Westward’s Head Distiller brings the heart of Portland to Sydney

May 5, 2022
By Ioni Doherty

Westward Whiskey’s Head Distiller Miles Munroe has visited Sydney and Melbourne, attending a number of events and launching the new beer-inspired Westward American Single Malt Belgian Ardennes Whiskey, the latest special release from the distillery located rainy Portland, Oregon.

Hosted at Doss House during the Whisk(e)y On the Rocks festival, Mr Munroe talked guests through the emergence of single malt whisky in the Northwest of the US, where the barley grows, whereas US rye whiskies are predominantly distilled on the east coast and bourbon in the mid-west and south, where the corn grows.

Mr Munroe studied science at college and for him, distilling whisky was always the grand plan. After his studies, he started out brewing; a significant stepping stone towards realising his ambition.

“There is a heavy brewing scene in Portland,” explained Mr Munroe to guests at the whisky tasting. He had planned to master brewing at home in the US before traversing the world to Scotland to become a distiller there.

“Scotland, especially because I don’t speak Japanese,” he said.

But it was while working as a brewer that he encountered Westward’s Founder and Master Distiller, Christian Krogstad who was making plans to open a distillery to craft malt whisky in Portland itself.

Today, Mr Munroe has been with Westward for ten years, working and experimenting away at one of the most exciting and innovative distilleries in the world. Here at Westward, they only make single malt barley. Never bourbon and never rye. Mr Krogstad and Mr Munroe shared the grain to glass vision from the get-go and initially, they grew their own barley (though the distillery has now grown to such a size that they contract it from local producers).

Mr Munroe’s brewing expertise is absolutely essential to the whisky making process at Westward which is the only distillery that ferments its own beer for the wash. The pale ale is fermented in Westward’s three vessel stainless steel wash system at just 21 degrees – this is a very cool temperature for fermentation, Mr Munroe explained. And this is where the flavour starts. What is produced is an amazing tasting pale ale with an ABV of 8 per cent and on a typical day, Westward brews 11,000 litres of the stuff which is then double pot distilled to produce enough liquid to fill five to six barrels.

Mr Munroe introduced us to the distillery’s new make – also known White Dog or barley eau de vie  – having kindly reduced the ABV to around 40 per cent for guests at the tasting. We were then treated to Westward’s American Single Malt Whisky and Pinot Cask finish before finishing with the Belgian Ardennes.

The whisky is made with Ardennes Farmhouse yeast from Portland’s award winning Culmination Brewing with the yeast added to the White Dog, not during the fermentation process. This popular yeast—named for the Belgian Ardennes Forest and used in classic saison, farmhouse and Trappist ales—was chosen for its banana, clove and black pepper notes, which complement Westward’s signature dried fruit and baking spice flavours.

Mr Munroe has a team of seven distillers now, they still char their own barrels of new American oak and at Westward, there is no such thing as age statements.

“Age statements can be distracting,” says Mr Munroe. “At Westward, the whisky is aged to taste. It’s ready when it’s ready.”

While Westward may have led the charge of the malt whisky scene, the category has now grown so much that in 2016, Westward along with seven other distillers from the region established the American Single Malt Whiskey Association to define what a malt whisky produced in the US is. ASMC now has more than 100 members.

Its mission: “The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission serves to establish, promote and protect the category of American Single Malt Whiskey”.

Mr Munroe says, “It is not about how it should taste, but what goes into it.”

American Single Malt Whisky is defined as being:

  • made from 100% malted barley
  • distilled entirely at one distillery
  • mashed, distilled and matured in the United States of America
  • matured in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres
  • distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume)
  • bottled at 80 (U.S.) proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).

Los Angeles is Westward’s largest domestic market and Australia is its largest for export, at least until China and Hong Kong catch up which is not far off according to brand building powerhouse, Margo Jamieson.

So as Westward goes from strength to strength, don’t miss out catching these limited release special projects.

And here’s hoping that the soul of Portland and Miles Munroe is tightly kept in those bottles of Westward, even as the distillery grows and grows.

Westward Belgian Ardennes Whiskey retails at $185 per 750mL bottle. Available now.

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