Westland Garryana 2016 Review

Whiskey Name: Westland Garryana

Distillery: Westland

Whiskey Type: Single Malt

Release Date: 2016

Price: $120 (Not available in the UK)

Age: “Not less than 36 months”

ABV: 56.2%

Mashbill: 100% malted barley. Full nerdy details below…

Introduction/Background: I love Westland. I’ve said so here and here, so it must be true. I’m not completely enamoured of their Sherry cask malt, which I found slightly muddled, but their American oak was one of my whiskies of the year in 2016. It was my contribution at the BBS popup bar, and when it featured in a recent Whisky Squad blind tasting lineup, I was thrilled to recognise it straight away.

Having been a barley acolyte long before the charms of mashed corn and rye found me, my affection is perhaps only natural. But Westland genuinely are more interesting than the average distillery, single malt or otherwise. I love the transparency on their website; you can see the malts they’re using, the percentages of different oak and the strain of yeast. I also like that they don’t hide the fact that their whiskey is pretty young, nor trot out the tired old “just a number” line.

Most of all, I love how much they genuinely explore the parameters of what single malt can be, without breaking any of the established “rules”. That primarily manifests itself in their malting. Whereas your standard malt distillery uses only one style of malt: ‘generic’, Westland cite five in their standard expression, and six in today’s Garryana, which you can see in the screenshot from their website below.

More pertinent to this particular expression though, is their experimentation with oak. Unbound by the (increasingly loose) strictures applied to bourbon, Westland have put genuine thought into how to make their whiskey properly unique. So, for their Garryana expression, a portion of their whiskey has been matured in local Quercus Garryana, which differs significantly from America’s standard Quercus Alba.

For the mother of all explanations, and to fully indulge your inner whiskey nerd, Westland have written at length on the properties and importance of Garryana here. For the sake of brevity, I’m simply going to say that it’s harder for coopers to work with than Quercus Alba and that its flavours are more in line with what you might find from European oak. More spice, less vanilla, to use a huge generalisation.

Garryana hasn’t been launched in the UK yet, though I’m rather hoping that changes now that Remy Cointreau have bought Westland. In the meantime, I have Mark Latimour to thank for the generous donation of today’s sample.

Appearance: Copper

Nose: Classic Westland bananas and dark chocolate straight away. Oak influence is more dominant than in the American Oak expression, and balances the light-medium-level peat so that the effect feels more campfire than maritime bog. The signature high-note intensity of malts kicks in, but the smoke adds and earthy depth. The longer it sits in the glass, the more intense and “classic” the peat element becomes, though the oak sweetness always keeps it in check. A little citrus plays around too.

Mouth: Spices of cloves – very prominently – sit at the top of the palate as the whiskey hits your tongue. Smokiness and chocolate malt continue; this is very earthy indeed. A viscosity and an impression of molasses coats your mouth, but the crackling alcohol and youth of spirit maintain vibrancy, without unduly distracting. All sorts of things happening – sweet, then savoury, then back to sweet. Feels like a hybrid of the flavours of classic US whiskey and a west coast or island Scotch. As with the nose, the peat grows as it sits in the glass. Bracing stuff, with good complexity.

Finish: Pretty lengthy. As you’d expect, it’s the peaty aspects that stick with you longest. But the clove spices and a touch of molasses sweetness hang around too.

Value for Money: Slightly problematic. Especially since the 2017 edition is, for some reason, another $40 or so more.

Summary: Probably my favourite US single malt I’ve ever tasted. Balcones manages more intensity, but it doesn’t have the same complexity as this. There are times when the depth and layers of the flavour make it impossible to believe that this is only three years old. And then you get some of those wonderful malty high notes – which, in a standard one-malt whisky, would be pretty dull – and you’re shown that, done well, young whiskey really can have significant charm.

This is a whiskey-lover’s whiskey. Proper thought has gone into the malting, the yeast strain, and the oak, and then they’ve been vatted by someone who really knows what he or she is doing. A single barrel at this age couldn’t live with the complexity this achieves. It’s brilliant stuff.

That said, I think it overreaches itself on price. At present, the standard Westland offerings are pretty much at the top end of what it’d be appropriate to pay for them. When you consider the whiskies available in the USA for $60 or less, pricing at $120 seems rather high. And, as mentioned, a quick peek online suggests that the 2017 entity has been set at $150+. Which means, based on the usual ratio of US-UK pricing, that if it were to appear on UK shelves you’d be looking at £180 minimum. And that’s too much. 

Overall Verdict: A must-taste, if you get a chance. (Though if you don’t like peat, tread carefully!) I do think the price should be reconsidered though.

Words by WhiskyPilgrim