Review: Westland Garryana American Single Malt Whiskey / by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

American Oak and Garry Oak; 4 years old
100% Malted Barley (5 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

Westland is obsessed with portraying the land they live on - the pacific northwest, and part of their journey to being authentic to their landscape was to investigate the local Garry oak, a rich and rarely used style of oak which was first used for wine but was too powerful. Rather than release single Garryana casks, Westland decided to blend around the powerful wood to showcase different elements it displays. At first I was dissapointed, wanting to taste the unique wood directly - but as soon as I did, I understood, and now I can taste it come out differently in all of the Garryana blends.

Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.

Review (2018)

  • Batch: 3.1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

When I visited Westland, I asked Matt Hoffman, the master distiller, and Steve Hawley, marketing director what was in Garryana 3.1. They both laughed, said it was complicated, and wouldn't give me an answer. Shane, their blender, finally let me in, and I understood why the others skirted the question...

It is a blend of 7 casks, with a bit less than 1700 bottles produced. It is Shane's version of the original vatting of Garryana, blended by Matt Hoffman, which was never released. The original recipe had been vatted with about 20% Garry oak amidst other cask types, but rather than being released, it was put back into the barrels that they came from. Of these 10 or 11 casks, 4 were pulled out for this blend - 2 Garry oak and 2 ex-bourbon. These were then vatted with 1 washington malt ex-bourbon cask, 1 peated new oak, and 1 five-malt recipe matured in new oak. The youngest whisky in the blend is 51 months (4.25 yrs) and the oldest is 58 months (4.8 yrs).

Garry oak is so intense – and I like intense whiskies – so I was always curious why they blended this until I tasted a straight garry oak whisky. It is intense. If you water this down, you can taste the garry oak – it is quite central – rich toffee, buckwheat soba noodles, molasses, and a deep spiciness – that’s the garry oak. It is very balanced, and broader than the first two releases – the first which was focused more on the phenolic, smoky elements of garryana and the second on dried fruit. This does it all - wood, smoke, malt, roasted malt, and a complex finish.

The nose brings together a lot - white grape, white oak, dried cherry, dried apricot, toffee, burning conifers, and an umami characteristic like a subtle soy sauce. The palate has light licorice, hickory smoke, roasted lemon, toffee, an incredible woodiness, clove, and jam too – quince, apricot, peach. The finish is drying, spicy, smoky, and still full of stone fruit jams. Cacao, too – and a nice flash of garry oak!

This is complex, awesome stuff. One of my favourite American whiskies I’ve tasted of late, both delicious and extremely interesting.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low - $200 is a decent clip to pay for a whisky, and, from a value perspective, you can do better.

Review (2019)

  • Batch: 4.1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The focus here is looking at the effect of blending Garry Oak with whisky matured in sherry casks. The whisky is made from 29% first fill ex-rye barrels, 29% first fill ex-bourbon barrels, 19% new Garryana oak barrels, 16% pedro ximinez hogshead barrels, and 7% refill garryana oak barrels.

The nose and taste here is the closest to Garry oak that I can remember of the past Garryana releases. It’s very distinct – buttery, toffee, waxy, and slightly salty and phenolic – but it’s surrounded nicely with roasted grain notes, dried fruit, baking spices, orange, roasted brazil nuts, and beeswax. The dried fruit character is brilliant and plays very well with the Garry oak. Nicely done – beautiful nose!

The palate is lightly sweet, with a nice mix of oaky notes, toffee, caramel, baking spices, and dried fruit. A really nice waxy sort of woodiness to it. Very unique, very interesting – it really shows a nice character of the Garry oak and sherry is a great compliment to it. Nice spices, and more dried fruit – very nice! The finish is tannic, with orange, red pepper jelly, and a rich and deep complex malty character. Oddly, I find this one a bit salty.

My favourite Garryana to date, largely due to its uniqueness and the centrality of the Garry oak which is a very unique character. I would actually be very interested in seeing what happens to a very similar blend with a bit more age on it.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. It’s very good, but quite expensive.