WESTWARD SINGLE MALT
Tempranillo Cask Exclusive Westward Club SiB Release (2021)
MASH BILL – 100% two-row barley
PROOF – 90
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Westward Whiskey Co.
PRICE – $76 (msrp is $90)
WORTH BUYING? – Oh yes.
When I recently toured the Westward facility in Portland, OR, with its founder, Christian Krogstad, I was gifted the experience of tasting their original single malt product in its process from start to finish. Literally, we began the tour by tossing back a handful of fresh barley grains. This moment was key. It has allowed me since to track that flavor note along the various journeys on which Westward takes their carefully selected grains.
We went on to sample what was essentially an ale in mid-fermentation. For its whiskey mash, Westward brews an ale made from locally malted barley and ale yeast, using a slow, low temperature fermentation. Krogstad even refers to it as “the wash,” using the common beer making term, rather than “the mash” as is common in whiskey. This is a holdover from Krogstad’s origins in craft breweries, and it gives Westward’s single malt whiskeys their signature local flavor profile. Portland is a big brewery town.
As the tour continued we tried the distillate again amidst its first and second distillations. Then we settled into a side room with a spread of eight whiskeys in front of us, starting with the White Dog, their original standard release single malt, and a variety of cask finished and otherwise specialty releases.
Of the eight whiskeys we sampled, the Tempranillo cask finished release—an exclusive for Westward Club members—was my clear favorite. For me it offered the most unusual experience when tasted side by side with the rest. Luckily a few bottles remained and I was able to take this one home with me.
So here we are, two weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle. Tasted in a traditional Glencairn, here are some notes in brief.
COLOR – various russet oranges
NOSE – spiced red teas, stone fruits like prune and plum, meaty citrus peel like orange and tangerine, a layer of chocolatey caramel, dark vanilla, fresh barley
TASTE – a nice fine peppery tingle and texture, the fruits from the red wine influence tilt a bit more into their red wine notes, the barley grain nicely toasted
FINISH – more of the citrus peel, the chocolate and red wine notes swirling together, a nice warmth at the back of the throat…
OVERALL – dark and easygoing, warm and comfortable, lively and flavorful and relaxing like a warm Autumn day outside or cozy indoor Winter afternoon
This is decidedly less intense than the 2019 high-proof K&L single barrel that introduced me to Westward. That bottling was the exact kind of thing for which the term “flavor bomb” was coined. But the relationship is clear. Despite the much lower proof, the flavors of this Tempranillo Cask release come across with great strength. The barley is ever-present without tasting grainy, more like a nut or fruit.
My sense memories actually take me to my recent experience with Kaiyō The Sheri Second Edition. That bottle had heavy sherry influences and roughly double the aging of this Westward outing. The Tempranillo cask gives the Westward a similar red-fruit influence as the Kaiyō, with an extra Tempranillo spice element that blends well with those tea notes that Westward extracts from its yeast, malted barley and barrels—which are not used barrels, as with most single malts, but new lightly charred American oak barrels, like a bourbon or rye would use. So the wood spice is more emphasized than with many single malts.
Bourbons finished in red wine casks often come across too heavy on the wine for my tastes. Sometimes a distiller nails the balance, as Eddie Russell did with his Master’s Keep Revival from 2018, itself finished masterfully in Oloroso sherry casks. There is a longer history of cask finishings and secondary-use cask agings in single malt. Malted barley seems to hit it off with sherry and port and other red wines, either with greater ease than bourbon’s corn-heavy mash bills or maybe it’s simply the single malt world has had more practice at it, I don’t know.
There is a youth to this Westward, without it tasting “young.” A lightness and a brightness. It nevertheless has a maturity about it, a relaxed quality and a sense of integration. It will be exciting to continue to follow Westward as their whiskeys grow older—if they allow for that. Older doesn’t mean better, of course. But I can imagine the mellowing that comes with age might create wonderful effects with the maturity already achieved in some handful of years.
In any case, when I’m in a mood for something cozy, enlivening and relaxing, I’ll be reaching for this bottle of Westward.
Shortly after my return from Portland and my visit there with Christian Krogstad, K&L released another exclusive cask strength single barrel of Westward single malt. Naturally the timing struck me—as did the stats of the whiskey! Aged 5 years and 2 months, in new #2 char American oak barrels, bottled unfiltered and undiluted at a robust 126.8 proof. Yes please!
But I didn’t buy it right then and there, as even I might have guessed I would do. Remembering how I bought the 2019 K&L exclusive release on sale about a year after it went up, I was curious: How long would it take for this next exclusive to sell? I’ve been checking the K&L webpage on their new release daily. At the time of this posting, I could still count on one hand how many bottles had sold.
Not yet having bought it myself, I haven’t tried it and can’t say how it is. But that 2019 cask strength release was exceptional. When I first tasted it I was shocked to know it had sold so slowly, and K&L had to discount the price to finally move it off the shelf. I’ll eventually buy this new 2021 release for sure. Sadly I need be in no hurry.
I mention this to underscore a simple point I don’t mind making ad nauseam on this blog: FOMO is a tunnel-visioned clown stuck on fashion and devoid of curiosity. I’ve been that clown. I may even be that clown again one day, to my embarrassment. But I will never forget what Westward has demonstrated to me:
True integrity is very worth seeking out. Fashion generally won’t be of much help in finding it, making promises it can’t keep. Curiosity is far more likely to lead us to Integrity’s obscure corner of the woods, with many other destinations along the way and not one promise, false or otherwise.
So go get it. I will too!