There can be a lot of debate around what makes the best whiskey. Flavor is everything. Aroma adds complexity. It’s a broad landscape that makes up the variety of whiskeys available, but it’s always a certain, elusive something — the indefinable unique ingredient — that makes it like nothing else.
At Westland Distillery, that ingredient is something uniquely Pacific Northwest. Forget about traditional norms that rely on peat smoke or age. Open your mind to a new way of thinking about top-shelf whiskey: Barley. On the surface, it sounds simple — barley is a well-known grain — but not all barleys are grown the same. Heritage barleys have distinctive flavors, and reflect the effects of their growing conditions, just like the terroir of wine grapes influences the flavor of each year’s vintage. Westland’s Colere American Single Malt Whiskey takes single malt back to its roots – barley roots.
Barley makes a better whiskey
THE NEW FRONTIER IS UNDERGROUND
Do all whiskeys use barley?
What is terroir?
Barley is only one of four ingredients used to make Colere. It’s a seemingly simple stew — barley, water, yeast and oak — but the complexity behind getting the taste and aroma right is what drove Westland to challenge the convention of traditional whiskey making.
The whiskey realm is not all peat smoke, kilts and bagpipes anymore; it’s about sustainable models that work for everyone from farm to glass and truly reflect the places it’s made, says Steve Hawley, director of marketing at Westland Distillery.
“We set out to chart the direct impact of barley on flavor,” Hawley adds. And in the spirit of exploration, the distinct flavor profiles of many of Washington’s heritage barleys will be tapped.
Casting a wide net — there are thousands of barley varieties — Westland draws on the old and new to explore how barley can infuse different flavors into their single malt whiskeys. And it’s involved in every step of the process, from breeding and growing to malting and distilling.
The Pacific Northwest has also proven to be the perfect place to test the boundaries. The land is fertile and cool, mild winters help barley thrive. Washington State University’s The Bread Lab is a critical partner in exploring the possibilities that barleys offer. Breeding barleys that are suited to our environment and designed to deliver unique flavors is valuable, Hawley says. Valuable, and sustainable.
“Without the Bread Lab, none of this works,” Hawley says. “Too often, in this business, barley is disregarded — it’s simply seen as a vehicle for producing alcohol.”
Amber waves of grain
Colere doesn’t incorporate any smoke — smoky flavors come from using peat to dry the barley during malting. It’s one more way Westland breaks from tradition, since smoke is a long-standing part of Scotch whisky tradition.
When it comes to the casks used for maturing the whiskeys that will eventually become Colere, Westland also takes a different tack than American whiskey producers who primarily use virgin American oak casks. In order to let the barley flavor have the spotlight, these whiskeys are filled in used oak casks, most of which previously held other Westland whiskey.
Make no mistake — these aren’t arbitrary decisions but carefully considered methods.
“We’re looking to limit the influence of other raw ingredients to highlight and ultimately assess the nuances of the unique varieties of barley we’re using,” Hawley says. “Many in this industry say that the cask leads to 70% to 80% of a whiskey's flavor. But that’s a choice, not an absolute. At Westland, and specifically with Colere, we choose to accentuate the flavor of the grain.”
What do I need to know about drinking whiskey?
From field to bottle
Barley thrives in the Pacific Northwest due to the region’s rainfall, long temperate winters and cool summers.
Westland Distillery is scaling new heights with its whiskeys. Acknowledging centuries-old traditions, it’s boldly breaking unchartered territory with its approach to embracing and celebrating the role barley plays in creating unique and memorable single malt whiskeys.
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click on the photos to follow the journey
Barley is an ancient grain. It’s a member of the grass family that is grown across the globe. It’s said to have first been harvested more than 10,000 years ago. Westland uses it to make its unique whiskey, but it’s also commonly used for beer, other distilled beverages and in various foods.
No one barley is just like another. With multiple varieties — old and new — the different barleys that can be used in whiskey offer a plethora of options.
Dr. Steve Jones and his team at the WSU’s Bread Lab breed barley that’s specifically suited to the Pacific Northwest climate. This helps deliver a unique flavor and gives back to area farmers in an environmental and ecological capacity.
Breaking with the norm, Westland uses a malting partner willing to adapt to the unique barley it uses in its whiskeys. Skagit Valley Malting lets barley be barley. With revolutionary technology, barley of any type can be malted on the terms and timeline it needs — a break from traditional methods.
Sit back and sip.
No. Most whiskeys use a blend of grains. Some distillers use corn, rye or wheat grains in their whiskey, and each grain gives the whiskey a distinct flavor. Corn is common in bourbon, but wheat grains are also used. And rye, well, that’s called rye whiskey. Whiskeys that only use barley are referred to as malt whiskey and when distilled by a single distillery are called single malt. Single malts are made all over the world, including America, with the most well-known being Scotch single malts from Scotland.
Terroir refers to the environmental factors that affect a crop, such as climate, soil and farming practices. It’s a term that’s long been applied to wines, but single malt whiskey can also claim to have terroir as whiskeys can display different flavors depending on where the barley was grown.
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click to Read these 5 Tips
Enjoy it. It’s OK to add water or ice, but don’t add Coke.
Smell the whiskey, not as deeply as wine, but give it a sniff to get a sense of its different flavors and aromas.
Start with a neat glass and add a few drops of water at a time to enhance its nuances.
Compare and contrast different single malt whiskeys side by side to discovery the variety of flavors.
Read up on how the whiskey was made to understand a distillery’s choices.
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