American Whiskey Snobs, Have No Fear, Westland is Here!

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Forgive this naive whiskey lady, but enjoy a personal experience learning about one of Seattle’s fastest growing trends, and believe it or not, it’s NOT BEER. But there is Filson, and you can’t hide from the plaid and beards. Enter…Whiskey. Many of you foodie trendsters may already roll your eyes at this new, but what I love about it now is how it’s bringing the farming community together. Check out this in-depth Seattle Times article explaining this trend in last Sunday’s paper.

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Surprise stop at Project V Distillery during a wine tour in Woodinville (2011)

Remember the days when distilling for commercial purposes was illegal? I must be getting old when it sounds like something out of the prohibition era…but the truth is, that Washington only very recently started allowing craft distilleries to enter the market place (2008).

Once the market opened, distilleries have quickly introduced themselves the same time microbrewies started saturating the northwest (not that I’m complaining). But unlike beer, fine liquor, specifically whiskey, takes a bit longer before it begins to yield something worthy of consumption.

And here we stand, 7 years since Washington started even issuing permits for distilleries, and the early birds are just now able to collect some of the fruits of their labor. Enter: Westland Distillery, est. 2009.

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You may have noticed the beautiful glass box in Sodo on 1st Avenue. It reflects a modern art vibe with rustic themes (hence, the Filson). The wide entrance displays limited Filson handbags and apparel branded with the Westland logo. A glass case showcases award winning whiskies. On the other side is Westland merchandise that looks like it could be something out the a Free People catalog. As someone who works in marketing, I’m always fascinated with how people choose to brand themselves. Whoever is in charge of Westland’s branding and marketing, you get major kudos. Normally, I overlook a lot of “gimmicky” trends, but I couldn’t help but LOVE their brand. It was modern, sophisticated, and clean. Their merchandise was made of quality materials, not just a thin see through cotton shirt that was screen printed in China. The beautiful distressed wood walls turns out are made of re-purposed wood from an old local mill (sorry can’t remember from where). IT all fits together so perfectly, you almost wish it wasn’t so pretty. (Ok the peat bar soaps was a bit much for me, but you have to admit, still cool) All I wanted was some good whiskey, and the grand room of barrels only tempted our taste buds. The good news: Westland did not disappoint.

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I know, even the barley sample table is cool.

I know, even the barley sample table is cool.

Naturally, I was the first to arrive for our group tour (courtesy of Radiator Whiskey‘s flask club), and our guide Brian greeted me. It wasn’t long before I had a glencaim glass of their American single-malt whiskey in hand as we chatted. (I have to apologize now because this genius forgot her memory card so you’ll have to suffer with the mediocre phone photos.) Westland only makes Single-Malt Whiskey. The explanation for what single-malt actually means is a lot more simple than you thing. Single for it was distilled at one distillery, and malt, for the type of barley used. In Westland’s case, they only use malted barley.

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I must admit I wasn’t listening to Brian well because in my head all I could think about was how pleasantly surprised I was with how much I liked what was in my glass. I never turn down a glass of whiskey, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this. I’m not going to pretend I know anything about whiskey, because I just don’t know (yet). But what I do know, is that the aroma didn’t burn the nostrils (even on a Sunday), the flavor was subtly sweet and smooth, and I would call it a “GOOD everyday whiskey”. Something that is extremely pleasing to the pallet, that you don’t feel bad knocking back at the end of the day. I wouldn’t hide it in a cupboard coveting it for a special day. It’s just so good, you actually want to drink it and share it with your friends. If you’re not happy with that description, here’s Westland’s description:

“Our flagship Westland American Single Malt Whiskey represents the truest expression of our house style. At the core of this whiskey’s flavor profile is a grain bill comprised of five different roasted and kilned barley malts giving our whiskey a character unique to Westland Distillery. The base is a pale malt, grown in the State of Washington. To that we add specialty malts, a concept inspired by the vibrant craft brewing culture of the Pacific Northwest. Deep and rich in flavors, these specialty malts contribute to the whiskey notes of chocolate, nuts, cookies, pastries, mocha, caramel and raisins. Our Belgian brewer’s yeast further enhances flavor development, creating fruity esters during fermentation. And finally, maturing predominantly in the finest new American oak casks complements our other choices with vanilla, caramel and coconut notes, leaving us with an approachable and mature whiskey.”

Radiator ladies with their choice of Westland!

Radiator ladies with their choice of Westland!

I wasn’t the only one that finished their first glass quickly. I may not know a lot about whiskey, but I do know that when you are selling bottles from cask #242 and doing THIS well for yourself…you know the head distiller knows what he’s cookin. According to Brian, the head distiller, Matt Hoffman, has been distilling since he was 13. Oh yeah…this guy knows what’s up. He’s got it down to a science.

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Westland uses locally sourced barley (like most any PNW crafter because they are so plentiful here), but what will make Westland stand apart from any other distillers in this country, is that they will soon be able to be the only distillery in the country that uses their own peat. A recent wetland purchase will allow the master crafters to use their own peat instead of importing it from the peat king-country of the world, Scotland. The Pacific Northwest environment is a natural home base for cultivating the best ingredients for Single-Malt Whiskey! Barley, peat, and some of the best naturally sourced water available!

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Brian shows everyone the process of charring and roasting barrels

Brian shows everyone the process of charring and roasting barrels

The sherry casks, imported from Spain, produce a great whiskey as well. It definitely has a sweeter aroma with just a touch more complexity. Definitely not the “everyday throw back” kind. But tasty as well.

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Now the rest of the tour details do get a little bit hazy as the day went on….but I can confidently say if you haven’t been able to take a proper distillery tour before, you should give Westland a whirl. It’s no basement project, and you really begin to understand how much work goes into distilling and why GOOD whiskey is so damn expensive. Good thing American Single Malt Whiskey is cheap(er?)

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What I love about Westland is that they love sharing what they do  (you can even sample the different barleys they use), their clearly passionate in what they’re creating (thousands of barrels..waiting for their day), and they make the best introduction to american style single-malts. I’m excited to see how they will continue to grow and influence the American stance in the world market.

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So what’s flask club you ask? The first rule about flask club…

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…is you don’t talk about flask club – you just drink.

 

Like me!

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