There’s no way around it, great whiskey takes time. You simply can’t rush the impact that time has on a spirit. For many craft distillers, time is not on their side. Opening a craft distillery takes a massive amount of capital, which often means that the clock starts ticking long before the first drop of new make or white dog comes running off the still. Pressure to show a return on investment and bringing money through the door often puts so much stress on small craft distillers that many bottle their spirits long before they are ready. Some distillers try to push the process by using small barrels which impart oak much faster into the spirit than larger barrels. House Spirits Distillery, in Portland, Oregon has shown that there is a sweet spot for small craft distillers for products that aren’t perhaps as old as they can be, but are aged long enough and crafted well enough to be something worth seeking out.
Westward Small Batch Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey (45% ABV/ 90 proof, $49 for 375ml) – only available in Oregon and California, this whiskey is a sneak preview of what’s possible from a good craft distiller. Made from 100% malted barley grown in the Pacific Northwest, aged in lightly charred full size American oak barrels, this two year old malt whiskey is young, but definitely not unremarkable. Medium amber in color, the nose on the Westward Whiskey showcases a nice light barley note along with maple, honey, vanilla, light cinnamon, and oak. Unlike many of the recent craft whiskeys we’ve tried that were aged in smaller barrels, the oak on the nose isn’t overly assertive and balances much better with the other aromas. The entry for the Westward Whiskey is barley forward, with honey, maple, cinnamon, caramel, ginger, dried fruit, and oak. If we didn’t know better, we’d think that this was a small batch Irish whiskey rather than small batch American. There’s a nice lushness to the mouthfeel and really solid balance to the flavors. Things are fairly consistent through the midpalate until the end when the spice spikes. In the finis,h the Westward Whiskey shows its youth with a dry abbreviated finish.
It’s surprising just how good Westward Whiskey is considering it is just two years old. Westward Whiskey is a fantastic fusion of Irish style and American craft, a whiskey that embraces both the grain and the barrel. It’s an extraordinarily significant release in an American craft market that is very dominated by oak. Westward Whiskey is sure to win awards in the American craft spirits space, and deservedly so. With this whiskey, House Spirits shows that they have the skills to place themselves among the top tier of craft distillers in the country. The only real hesitation is the price. At $49 for 375ml, this whiskey nets out at a whopping $100 per 750ml. It’s a small fortune for a bottle of two year old craft whiskey, but with very limited stocks, it’s clear that House Spirits is playing the game of supply and demand. Still, it’s hard not to get excited about what House Spirits is doing here. They’ve set the bar for young whiskey with Westward Whiskey and in the process have shown that American craft whiskey can be as much a celebration of the source grain as the oak barrel it’s aged in.