Tag Archives: American

Copperworks American Single Malt

While in Seattle recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to try a tasting at the new Copperworks distillery. Like Westland, this distillery is also focusing on an “American single malt”, although they are coming at it from a beer brewing perspective.

While its often said that whisky is just distilled beer, there are noticeable differences in production methods. While in both cases malted barley is the source of sugar for fermentation, brewers boil the wort to remove bacterial contaminants that can spoil the beer’s flavour. They also add hops – the bitter-tasting fruit of a vine plant – to balance out beer’s natural sweetness and to act as a natural preservative to stabilize the flavour. Neither step is necessary when distilling whisky, as you not drinking the base product – instead, for whisky you simply ferment the wort, take the resulting wash and distill it. This greatly increases the alcohol level in whisky (which naturally preserves it). Oak barrel aging is then done to balance the whisky’s flavour.

Typically, some brewers have gotten into whisky making by distilling their actual beer (which may require an extra round of distillation, to handle the extra contaminants). Indeed, the press release for the first batch of Copperworks whiskey stated that it was “made from a high-quality craft beer brewed from 100% pale malted barley” from Elysian Brewery.

I sampled Copperwork’s batch 003, which differs significantly from the first two batches. This new release uses a new “Five Malt” recipe consisting of 75% pale malt and 25% caramel malts. The distillery representative referred to this new recipe as their “scotch ale” malt. I note as well that the Elysian website currently says they produce a “sugary wash” (wort?) that Copperworks takes back for fermentation and distillation at their own facility, using Elysian’s house yeast. This suggests to me that Copperworks are now producing whisky directly using this custom five malt mashbill, without going through the full beer-making process (as they presumably were previously with the pale malt on the first two batches).

There aren’t many reviews online for Copperworks, and most of these would be for batch 001/002. But here is how it compares to other North American malt whiskies:

Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 4 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.45 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Garryana: 8.64 ± 0.09 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Westland Peated: 8.63 ± 0.57 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Sherry Wood: 8.37 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Winter 2016: 8.5 ± 0.73 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

According to Copperworks, their American Single Malt is twice-distilled in their traditional-style copper pot stills. It is matured for 34 months in full-size, charred, new American Oak barrels, made from Virginia oak and coopered in Kentucky. It is bottled at a fairly high 52% ABV, and retails for $60 USD.  I sampled from bottle 195 of 1559 produced for batch 003. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: First impression is sweet fruit (with pear and plums especially), and a variety of tropical fruits (mango, papaya, and pineapple). Also citrus, and an herbal component that borders on eucalyptus. Spicy nose, with black pepper. Not much in the way of caramel or vanilla – apparently these were a lot more prominent on the earlier pale malt batches. Noticeable solvent off-notes, mainly acetone.

Palate:  Sweet, with similar plummy notes as the nose.  Unfortunately, that acetone from the nose turns into an artificial sweetener note here. Getting the caramel now, along with a charcoal note from the wood. Adding water brings up butterscotch, and enhances the caramely sweetness.

Copperworks.003Finish: Medium. The artificial sweetener turns into more natural molasses (which is actually a positive). A bit of sourness comes in at the end, but not offensive. Some mild baking spices show up now as well (touch of cinnamon).

It’s an interesting whisky – surprisingly fruity, with some bold flavours. Not really an everyday sort of dram, but a fun novelty when looking for something different. I would personally score it as on par with the standard Westland American Single Malt that I recently reviewed. It will be interesting to see how this product progresses.

For reviews of the earlier batch 001/002, check out Whisky Advocate, the Whiskey Wash and the Whiskey Reviewer.

Westland American Single Malts

Westland is a relatively new American whiskey maker, based in Seattle, Washington state. Rather than try to compete with the established US bourbon makers, they have opted instead to focus on a distinctive style of single malt whisky.

For this review, I’m going to look at their core range of single malts, as well as their most recent special release.

I recently had a tour of the distillery, and discovered that Westland malts and distills their own custom mashbill blend of five distinct types of barley – Washington Select Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt, and Brown Malt. They use a Belgian “brewer’s yeast”, which is a different strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae than the ubiquitous type M distiller’s yeast that Scottish distillers use. Check out Whisky Science if you want to know all about yeast strains and whisky making.

