WESTWARD AMERICAN SINGLE MALT
2021 cask strength release
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 125
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Westward
PRICE – $85
WORTH BUYING? – Yes siree Bob!
When I first uncorked this cask strength bottling of Westward’s single malt I thought, Man oh man! Can Westward do no wrong? True to every past experience I’ve had with Westward, it was an easy drinking flavor bomb.
My intro to Westward was a 2019 cask strength store pick from K&L, and that bottle was downright explosive. At 131 proof, it wasn’t pulling any punches. And yet the heat didn’t singe or distract. Rather, it supported the immense flavors with strength and confidence.
I mentioned this bottle to Westward’s founder, Christian Krogstad, when I interviewed him in August 2021. A sly grin creeped across his face. He remembered that release, and said “someone” must have accidentally put that distillate into the barrel at a higher proof than the legal max of 125, and neglected to make note of it.
Well I’m glad someone did. Because that bottle was an experience. In addition to tasting amazing, it spurred all kinds of thoughts around the city of Portland, where Westward is based, and the politics going on that Summer of 2020 when I was writing up that post. Good whiskey doing what good whiskey does—prompting interesting conversations.
Next came my visit to Westward’s distillery in Portland. After a thorough tour of the facility, Krogstad laid out an extensive whiskey flight, which we gradually made our way through over the course of the interview. My favorite was the Tempranillo cask finished single malt, a single barrel bottling for their whiskey club.
Luckily a few bottles remained and I was able to take one home with me. This bottle demonstrated Krogstad’s aim to find wine barrels that do not add anything new to the whiskey in terms of flavor, but rather bring out more of something already there. In this instance, the innate fruitiness of the barley came across with a particularly red-fruit richness, and the oak spices were given a lift by the spicy remnants of the Tempranillo.
Alongside that Tempranillo cask finished bottling, I picked up this standard cask strength release. I’m nearly halfway through the bottle as I now sit down to take these formal notes. The bottle has been open for about six weeks. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – roasted pumpkin, russet-cherry reds
NOSE – massively fruity barley predominates, with spiced vanilla caramel, salted caramel, rich milk chocolate, toffee, and a faint whiff of dry oak
TASTE – makes good on the promise of the nose, carrying through those flavors, with stronger toffee notes and a dash of black pepper
FINISH – warm, the fruity barley turning toward nutty, lingering with a mildly prickly sensation at the edges
OVERALL – another perfectly balanced flavor bomb from Westward
From both the Tempranillo cask finished whiskey and that thorough flight that Krogstad took me through, I know it’s not just the high proof that’s pushing all this flavor forward. Even Westward’s standard 90-proof releases abound with flavor like this and that K&L cask strength outing do. At cask strength, the heat doesn’t burn so much as soak into your bones, without singeing the flavors at all.
Another through line for me is the particular fruity barley note. I couldn’t name it with that K&L single barrel, because at that time I hadn’t yet gone on Krogstad’s tour, which began with him dropping a scoop of fresh barley grains into the palm of my hand for me to toss back. That was a key moment toward my charting that grain flavor through the fresh distillate and on into the eight different renditions of Westward whiskeys Krogstad then shared with me during our interview.
The sum total effect is like a homemade cobbler of some kind, with a bready, nut and grain-laden crust around rich fruits baked into a compote state. Savory and sweet notes collide and complement one another with ease. The 125 proof shows great restraint. One would never guess this was effectively a medical-grade sanitizer! I’ll consider it sane-itizer—very pleasurable and relaxing.
American single malt whiskeys are really starting to catch on. Westward is popping up more and more in my whiskey social media feeds. And distilleries like Virginia Distilling, St. George Spirits and Great Wagon Road Distilling are getting more and more attention. The national emphasis remains on bourbon, then rye. But I wonder how long it will be before American single malts really explode?
Westward makes a nice bridge from bourbon in this regard. Rather than aging their distillate in used casks like any scotch or Irish whiskey would, they use new American oak—the legally required aging vessel for bourbon and rye. So Westward’s already flavor-packed malted barley distillate also benefits from the innate vanilla and oak spices imparted by fresh barrels.
With their dual commitment to flavor and balance, Westward is creating crowd-pleaser whiskeys with the kind of complexity connoisseurs are looking for. This is very much in line with Krogstad’s insistence on hospitality. Anyone at the party should be welcomed to have a good time.
I’ll continue to enjoy this bottle, and look forward to the next!