Living in a country with a relatively small population and being as geographically remote as Australia is, we are more or less known for doing things a bit differently or finding a unique way to solve problems and overcome challenges. This applies as much or more to Whisky than most aspects of life down under, as evidenced by the relatively recent rebirth and rapid growth of the local whisky industry thanks to micro/craft distilling.
Recently we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend an event at Archie Rose for the official launch of the Westward American single malt whiskey here in Australia. We were pleasantly surprised to see the parallels between the American craft distilling philosophy and that of the new wave of Australian distillers with a common focus on using local product, in a way that respects the ingredients (barley etc) and makes the best use of its characteristics to develop flavour and a unique identity.
Listening to lead distiller from Westward, Miles Munroe and Head Distiller at Archie Rose, David Withers (more on this guy in his own article later) was truly a humbling and fascinating experience.
Westward is made at House Spirits distillery in Portland, Oregon - a very picturesque city of approx 675,000 people with a widely regarded arts, theatre, music, coffee and brewing scene. Originally founded in 2004 by Christian Krogstad and Thomas Mooney, House Spirits Distillery were one of the pioneers of the craft distilling movement in the Western US and are the anchor of Oregon's famed Distillery Row - which now includes Aria Gin, Eastside Distilling and Stone Barn Brandyworks to name a few.
In 2015 the distillery underwent a major expansion overseen by Miles. House Spirits distillery currently maintain approximately 3000 barrels in its Warehouse across town in Clackamas and are producing around 273,000 litres of whiskey a year.
The importance of brewing as part of the whiskey making process is a core focus for the team that make Westward. All of the distilling team, including lead distiller Miles Munroe have extensive backgrounds in brewing, which is considered fundamental to ethos, quality and flavour of the whiskey being made.
The expansion of the distillery in 2015 allowed for the team to bring all of the production from milling, brewing, fermenting, distilling and bottling in house, to ensure that each stage of production meets their exacting standards and while maintaining the philosophy of their craft brewing backgrounds and keeping things as local as possible.
As part of the story of what makes Westward American single malt whiskey interesting and unique, we were fortunate to be able to meet, listen to and chat with the lead distiller, Miles Munroe.
Miles’ journey with House Spirits distillery and Westward began in 2013 when he was hired as the production distiller. He quickly identified and helped remove production 'choke points' to help increase output sixfold while maintaining consistency, quality and adhering to the house principles. Now managing a team of six full time distillers who produce 25+ barrels of whiskey a week (up from 2 a week in 2013), the future of Westward is in capable hands.
I think it is fair to say Miles has won a lot of fans here in Australia through his easy going demeanour, obvious passion and pride in what he does and the sheer breadth and depth of knowledge he possesses and his willingness to share it with anyone, over a beer or a whiskey.
This is what it's all about - the combination of the above elements result in what brings us all here in the first place, the whiskey.
Westward American single malt whiskey is made from a wash of 100% Northwest two row pale malted barley (a strain of barley local to the distillery and commonly used by breweries all over the western united states to make beer). Since 2015 all brewing is carried out on site, in a purpose built, state of the art brewhouse.
Utilising their familiarity with the barley and their background in American craft brewing, fermentation is carried out 'low and slow' using ale yeast to encourage spicy, bright, fruity notes in the wash.
The wash is then double pot distilled, first in a 3000 gallon (approx 11,300 litre) pot still, then finished in a 700 gallon (~2650 litre) custom pot still of the distillery’s own design. The stills have been designed to promote a robust, malty and fruity spirit.
The newly made spirit is then placed in freshly charred American oak barrels and matured in the rack house in Clackamas (a nearby suburb in Portland). The weather in Oregon then works its magic on the barrels and spirit, through its warm dry summers and cool, wet winters. Angels are thirsty in Portland, sometimes draining up to 20% per year!
Best of all we got to sit down and try some whiskey - below are our thoughts on what we smelled and tasted, and with Westward now popping up in all good bars, liquor stores and friends whiskey cabinets, we hope you go out and try some soon too.
Nose: Honey, sweet malt biscuit and brown sugar. Hints of dried fruit but very subtle.
Palate: Gentle barrel influence present in the form of a mild baking spices nicely offset and compliment the sweeter flavours of butterscotch and sweet malt. Finish shows a hint of lemon and ripe apples. The malt character is very different from that found in most other whiskies which my brain is telling me is probably due to the focus put into the brewing process.
Find Westward here!
Thanks to May Lawrence Photography for the photos.
Thanks to Miles Munroe for putting up with our random questions (video will go up soon)
Thanks to Margo Jamieson from House Spirits, the team from Barranows for inviting us and Archie Rose for hosting and just generally being awesome as always :)