Here are the wash still, spirit still and spirit safe, from the tour:

Westland1

The Westland custom copper pot still design is also rather unusual, and looks a bit like a hybrid of a traditional pot still and a continuous column still (see close-up photos below). I gather they run it in different modes, on occasion.

Westland0

Another area of distinctiveness is barrelling. Unlike old world malts – and much like other American whiskeys – most of the Westland distillate goes into charred virgin American oak barrels.  Along with the other characteristics above, this makes for a distinctive product they like to call an “American single malt” (not that any such term has legal standing at present).

Of course, another reason for this virgin barrel selection is so that they can offer fairly young malt whiskies for sale. If they used ex-bourbon barrels for their core range (as is the case for most Scottish malts), they would presumably have to wait much longer before they produced a drinkable product. Check out my source of whisky flavour page for an explanation of what barreling adds to a whisky.

As an aside, I gather an increasing portion of their production is currently going into the ex-bourbon barrels, as they plan for the future. They also age some spirit in sherry casks, as I will describe below. And they have been experimenting with barrels of Garry oak (Quercus garryana), a species of white oak native to the Pacific Northwest.

Note that the French drinks group Rémy Cointreau (current owners of Bruichladdich) have recently acquired Westland. This suggests we will see a ramp up in production over the coming years, with greater brand awareness for Westland (and the American single malt category in general).

Let’s see how the core lines compare to other North American malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.44 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Ice: 8.19 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Rare: 8.01 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.63 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 15yo Battle of the Glen: 8.52 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
High West Campfire: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt: 8.26 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.46 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Garryana: 8.66 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Westland Peated: 8.53 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Sherry Wood: 8.30 ± 0.56 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Although the number of reviews are typically low for this class, the various Westland expressions seem to score toward the higher end of the group.

Now, on to a description of each of the various Westland whiskies, and my personal tasting notes:


Westland American Oak

This uses their standard 5-malt mashbill. It is aged for 2-3 years in mainly charred virgin American oak barrels, with some proportion of first-fill ex-bourbon. Bottled at 46% ABV. You could consider it their standard, base offering.

Nose:  Caramel and vanilla are prominent (as you might expect from the virgin oak). Cinnamon. Lightly fruity, but nothing specific initially stands out (on repeated sampling, I started to find banana and citrus). Creamy. Seems young (not surprisingly), with classic acetone notes – but as bad as I expected for the age. Water brings up the baking spice further, and the sweetness.

Palate: Butterscotch picks up now, joining the caramel. Hint of cherries, but still not a lot of specific fruit. Boston cream pie. Texture is a touch waxy, and a bit light overall. With a little water, whisky gets a bit more chewy (which is good). Of course, sweetness picks up too.

Finish: Medium length. Surprisingly, some new elements pick up now that I wasn’t really getting on the nose and palate – particularly citrus (lemon and orange zest) and menthol.

This is better than I expected, given the age. There are less off-notes than other young whiskies I’ve come across, and a bit of complexity comes across in the palate and finish that wasn’t initially present on the nose.  I think the Meta-Critic average score for this expression is fair.


Westland Sherry Wood

This uses the same distillate as the American Oak, based on the standard 5-malt mashbill. I originally expected that they used the same barrels from above and simply finished for a period of extra time in sherry casks (i.e., the label describes them as “matured in sherry casks”).  But according to the tour, this expression is actually a vatting of the base spirit that was aged 50% in sherry casks (a combination of PX and Oloroso), and 50% in virgin American oak (i.e, same as the standard American Oak series). Again, aged for 2-3 years, and similarly bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Sweet barley notes, moreso than the American Oak. Dried dark fruits. Indeed, nose is very dry, suggesting a larger Oloroso component. That said, I do get some pancake/maple syrup notes as well, which could be from the PX. No real off notes, as these are hidden under the syrup.

Palate: Very syrupy, and less fruity. It is much sweeter tasting than the nose suggested. Getting some chocolate now, and some Graham crackers. But it feels like much of the complexity of the American Oak is lost in the mix, with the overwhelming sweetness.

