Monday, August 17, 2015

American Single Malts: Westland and Cut Spike

Two of the most well regarded American single malts are Westland from Washington State and Cut Spike from Nebraska. Today, I taste new offerings from each of them: Batch 3 of Cut Spike and a K&L barrel from Westland (which seems to be sold out).

Cut Spike Single Malt, 2 yo, Batch 3, 43% abv ($60)

I reviewed Batch 1 of Cut Spike last year and found it quite good. Batch 3 is brand new on the market.

The nose has prominent gin notes, then some vanilla. The palate is very raw with sweet grainy notes. The juniper notes come back in the finish.

Unfortunately, this couldn't be more different from Batch 1, the earlier batch which I liked (I tasted them side by side as I still have some of Batch 1 left). It has none of the depth and complexity of that bottling. Instead, it tastes like a pretty run of the mill craft whiskey, young with raw wood.  I'm hoping this is an aberration. 

Westland Cask 300, 60.8% abv ($90)

Westland has been popular for a few years now, but this is the first one I've tried. This is a special, cask strength, fino sherry aged bottling for K&L.

This has an odd nose with Butterfinger and pralines & cream ice cream. The palate is full of sweet toffee, a more literal toffee flavor that is found in bourbon, which often has toffee-like notes.  The toffee note comes on strong but then fades quickly and you're left with a very vague sherry note on the finish. Water tames the sweetness a bit but also brings out some sulfur on the palate.

This one was a mess. It was sweet but without depth, and it didn't retain any positive notes from the sherry aging.

I was really looking forward to this tasting since these are two of the stars of American single malt, but both of these were disappointing.  I have another few Westlands in the tasting queue, so I'll see if this one was a fluke or not.  As for Cut Spike, I know they can make good whiskey, this batch just didn't live up to the earlier one. I hope, as they have become popular, they are not rushing out barrels that aren't yet ready.

Thanks to Funky Tape for the samples.


My Annoying Opinions said...

As you know, I posted my review of Batch 1 (from your bottle) earlier today. I thought it was fine for a very young whisky but nothing beyond a curiosity at this point. While tastes obviously differ I'm hard-pressed to understand how anything other than hype could have caused that batch and the second one to sell out as quickly as they did. A lot of Batch 3 seems to still be available from K&L so maybe Batch 2 didn't do it for a lot of people either. At any rate, I do hope it isn't the case that the distillery is pumping out product in order to meet hyped demand---this can only hurt them down the road.

Anonymous said...

Very surprising to read such a poor review of the Westland after K&L really sang its praises. I know they are in the business of selling the stuff, but they really hyped this one up. Very disappointing. I was planning on buying a bottle based on the stellar write up, but someone swooped in and grabbed the last 20 or so bottles. Thanks to whoever that was!

Anonymous said...

@Anon 11:41 - We all want booze that doesn't require the singing of praises. And we all know that the harder a liquor store pitches something the more cautious we should be about it. Retail beverage industry is in a dilemma: Whiskey is red hot and buyers are serious, and they're ready to drop serious coin, but no retailers are able to sell buyers the whiskies they truly desire. None of them. So their job has become enticing us into desiring alternatives... loosening that pent-up whiskey money with stuff you've never heard of. And the game is the same whether it's your local corner store, or K&L. So here's the new consumer reality of 2015: if you didn't want the whiskey before some salesman persuaded you to buy it, there's a 9-in-10 chance you still won't want it after it's bought. Food for thought.

Patrick said...

I'm a retailer, and I genuinely adore the Westland offerings. At a local WhiskeyFest style event ( I tried numerous spirits, and the stand out by far was the Westland 312 ( Now, obviously that one is a bit of an outlier from their everyday offerings, but I think that their flagship single malt is still quite stellar. The rich fudginess of it is quite enticing to me. It is definitely still young, but I think it shows a TON of promise, as well as good flavor. Is it a big spendy for what it is? Maybe. Would I still recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in something unique? Definitely.

David S said...

I've yet to try anything from Westland that I thought was even average. They've all been immature, flat, and uninteresting, and that's what Early Times is for. I also find the people incredibly off-putting, but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 2:09 - You make some excellent points. I guess I didn't expect the K&L crew to take it this far.

"I'm hesitant to even sell this whiskey because it's going to do nothing but spoil you rotten."

"This is one of those whiskies where I actually will advocate for multiple bottle purchases"

And when you consider how hard they've been pushing Singani 63 I can only imagine how bad that is. lol Seriously, there was a stretch where they posted about it multiple times a week.

sku said...

It's always worth pointing out that tastes vary. Just because I didn't like these, doesn't mean that the K&L folks weren't being completely sincere in everything they said about them. In fact, Westland is very popular. It may be that it's one of those things (like Old Forester Birthday Bourbon) where I'm not in the mainstream.

Funky Tape said...

Might also be worth knowing that you got the first pour out of a new bottle. Will it improve with time? My experience says that patience is the key.

I have a couple other Westland single barrels to try too, so it will be fun to taste and compare.

Anyone that has read Driscoll's blog for the past few years knows basically what to expect. I'd rather give my money to Westland, who I see as the future, than pay an equivalent amount to some fake distillery out of KY that's bottling cat piss to meet their quarterly objective...but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Valid point, Sku. While I'm (Anon 2:09) sympathetic to Anon 11:41, it wasn't my intention to encourage the derision of retailers in general, nor K&L. I've no interest in the fueling of that bandwagon. My comment was as sloppy as a 2yo whisky, but I meant well:)

I'll just say this: 2015 whiskey consumers are commonly in the position of being asked to suppose a potential purchase may be good, rather than of believing or knowing it to be good. And supposition, particularly supposition short-to-void of evidence, is a horrible foundation for purchasing novel, often expensive, whiskies. Given that, there's rarely a compelling reason to take any retailer's whiskey testimony to heart.

That said, I refuse to become a ignorant cynic and advance the baseless criticism that retailers who frequently suggestively sell many things (in varying degrees of hyperbole) do so primarily for selfish, dickish reasons.

Unknown said...


Your observations on the Cut Spike mirror mine: if I wanted to pay double for St. George's Mt. Tam Terrior Gin, I'd buy two bottles of Gin and twice the hooch at still less cost.

Or, alternatively, I could add some PineSol to some Rebel Yell and get the same outcome.

I don't know what happened with this stuff,, but I definitely regret spending the money on this one.

The Westland however.... I think #300 is Devine, and I think their other whiskys, while still young, are most definitely compelling enough for re-buy.

Funky Tape said...

Pinesol. Thought I was the only one who picked that one up. I mostly get it from Indiana rye, though.

The first thing I got on Cut Spike 3 was the taste of the generic cream soda pop I had when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

After tasting like five or six (maybe as many as 7?) of the different single barrels (some at the distillery some at a retail store in SF) I still think that the regular release Sherry is the best thing that they have done. Super excited to try their different malting and peat experiments in the coming years, but for now I'll just be set with the Sherry from them and the Macarthy's from Oregon from the US.

TL;DR: Try the Westland Sherry.