herbal note too, maybe even some sooty coal, but only when you really go looking for it.


The palate is well-connected to the nose; it’s thick, chewy and has a great mouth-feel with syrupy toffee sweetness, dried fruit, sour plum jam and juicy raisins up front. The sweet notes give way to a rounded warming peppery spice and some oak. The heat from the alcohol is the last thing that greets your palate – exactly the way you would want it to.


Again, nicely balanced with a long warming finish, a hint of bitter citrus rind and some light peppermint/ menthol. Even on the finish it retains the syrupy notes from the palate, this time with some cinnamon spice.

I had to re-check the bottle. Yes, this is 60.5% abv but I honestly don’t think it noses or drinks like a whisky of that proof. It comes across as well balanced for something that’s a) so young, and b) from a single cask. Not that it needs it, but air only makes it better and despite being my first dram of the evening I’ve got no desire to add a dash of water.

Some final thoughts

This is textbook sherried whisky and I love it. When you see this thing in a bottle or in your glass you can’t help but notice the deep, rich colour. You know its natural and it screams sherry goodness. So often though that initial excitement is quashed when you cop a nose or palate of sulphur-taint, or something over-oaked, or even something that’s too sherry forward where there’s nothing but cloying jammy notes.

This, however, is none of the above. It delivers syrup-laden dried fruit, it delivers gentle spice and it does so in a marvellously chewy, oily and lingering way, leaving a big smile on your dial. I’m certainly no authority on the matter, but I know when I taste a quality, clean sherried whisky; one that ticks all the right boxes for me. And this is certainly one of them.

Whisky and Wisdom’s private bottling of Glenfarclas is available to purchase now through Whisky Empire. Thanks for the sample Andrew (but for the record, #GlenDronachForLife!)