How the Whiskey Gets Made at Westland Distillery
Single-malt whiskey: a phrase practically synonymous with names like Glenlivet, Laphroaig and their kin. But in the Pacific Northwest, more than 4,000 miles away from the peat bogs of Islay, one distillery is giving their own spin on what was once the sole domain of Scotch whiskey.
As one of the largest whiskey distilleries west of the Mississippi, Westland is known and loved among Seattleites. But for those of us who don't call the state of Washington home, join us on a step-by-step tour of Westland's facility below:
Westland, headquartered in Seattle’s industrial SoDo neighborhood, opened its doors in 2010 with a mission in mind: to create a distinctly American-style single malt whiskey, using the ingredients that grow in the region’s lush, verdant landscape (and perhaps with a little inspiration from the area’s ever-growing craft beer movement, too). Since then, Westland has become one of the largest single-malt producers in the country, producing out of a 13,000 square foot distillery.
Though barrels line the walls at Westland, most of its casks are stored in Westland’s rackhouse, located on Washington’s North Bay in a small town called Hoquiam. The 8,000-person town, which happens to be Westland founder Emerson Lamb’s hometown, has a steady, predictable and damp climate, similar to that of Scotland: an ideal environment for the maturation process.
Westland has produced a regular lineup of three whiskeys (in addition to special casks and one-offs). One major difference between them and their whiskey-making peers? There’s no rye or corn to be found here. Westland uses barley exclusively, most of which is grown in or around the state.
A Washington pale malt forms the backbone for most of their whiskeys, with specialty malts (such as pale chocolate, Munich, and others) adding nuance.
Their American Single Malt, made with a pale malt base and four specialty malts, is matured in new American oak casks for a minimum of 24 months. A sip may yield notes like graham cracker (on the nose), chocolate custard and cherries. The Peated Malt, released this year, is a study in balance: made with both pale and peated malt spirits (combined after maturation), the end result is smoky without being too overwhelming. Think less “leather shoe lit aflame,” more campfire, leather and earthy spices. And, while Westland may have only released its Sherry Wood single malt this year, it’s over a century in the making: the distillery matures the whiskey in American oak casks that once held sherry in Montilla for decades, before making the return journey back stateside to lend fruit and spice notes to Westland’s whiskey.