Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Westward Whisky. This in no case, by our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the purchase link at the bottom of this review, our site receives a small sponsorship payment which helps support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Distillery Row in Portland, Oregon claims to be the largest concentration of craft distillers in the world. I can’t vouch for that statement, as it depends on your definition of craft distillers and how close you envision the focus.
But I’ll give it this: with more than a dozen craft distillers within walking distance – or, if you’re a little braver, within easy riding distance on one of downtown Portland’s ubiquitous electric scooters. – there is an impressive variety of whiskeys and other distilled spirits to try on Distillery Row. (Aquavit, anyone?)
Shortly before the pandemic made things considerably more difficult, I picked up a “passport” to Distillery Row and carefully visited each outpost. There was a good amount of whiskey that I liked, and a lot that I didn’t like. One of the distilleries that clearly stands out in my memory from this weekend of 2019, however, is Westward Whiskey.
Westward specializes in American single malt, using barley from the Pacific Northwest and distilling all of its spirits on-site in Portland. One of its slogans is “Single Malt Reimagined”. What I found on my Distillery Row tour was that Westward’s whiskeys were uniformly interesting and well crafted, and I made a mental note to come back one of these days and learn more about the people behind.
This fall Westward launched a cask strength version of its original single malt – the fourth permanent expression in the company’s portfolio, joining Westward American Single Malt, Westward American Single Malt Stout Cask and Westward American Single Malt Pinot Noir Cask.
It was distilled using house brewer’s yeast before maturing in recently charred American oak barrels in Oregon. I still haven’t returned to meet the team behind Westward, but was curious to try the raw version of a whiskey I enjoyed in 2019.
Tasting notes: Westward American Single Malt Cask Strength
Vital Stats: 100% malted barley mash ball from Pacific Northwest grains and malting; 62.5% alcohol by volume/125 degrees; $99.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Appearance: There is no age statement on this whisky, but the deep, rich color lets you know it has aged. (It could also be a by-product of the new charred oak barrels.)
Nose: Proof 125 passes immediately; ethanol is evident from the first sniff. Give it a few minutes to air out and I smell maple, sawdust, vanilla extract and chocolate covered cherries. The bottom line is that there is a lot going on in this whisky.
Palace: The first sensation is sweet and a little fruity, reminiscent of the sugar-coated orange slices my grandfather kept on his kitchen counter 40 years ago. The whiskey changes on the mid-palate, however, becoming both spicier and more chocolaty. Think Mexican hot chocolate, and you’re in the neighborhood. It ends up blending into a creamy, buttery finish that doesn’t entirely work for me.
One of the problems with American single malt as a category is that no one knows what it will be like from bottle to bottle or distiller to distiller. I tend to compare them to Scotch or Irish whiskeys, given the barley base. Often, American single malts suffer from this comparison. Westward seems to know what he is and wants to be, however, and more than he wants to be. I hadn’t been wrong in 2019 when I circled Westward Whiskey on my Portland Distillery Row passport and decided I wanted to know more. I still do. This version of cask strength is something distinct in its own right – with malt, of course, but with a bourbon-like influence from the new charred oak casks and a personality that comes from the brewer’s founding in northwest Pacific underlying the distillation.