Whiskey Review: Westland Distillery Native Oak Series Garryana 3/1 - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Westland Distillery Native Oak Series Garryana 3/1

In the third year of its series exploring Quercus garryana, also known as Oregon oak, the Seattle-based Westland Distillery acknowledges that the project to harness the properties of this particular oak tree native to the Pacific Northwest has been an experiment in trial and error.

Not that anyone at Westland has expressed regret for any bottlings of the Garryana series – nor should they, especially given our impressions of Garryana 1/1 and 2/1 – Operations Director Scott Sell noted in particular how the excitement they showed in the earlier releases drained them somewhat of aging stock for future years. After that self labeled “lesson in how too much enthusiasm can be a bad thing,” the distillery decided to focus this year’s 3/1 on how Garryana’s character as a finishing agent.

As Sell explained, using this type of oak can be more challenging instead of the normal American white oak (Quercus alba) because the former wood is difficult to come by. Not only is the tree relatively rare ­– having a range limited to pockets of the Pacific Northwest and vulnerable to being supplanted by Douglas fir – its wood is also prone to warping and is therefore not often harvested as lumber.

The mash bill for 3/1 is somewhat eclectic, with a barley-specific bill of 5-malt, Washington-select pale malt, and heavily peated malt. The whiskey is then aged for at least 51 months (4.25 years) in variety of casks that include Garry oak, new American oak, first fill ex-bourbon, first fill ex-port and refill ex-Westland. The final product comes in at 56% ABV, with only about 1,600 bottles available nationally for a suggested price of about $150.

Westland Distillery Native Oak Series Garryana 3/1

Westland Distillery Native Oak Series Garryana 3/1 (image via Westland)

Tasting Notes: Westland Distillery Native Oak Series Garryana 3/1

Vital Stats: Barley bill of 5-malt, Washington-select pale malt, and heavily peated malt, aged a minimum of 51 months in Garry oak, new American oak, first fill ex-bourbon, first fill ex-port, and refill ex-Westland casks. Bottled at 56% ABV and sold for a suggested retail price of $150.

Appearance: Middle-of-the-road, golden amber hue, with a bit of a coppery color making it looks a bit redder and darker.

Nose: The first whiff of Garryana is rich and creamy, with mellow vanilla serving as the base layer of sweetness with cardamom, nutmeg, and hay giving a delightfully complex spice to the bouquet. The vanilla wanes in strength as a powerful, smoky oak takes charge, bringing with rich notes of merlot, caramel, and a hint of peat-like smoke.

Palate: Starts off like a rich, clover honey, but that very quickly takes on spicy notes of pepper and cloves. Those flavors blend with peat and oaky undertone, and then spicy notes take on a rye character that dominates the flavor profile and gives a moderate burn to the tongue. Swallowing doesn’t interrupt that burn, but allows it to slowly fade with sweet, and earthy and fruity flavor combination: a rich, creamy vanilla and peaty oak as the base flavors with notes of rye and clove adding spice while prunes and red wine add earthy fruitiness.

The Takeaway

I had to come back to this small sample bottle a couple of times to really get a feel for it. While at first I thought that Garryana 3/1 was blended too harshly in a way that allowed for the spicy notes to overwhelm the other attributes, the second sampling showed me that this is one to sip vigilantly, careful to not take in too much at a time. Walking that fine line successfully makes this a very interesting sipping experience. The peat elements give it a Scotch-like feel, the rye adds an American element, and the fruity, red wine characteristics and smoky oak give it a Pacific Northwest feel. If you happen to come across Garryana 3/1 or its predecessors, I strongly recommend you pick it up ­– and sip it slowly.

4.5
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Aaron Knapp