It’s no surprise then that a substantial cooperage economy has yet to take root in this region. When we source Quercus alba, commonly known as American White Oak, we work within a large coopering system that allows us to source what we want, when we want it, with a simple phone call or click of the mouse. We have demanding specifications relative to the rest of the whiskey industry, particularly in our search for air-dried oak. But even those self-imposed restrictions don’t cause a great challenge when dealing with Quercus alba. For the coopers who supply us with those casks—who do a fantastic job by the way—the stock of raw oak is widely available. With Garry Oak, however, when we want 100 casks, made from three-year air-dried wood, our fortunes are left only to chance and timing.
Reminded of all of these factors, we realized the enormity of the task. It was apparent that we needed to secure wood now; not just for this year’s demand, but for years to come. That meant finding 50,000 board feet. Rather than breaking our spirit though, we found resolve. We pulled off I-5 near Halsey, Oregon where we’d learned of a small family farm that might prove fruitful. This was no hipster farm; this is real, rural America, a picture that could have been taken in any one of a thousand places in the US, save for the oaks. We meet Samuel Kropf and his son Norman, who cut oak from their property on a small Lucas mill with a circular saw. Though we would only source 1,000 board feet on this day, we developed a relationship that promised a steady, albeit relatively small, supply for years to come. No matter how much you know or care about whiskey, coopering, or even oak itself, there was bigger idea taking shape starting with that first visit. There is great, and often unappreciated value to be found in what literally lies all around us. To find new uses for this wood and to provide a new source of revenue to the salt-of-the-earth farming families of the region is a remarkable sea change for what is a growing community of like-minded people we’re bringing together.
But beyond the feel-good story of rural America now having a source of revenue where there once was none, ultimately the most important point is that this economy we’re building allows us to make the most authentic, most compelling whiskey possible. We can see the future where, ten years from now, we’ll have a whiskey matured in some of the oak from Samuel and Norman’s farm, and alongside that a whiskey matured in oak from a different part of the Pacific Northwest—one with a different landscape, different climate and different soil composition. What was beginning to dawn on us as we made our way through the Oregon countryside was that these terroirs will ultimately have an effect on the character of each whiskey. That is incredibly exciting. As a comparison to the casks made from wood sourced at the farm, we’ll soon have casks from another new partner, Goby Walnut. Our next stops were to their lumberyard in Aurora and their mill in Portland. Goby specializes in sustainably-sourced hardwoods, and in contrast to our friends at the farm, has a much more established operation in place to handle Garry Oak from field to finished board.
I often see a lot of corollaries between the world of whiskey-making and the world of food. One of the problems with our modern agricultural system is that people don’t tend to have much of a connection to where the food they eat comes from. They can’t see the nuances of what went into raising these particular vegetables or what was fed to the chicken they’re going to roast for dinner. But when people make it out to a farm and see everything the farmer must do to get those vegetables through the season or that chicken to a full size, they tend to appreciate the food they’re eating more than they would otherwise. So it is with oak. Once we saw the lumberyard at Goby and listened to them talk about their work, we really began to get a sense of what it takes to deliver the final lumber we’ll use for casks and the pride they take in their workmanship. We learned how challenging it is to source the raw oak, discussing the nuances of tree selection and exactly how it should be brought down. We listened to them wax poetic about the ways oak can be cut to varying thicknesses, say 4/4” or 5/4”, depending upon the intended use. We heard about exactly what would happen to the oak if it is cut one way or the other. Listening to all of this was fascinating and immensely valuable to us as we consider how to work with the oak downstream. But perhaps the most interesting moment of the day didn’t even concern oak at all, at least not yet.
There were walnut slabs there at the mill, ranging in size from simply large to incredibly massive. However, the thing that caught my eye was not the size of the slabs but the color. Ranging from caramel brown to shades of red, black, even purple and blue, the color of the wood reflected the growing conditions and the soil makeup from where the tree grew. As I was talking to the folks at Goby about this, we all realized the potential of what we had seen: if the different soil conditions could produce different colors in the tree, certainly it could be doing different things to flavor compounds and their precursors in the wood.
The ramifications weren’t lost on any of us. Within minutes, we all got it. This is what we were there to do—establish a system for sourcing, milling and coopering, and forming real relationships with real people. By building this economy from the ground up, we now not only have a more steady supply of oak, but we are able to control exactly how it is handled throughout the process.
We left Goby’s mill in Portland to hunt down a few more leads. As we did, it felt as if everything fit so precisely in a nexus of time. Our continued work to create whiskies that are real, that have a sense of time and place, to find the truth in our world and explore, it stirred a sense of purpose within all of us. The broader perspective was coming back into focus. The cycle is always self-reinforcing. We look “west”, seeing the possibilities therein, then we push forward to make it so. We do this out of necessity and we know others will follow. Yet the heavy lifting and the difficulty that comes with carving the path also means we get to determine where it leads.
This has always been the heart of our philosophy at Westland, ingrained in our very nature. We’re compelled to look out so we might see possibilities others don’t recognize. But seeing opportunity is not enough. You have to have the wherewithal to do something about it. During the trip, we explored one of the few remaining natural Garry Oak savannas in the Pacific Northwest. It was coated with lush mosses draping the otherwise bare limbs in the middle of winter. The oaks provided a juxtaposition of a life frozen in time and a world moving steadily forward. Again, we removed ourselves from the moment, wondering in amazement at our place in the world of whiskey, exploring physically at the edge of the earth and figuratively at the cutting edge of single malt philosophy. We, like our whiskies, are products of our time and place. While we look forward to the future we’re building with our new partners in this industry we cannot deny that what we live for now in the present is the exploration, the journey. This latest edition is another step forward along a path that winds all across the Pacific Northwest in search of insight. We hope you enjoy the results as much as we do.
GARRYANA EDITION 2|1
NOSE: Clove, nutmeg and honeycomb start on the nose followed by darker notes of mocha and wood smoke before opening up to candied ginger and dried tropical fruits.
PALATE: Garry Oak’s signature flavors of molasses and BBQ smoke lead with notes of mouth-coating espresso, blueberry ice cream and subtle citrus joining.
Release Number: 0087
Release Date: June 2017
Total Bottled: 2600
Minimum Maturation Time: 38 Months
Washington Select Pale Malt
Extra Special Malt
Pale Chocolate Malt
1st Fill Ex-Bourbon Quercus alba (52%)
Virgin Quercus alba (27%)
Virgin Quercus garryana (21%)
Belgian Brewer’s Yeast