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How Great Beer Helped Westward Make Its Portland Whiskey


Rewind via the manufacturing of a single malt whiskey—strolling backward from bottle to barrel to pot nonetheless, reversing via the distillation course of and again to the fermentation tanks—and what you’ve got is basically beer. Single malt whiskeys all rise from a starter of barley and water fermented, with an help from yeast, right into a low-alcohol “wash” that’s then distilled right into a barley-based spirit. Tweak this course of by including hops and skipping the distillation, and also you’d have one thing recognizable as a beer or ale.

None of this info is required to take pleasure in single malt whiskey, in fact, nevertheless it’s useful for understanding why the makers of Westward Whiskey in Portland, Ore.,—virtually all of whom have hung out working in Oregon’s prolific brewing business at one level or one other—have managed to provide such fascinating whiskeys.

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“Popping out of the American craft brewing motion, we begin with a extremely good understanding of the fermentation,” says Christian Krogstad, founder and grasp distiller of Westward Whiskey. “In case you’ve already created a bunch of off flavors and screwed up the ferment, then the remainder of your course of is simply making an attempt to repair that. So our philosophy is ‘let’s make a very nice beer’ and see the place we are able to go from there.”

Since vastly scaling up manufacturing of Westward over the previous a number of years, Krogstad and firm have gone fairly a good distance. Westward’s cask energy single malt received double gold on the San Francisco World Spirits Competitors in 2019. In March, the distillery’s new Oregon Stout Cask, a single malt completed in native stout beer barrels, picked up a gold medal as effectively. The Stout Cask expression is Westward’s first extension of its core lineup past its flagship single malt and indicators extra good issues to come back.

Krogstad based Home Spirits Distillery in 2004 with the intention of creating an American single malt whiskey expressive of Portland’s distinctive tradition and place. Then he promptly began doing what many distillers do to recoup startup prices and maintain the lights on within the early going: making gin. The product, bought below the identify “Aviation” grew into the best-selling craft gin in the USA and helped outline the fledgling U.S. craft distilling business. Home Spirits bought the model in late 2016 (sure, it’s the identical Aviation Gin now partially-owned by—and repeatedly hyped by—Ryan Reynolds), although it nonetheless produces the liquid below contract at its Portland distillery.

The sale freed up bandwidth and capital permitting Krogstad and Home Spirits to concentrate on its whiskey challenge, which after years of refinement was coming absolutely into its personal. “We got down to make Westward the way in which it’s primarily based on the place we’re,” Krogstad says. That meant leveraging not solely the area’s native water and barley, however tapping into Portland’s sprawling brewery tradition and a sure enthusiasm for trailblazing and experimentation native to the Pacific Northwest.

Westward’s huge brewing experience manifests itself—and differentiates itself—within the emphasis the Westward crew locations on the entrance finish of the whiskey-making course of. “We’re very cautious with our fermentations, as a result of we wish that uncooked materials, we wish that grain, we wish these fermentation flavors to actually come via within the last product,” says Miles Munroe, Westward’s lead distiller. “Westward was engineered to be a reasonably younger whiskey. It’s actually vibrant, actually sturdy, and we really feel you may get a variety of grain points within the last product.”

Nevertheless it’s Westward’s philosophy that you would be able to’t get all this stuff by beginning with unhealthy beer. Munroe and his crew produce their wash to exacting requirements, rigorously sustaining the temperature of the fermentation to discourage the event of sure undesirable taste compounds. They do that in closed, stainless-steel fermentation tanks they totally clear after each wash to make sure management over what micro organism and yeast are allowed into the combination (in distinction with some producers who elect to ferment in giant, open-topped wood vats).

These stylistic variations show time-consuming and dear, however Krogstad and Munroe consider they’re significant in producing a clear wash that persistently meets their specs—a great beer from which to construct an awesome whiskey. “We’re approaching this in a really minimalist manner,” Munroe says. “Our strategy is: As an alternative of making a few of these off flavors by chance after which making an attempt to take away them throughout distillation, let’s simply not create any of these to start by having a greater wash.”

The strategy has paid off within the accolades garnered by Westward’s flagship single malt, and its new Oregon Stout Cask expression offers a glimpse of the place the distillery is headed from right here. By way of its relationships with brewers throughout the Pacific Northwest, Westward was capable of experiment with varied used stout casks earlier than selecting a end that imparts notes of barely bitter chocolate, toasted grains, and—faintly—nutty roasted espresso beans. It’s wealthy and spherical and most of all completely different, an homage to the whole lot that makes Portland uniquely Portland.

And the way does a uniquely Portland distillery observe up whiskey completed in Oregon stout barrels? Beginning this month Westward is rolling out a deep, decadent, darkish fruit- and chocolate-tinged expression that spent 19 months in used wine casks previously housing Oregon Pinot Noir. It’s solely accessible within the distillery retailer in Portland as of proper now, however search for nationwide availability by the top of the yr.

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