By Richard Thomas
Some may put the focus of their whiskey geekery on still design or mash bills (a rare few wisely include yeast to that), but seeing as how 40 to 80% of the flavor of a whiskey comes from its barrel maturation, I prefer to focus on wood, climate and time.
One of the best outcomes of the world whiskey boom is how it is bringing new types of oak into the cooperage. Japanese Mizunara is finding use outside Japan; Mackmyra is using a native Swedish variety to a limited extent; and in the United States there has been some experimentation with using maple to make barrels. Also, Washington State’s Westland Distillery is using Garryana oak to age their malt whiskey. Westland is keen on their local ingredients; whereas locally sourced grain is commonplace in the American craft whiskey sector, Westland is using locally sourced peat and native oak too.
This is their second release of Garryana, and like the first one it’s not entirely aged in that exotic wood. This time around, the constituents in the blend are: 21% Pale Malt aged in new Garryana oak; 27% Five Malt aged in new white oak; 52% Pale Malt aged in old white oak. The main difference this year is no peated whiskey was used. It’s a no age statement (NAS) whiskey, bottled at (a rather low) cask strength of 100 proof.
As I expect from a (probably youngish) whiskey with roughly half the content coming from used barrels, the coloring is golden, sitting in a place between white wine and apple juice. A swish and coat drops a few nice legs.
The nose smells a lot like a situation I know well, but I doubt many other people do: stacking green hardwood up in a musty barn or cellar. Add in a little toffee and a little clove to spice things up and you’ve got it. The scent is little odd perhaps, but certainly not lacking in character.
Just every so slightly hot on the tongue, the flavor is predominately peppery and toasty, smoky wood in the main, and that last part despite the absence of the peat, all this on a modest, honey sweet foundation. The flavor turns oaky at the end, before turning full-on spicy and earthy in the finish.
I never got to try Garryana 2016, so I can’t really say if the wood shines out more in this one or not. It’s certainly there, though. If you know your wood, you’ll pick up on it for no other reason than it’s different. This is an interesting whiskey, if a straight forward one, and anyone who likes a spicy Scotch should enjoy this as well.
Only 2,600 bottles of Westland Garryana 2017 are out there, and it’s officially marked at $150. Some of the remaining bottles from last year’s release are listed as high $400.