Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Westward Whiskey. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
You’re probably familiar with the gin Westward Whiskey’s founder, Christian Krogstad, made to build capital for the distillery: Aviation Gin. While quite a few distilleries get their start releasing gin and vodka to build capital for whiskey, it’s not common for those releases to become household names (or to become celebrity owned). Given the success of Aviation, it’s no surprise Westward has attracted a lot of positive attention. Fortunately, it’s not just hype.
Westward is one of the founding members of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission. As I’ve written previously when discussing Westland Distillery (another founding member distillery in Seattle, Washington), the Commission has strict requirements for its members for labeling their whiskeys as American Single Malt. Like Scottish whisky laws, these rules are in place to set a baseline standard for customers. Westward meets and exceeds these requirements, especially when it comes to the origin of the grain. Their whiskeys are brewed from Pacific Northwest-grown two row barley and are entirely distilled in house using their custom pot still. They mature the whiskeys in new American oak barrels. Miles Munroe, the Head Distiller and Blender at Westward, describes their process succinctly as “100% from malted barley, a product of one distillery, and aged in oak barrels.” What’s fascinating, too, is when they produce non-single malt whiskeys that still adhere to the broader spirit of their standards.
This brings us to the release I am reviewing today, the Westward American Two Malts Chocolate Rye Whiskey. Like their American Single Malts, this is produced at one distillery using locally sourced products and aged in oak barrels. The difference is, as the name suggests, the use of 2.5% chocolate rye in the mash bill with the rest being malted barley.
According to Munroe the interest in crafting a chocolate rye whiskey comes from the core of how they define themselves: as brewers making whiskey. Munroe himself is a former Portland brewer, as is Krogstad and most production employees. Brewer’s yeast strains and pale malts are employed in their on-site brewery, and barrels are swapped out to local (beer) breweries to age beers before being reused at Westward to finish their whiskeys. The emphasis on the brew naturally leads to experimenting with grain types.
What is chocolate rye? This is a type of rye that is heavily roasted. Often used in dark beers, it can contribute richness, color, and flavors associated with dark colored grains such as coffee, pumpernickel toast, and chocolate. This is not a widely made style and is more often seen in reserve bottlings such as in the Master’s Collection from Woodford Reserve. As a fan of dark rye beers, I was excited to have the opportunity to taste this release from Westward.
Tasting Notes: Westward American Two Malts Chocolate Rye Whiskey
Vital Stats: Distilled in 2016, new American oak, 45% ABV, mash bill: 97.5% malted barley and 2.5% chocolate roasted rye, SRP $99.95/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: The color is a moderate golden honey with an amber undertone.
Nose: The Westward American Two Malts Chocolate Rye Whiskey leaps out of the glass with notes of bruised apples, French vanilla ice cream, cocoa powder, and golden toast. There’s a lightly floral component reminiscent of saffron and wild daisies. On further sniffing, I pick up notes of puffed grain cereal, warm honeycomb, melted candy bar, and tomato juice. This is very appealing.
Palate: The intriguing tomato aroma carries through to the palate, giving off a rich umami flavor. There are notes of yellow apples and oatmeal porridge. It has a rich body with a dense flavor of toasted cocoa nibs. On the fruit side, there are complex flavors of fresh apple slices with lemon and fresh red grapes. I pick up notes of dried banana and whole wheat bread on the finish. The finish is quite fruity and similar to the nose, with notes of wildflower honey, toasted cereal, and fresh apples.
Wow. This is one of the finest American whiskeys I’ve had the opportunity to taste. It has a beautiful and restrained mélange of fruit, grain, spice, and savory flavors. I love the subtle toasted chocolate notes. It’s delightful neat or over rocks. I wouldn’t bother using it as a mixer as the whiskey is very complete and harmonious, but a splash of water or soda wouldn’t be amiss. As a Westward Club Spring 2022 exclusive, this is not in regular distribution. To purchase, sign up for their club on their website and order directly from the distillery. If you’re a fan of the distillery, note that they also release a co-lab with Fort George Brewery for the upper tier of the Club. And if you’re a fan of Fort George, like I am, head over to the brewery to taste their bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts using barrels from Westward Whiskey and IJW Whiskey Company.
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Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...