Talking Terroir With Westland Distillery

One of the great things that the craft spirits movement has brought back to us is regional styles of whiskey, and as the craft spirit movement grows there is a distinct push for regional or philosophical identities to set new whiskey styles apart.

American single malt whiskey has been gaining popularity in recent years, and it’s really starting to take on regional and philosophical styles. In the Pacific Northwest, Westland Distillery is working to codify its take on the terroir of the area in some pretty distinct ways.

Westland’s Outpost Range series uses different elements to highlight regional terroir. In the Garryanna version, barrels are made from a very specific type of oak that thrives in the region – Garry Oak.

But they aren’t just lopping down every Garry Oak tree they find; instead they are working to find fallen or hazard trees in order to protect this dwindling species. The thinking is that if they can demonstrate just how special this species of oak is, it can be cultivated and saved.

Garry Oak contains drastically different compounds from the species of oak used for bourbon barrels, and this gives the distillery a unique piece of the local terroir puzzle.

“We’re learning things in real time,” says Westland Master Distiller Matt Hoffman. “We are trying to build something that exists beyond the boundaries of Westland and Garry Oak should be part of that.”

The Garyryana is the fifth such edition and will be released November 7th.

The first edition, the Colere, is made of 100% Alba barley, a six-row winter barley not typically grown commercially but which does very well in the area.

Typically, non-commodity versions of barley are cost prohibitive to grow. While there are many different varietals of barley, even red, blue, purple, and black, it’s often difficult to find a nonstandard commodity barley on the market.

“We need to grow grain for the soil to put organic material in the soil and to break the disease cycle in other crops,” says Seattle-area farmer Dave Hedlin. “It loses money on paper but the value is in that organic material and breaking the disease cycle.”

Aside from finding new barley varietals that grow well in the area and making barrels from a local oak varietal, Westland is also working with Washington State peat for smoking their barley malt. The Solum, which features the Washington State peat, will be available in the winter of 2023.

Eventually these experiments could grow to include variations in the malting process meant to enhance different flavors in the barley and more.

It’s always inspiring to hear about people in the whiskey industry pushing the envelope and trying to leave their mark on the industry. Cheers to innovation in American Single Malts!

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

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