[Westland produced these single barley varietal whiskeys using the same yeast for all three and aged each for 49-50 months in ex-Heaven Hill Bourbon casks, to allow drinkers to focus in on what each particular varietal brings to the table. We tasted all three together and divvied up the reviews amongst ourselves. As worthy of a full review as each one is, we decided to consolidate them into one long set of tasting notes because Bill came up with one killer rating for all three.]
Westland Pilsen, Cask no. 2508, Malt from BestMalz (for Lolz),59.8 –John
The nose has an almost electrical menace to it, like a guitar player on amphetamines strumming wildly after the strings fray and snap. Initial notes of witch hazel (endorsed by witches named Hazel) have me check the label for the ABV. “Uh-huh,” I think to myself in confirming my hypothesis, and “uh-oh.” But more nosing brings out lots of spiciness and base notes of mulched cedar bark. Before long I’m getting some fruit and palm oil, a far cry from the kinetic citrus I might have guessed at first blush.
The mouth is unmistakably the taste of apple sauce fermented in a Tupperware cup left in a car of a Sunday driver. Call her “Granny Smith.” But then the rest of the meal begins to emerge: perfectly spiced Cajun casserole with alligator, crawdads, and cream base (from Half & Half). Cherry sauce, but with grapes to cut the tartness, bring this into the perfect balance.
As I turn to consider the finish, my thoughts go back to the inception. This must have been great juice right out of the spirit safe. And by bottling it at around 60%, it allows all of the flavors to stack together like the elements of a pocket telescope. By this point, formidable spice competes with an appealing bitterness on the drying finish. If I was going to do a wine pairing with the finish, it would be a California white, chilled to 39-degrees.
Westland Golden Promise, Cask no. 2681, Malt from Thomas Fawcett & Sons, 58.5% –Stephen
Nose this, and you’re transported immediately to The Electric Banana, a dive club in Pittsburgh, on their signature Flaky Crust Night: plum tarts abound, butter chess pies encircle them, and thick-crusted plantain empanadas try to fool newcomers into thinking they’re biscuits.
Taste this whiskey, and you’re immersed in a West Virginia hazelnut vindaloo thickened with heavy cream. It’s nutty, flinty, with strong hints of aluminum canteen with allspice and tannins of the grape and not the wood variety. But it’s the creaminess, inflected with bright pineapple notes and pepper, that gets you. You can see why this strain of barley was a favorite in the Scotch industry for so many years.
Stop sipping and take a glorp, and it rises to full-on snickerdoodle. Use a dropper to put a little water on your tongue, then add a half-glorp of the whiskey (for God’s sake, don’t do the mixing in your glass!) and you’ll descend straight into a Girl Scout cookie flashback.
The finish is high and bright, with pepper kicking in like a bass note. Then comes a tiny roadside cyclone, a tumbleweed pepper popper mattress topper muffin top. When the alliteration gets away from you, this is your dram.
Westland Maris Otter, Cask No. 2560, Malt from Thomas Fawcett & Sons, 60.3% –Bill
Westland’s To Do List:
✓ Become an industry leader in the category of American Single Malt
✓ Get acquired by a large multinational who will nurture careful growth.
✓ Put out an amazing range of interesting American whiskies.
✓ Be ecologically thoughtful and work with local farmers.
☐ Pander to Bill of the Malt Impostors.
Well, look at that. Westland’s left a box unchecked. Wait, what? They’ve named a whiskey after an otter?!? Hello there! Oh, you’re named after a strain of barley named after an otter? Weird flex, but ok. Hmmm. So, you were created in the 1960s by crossing the varieties Proctor and Pioneer. Sure, that equation makes sense to me!
The nose on the Maris Otter opens wine-y, pine-y, and kinda end-of-the-line-y. We got grape poptarts stuck inside a toaster made from a claret jug (but not the claret jug given to the winner of the British Open), pinot greggio (which is a pinot grigio made by our friend, Gregg), pop rocks simmering on a paella pan that’s made from carbon steel, and the resolve of a first-time middle-aged parasailor who really, really, really doesn’t want to wipe out in front of his taunting, mocking children. No, John, the latter bit is not a autobiographical note! It’s so plummy that it would stop up Robert Parker’s nose, and cause him to turn to purple from both lack of oxygen and anger that he couldn’t complain that it wasn’t plummy enough. It’s hot and explosive, like gunpowder raisins hiding in otherwise innocuous lilac sorbet.
On the mouth, the tannics compete with the burn—I’m going to add water in a minute before I make like a camel lost in the Alps—and it’s as if David Copperfield made David Caruso’s career vanish as quickly as a meteor crosses the sky. We got also the kind of raisins that Van Gogh probably ate in Arles as he dwelt on how few paintings he was able to sell as well as how hard it was to enjoy the opera with only one ear. With water, a generous dollop, the Maris Otter spreads richness like Andrew Carnegie endowing libraries.
The finish is like a loaf of toasted whole wheat Wasa bread loaded up with wheatberries. It’s got a bit of lingonberry/red onion jam (not marmalade!), and runs on and on and on. It’s distinguished, character-driven, and playful, like a web-footed mustelid eating a pack of stolen Jujubes.
On the scale of the opuses of Ludwig Van Beethoven–
The Westland 2019 Summer Single Cask Series combine to form The Archduke Piano Trio–The Golden Promise is the violin, the Pilsen (BestMalz for the Lolz) is the piano, and the Maris Otter is the Cello. I’m off now to spend 45 minutes or so with the Westlands and some transcendent music that’s not only withstood the weight of two centuries, but has also bent classical chamber music to its will.