Finish: Medium-ish, but very simple. Very sweet coating left on the tongue (and not much else).

Upon making the comment about how the nose seems biased more toward Oloroso, my tour guide responded that the early batches were mainly Pedro Ximénez, but currently they are using predominantly Oloroso in the mix for Sherry Wood.

Overall, this reminds me a bit of the new Pike Creek rum finish in Canada – it lacks complexity, and the subtle notes of the base spirit are drowned out by an overwhelming sweetness.  Not particularly my cup of tea, so I would rate this one slightly lower than the base American Oak (as do most of the reviewers, it seems). But if you like a sweeter rum-like finishing, this could suit you.


Westland Peated

Although Westland has found a domestic source of Washington state peat, it has taken them some time to get the whole process up and running. So all the peated expressions currently for sale stem from the original peated Scottish malt they sourced directly from the highlands (didn’t jot down the name, but it was near Inverness, apparently). The heavily peated malt distillate is mixed with spirit from some of their standard American 5-malt, making a lightly peated final product. They age this mix in a combination of virgin American oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. Similarly aged 2-3 years, and bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Light smoke, with some sweet peat. Some lighter fruits, like pear and apple, and citrus. Vanilla and caramel. Pleasant enough, with no real off notes.

Palate: More peat shows up on palate, sweetened by the vanilla and caramel. Light smoke turns more to savory BBQ mesquite now. Actually makes you kind of hungry for BBQ ribs.  A bit nutty. Don’t add water, as it lightens and dulls it immediately.

Finish: Medium. Peat is earthier on the way out, with some iodine notes and tongue tingle. Some fruit returning at the end as well.

A blend with a bit of Springbank comes to mind, as it has that sweet peat characteristic that turns toward iodine over time.  I would personally put this at least on par with the American Oak for its overall character and quality. My only complaint is that it is very lightly peated – it may benefit when the domestic Westland peated malt comes online.


Westland Winter 2016 (Special Release)

I also had the option to try one of their special releases, and opted to go for this one (sadly, Garryana 2016 was already sold out). The Winter edition is a blend of nine casks – mainly ex-bourbon, one sherry ex-Oloroso hogshead (filled with peated malt), and an ex-Westland cask. The resulting grain bill is a bit different, coming out as 65% Washington Select Pale Malt, 14% standard 5-Malt, and 21% Baird’s Heavily Peated Malt. Aged just under 3 years, and bottled at a higher 50% ABV.

Nose: Similar light peatiness as the standard Westland Peated expression. Seems a bit less smokey – but that may be because the sherry notes are dominating.  I get apple and raisins.  Promising, but I’d like to see a bit more character here.

Palate: Sweeter on the palate again, with some syrupy notes (just as I found on the Sherry Wood). Smoke stays in the background, and never really crystallizes into a defined presence, unfortunately. A bit watery in texture for 50% ABV, with no real burn. Was hoping for a more chewy texture.

Finish: Medium short-ish.  It seems like both the peat and sherry are diluted here, and I’m still not getting much of the base spirit complexity.

This vatting doesn’t really seem to add anything to the standard Sherry Wood and Peated expressions – in essence, it tastes like a combination of them.  And like in the Sherry Wood, the sherry seems to be diminishing the base spirit rather than enhancing it.  So I would personally have to give this a slightly lower score than the standard Peated (but still better than the regular Sherry Wood).


WestlandI was impressed with these early offerings from Westland, and to look forward to what is coming next. The base American Single Malt has an interesting malted barley mashbill, with above-average character.

It will be particularly interesting to see how their domestic peat experiment turns out.  Aged in some of their native Garry oak barrels, this could indeed be a very distinctive American single malt.

For reviews of the Westland single malts in general, you could check out the guys at Quebec Whisky, or the reviewers of Whiskey Reviewer and Whiskey Wash. Typically lower scoring are the reviewers of Whisky Advocate.

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon

I figured it was high time I posted a proper bourbon review. And what better bourbon to start with than the Elijah Craig 12yo – a popular favourite, and one that has received a lot of press lately. As you might expect, the recent decision by distiller Heaven Hill to discontinue the 12yo in favour of a new NAS (no-age-statement) version has generally not been well received.

