Willow Creek Distillery is one of those rare operations that’s an offshoot of a winery: Specifically, Paso Robles-based Opolo Vineyards, which we have covered regularly over the years.
Willow Creek got going in 2013 with the intent of producing spirits to accompany their wines; as you can imagine, the operation focuses heavily on brandies (grape and fruit) and liqueurs. It also makes a handful of whiskeys, including this oddity, made from a mash of corn, oats, and malted barley (proportions unstated), which is aged for two years in new charred American oak barrels.
I went into this with zero expectations and found that Malt ‘n Oats offers many of the elements of the craft whiskey world, all given a somewhat unique spin.
The nose is sweet and heavy with vanilla syrup notes, almost candylike with elements of whipped cream on top. A little time in glass helps the whiskey to settle down, giving a more cereal- and oak-driven character time to emerge. These two sides of the coin never quite balance each other out perfectly, but they do at least find a kind of détente at some point, with rustic lumberyard notes, evoking the whiskey’s youth, fading in and out.
The palate sees a little more going on, the sweet attack developing more of a maple syrup quality, weighted with notes of fig syrup, more vanilla, and milk chocolate. Some cinnamon-driven heat emerges as the palate builds, giving the whiskey a slight holiday vibe. Notes of brown butter and molasses push the sugar quotient further, with extracted fruit notes lingering forever on the endless finish.
While the malt in the mix is evident immediately, it’s tough to find any oat influence — which I normally associate with a richer, rounder body. In the end, Malt ‘n Oats ultimately comes across closer to a classic grain whiskey experience, though that through-the-roof fruity-sweet finish isn’t something I’ve encountered often before. Try it once just to see something off the beaten path.
B / $55 / willowcreekdistillery.com