Leaving the transition issue aside, bourbons as a class can be challenging to review. If only it was as simple as those immortal words of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens of Justified: “Bourbon is easy to understand. Tastes like a warm summer day.”  I’ve always found it a bit more complicated than that. 😉

By law, American bourbon is made from at least 51% corn, distilled to no more that 160 proof (80% ABV), and aged in new charred oak barrels – among other requirements. As a result, the distillation method (and composition of the mashbill) has a great effect on what the final flavour tastes like. Indeed, one characteristic that is commonly used to differentiate bourbons is the proportion of rye grain in the mashbill (i.e., high rye vs. low rye bourbons).

As a class, I find bourbons tend to have a sweeter corn-syrup flavour than you will find in most whiskies. This sweetness can be further enhanced by the new oak aging – at least for relatively young bourbons. Most bourbons are indeed fairly young, with 6-8 years being considered the typical length for mid-range products (the lower-end stuff is younger, of course). Longer aged expressions can pick up some bitterness and other “woody” characteristics from the oak barrels, and this is often seen as less desirable. There are of course exceptions – such as Elijah Craig, which offers very popular 12yo, 18yo and 21yo expressions.

If you are curious to learn more, I find the /r/bourbon guide on Reddit provides a very clear overview of the main categories of bourbon – with helpful examples of the standard brands in each group.

Let’s see how the more popular mid-range bourbon offerings available here at the LCBO (i.e, $40-50 CAD) compare in the Meta-critic database:

1792 Ridgemont Reserve: 8.75 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews
Buffalo Trace: 8.59 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews
Bulleit 10yo: 8.76 ± 0.19 on 6 reviews
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.54 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.74 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews
Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack: 7.86 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.64 ± 0.43 on 18 reviews
Maker’s Mark: 8.25 ± 0.43 on 18 reviews
Woodford Reserve bourbon: 8.38 ± 0.37 on 14 reviews

As you can see, Elijah Craig 12yo is one of the highest ranking bourbons in this price group.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Smells like a banana split with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and a cherry on top! There is also a strong presence of caramel and toffee notes from the oak wood. Something slightly charred but sweet, like toasted marshmallows. Beyond some additional sweet fruits, I get a bit of zesty citrus (mainly orange).  It’s a great nose, and I am happy to come back and enjoy it between sips.

Palate: The creaminess continues here, with a slightly oily mouthfeel. Up front I get sweet and juicy stewed fruits and toffee/caramels – but it has a lot more spicy kick than I expected from the nose. This prickle is there throughout, and doesn’t attenuate on further sipping. Think of it as cherry cough syrup that actually makes you feel more like coughing as you drink. It is a full body, with definite baking spices coming in towards the end.

Finish: A bit of bitterness shows up here, and lingers through the finish – but it remains very well-balanced by the sweetness. This is one of my favourite things about the EC 12, as I find most bourbons overwhelm on the sweetness, which can turn cloying on the way out. The EC 12 is also not as woody as I expected, given the extended barrel aging.

Elijah.Craig.12I can see the Elijah Craig 12yo making a great “house bourbon.” It is a nice flavourful sipper, and would do very well in Manhattans and other mixed drinks.

The Elijah Craig 12yo tends to get reviewed fairly favourably by the panel of international reviewers – see for example Jason at WhiskyWon, Ruben at WhiskyNotes, and Serge at WhiskyFun. I find most American reviewers tend to be a bit tougher on it – but I expect that’s because they have access to better top-shelf bourbons than we do. See Nathan at the ScotchNoob and John and Richard at the WhiskeyReviewer for some balanced examples.

Note that before doing away with the age statement all-together, Heaven Hill moved it from the front label to the back of the bottle last year (with no apparent change in the formulation at that time). Oddly though, the original Elijah Craig 12yo bottles (pictured on the right) are still commonly available at the LCBO.  Pick it up while you can!

P.S.: As an aside, if you haven’t seen it, Justified was a great TV show. Bourbon featured in it quite prominently, as the personalities of the various characters were illustrated by their bourbon preferences. I’ve heard it said that bourbon was the sour-mash heart of the show. 🙂