I know what you’re thinking: “haven’t I read enough articles about the rise of single malt whiskey in the U.S. lately?” You’re right, and I’ve compiled one great list (in chronological order) for you to come back to:
- New York Times: American Single-Malt Whiskeys Serve Notice, 1/16/13
- Serious Eats: Single Malt, American Style: A Delicious New World of Whiskey, 10/1/14
- Paste: 6 Craft Single Malt Whiskeys Made in America, 11/19/14
- Gizmodo: A Beginner's Guide to American Single Malt Whiskey, 12/5/14
- Gear Patrol: The Complete Guide to American Single Malt Whiskey, 2/13/15
We need not add to the awareness of this industry movement, but it’s important to inform you specifically about our shift at the Seattle Whiskey Collective to taste American single malts at our events in 2015 and beyond.
To catch you up, our whiskey community has been tasting primarily bourbon and rye in our first year and a half. There are a few reasons for this, but mainly we feel that our group should have a focus. Keeping that focus narrow allows us to dive deeper into specific whiskey flavors, and it makes it clear to the public what we’re about and what to expect.
That said, this year we’re expanding our whiskey offerings to any whiskey made in the U.S., including single malts and others.
And that’s it! You could stop reading now, but read on to learn why single malts are demanding our attention.
As a whiskey tasting community, we would be remiss to ignore the popularity of an entire category of whiskey across the world just in the name of localizing our efforts. Award-winning malt whiskeys are coming out of Scotland, Ireland, Japan, India, Taiwan, South Africa, Tasmania, and more.
What started in Scotland and Ireland in the late 1400s has been copied, altered, and tweaked based on the style, preference, and the environment of countries all over the map. The physical terrain, water, grain, and weather have much to do with the final product, in addition of course to barrels and aging nuances. This leaves us as consumers with a plethora of choices, and the sheer distinctions can be overwhelming sometimes. But it’s exciting to see such an array of barley-based spirits, one of whiskey’s most flavorful, dynamic ingredients.
As this expansion breaches the United States, it will be thrilling to watch distilleries differentiate themselves within the American Single Malt category.
America’s Changing Landscape
For decades, United States distilleries have been pumping out bourbon and rye whiskey in droves. Grain is plentiful here (and corn is cheap), so bourbon exploded and American whiskey drinkers have grown accustomed to the flavors of sweet, bold whiskeys.
In the past 25-30 years, a few U.S. distilleries have boldly challenged the Scots and remain curious about why malt whiskeys got left out of American production for so long. Some are carving out their own unique style and have claimed regions of our country (perhaps our home state of WA?) are akin to Scotland itself for malt whiskey production—and even ripe for peat moss growth! Recently, more and more distillers have realized single malts deserve our attention, and the American single malt revolution is underway.
Defining American Single Malt
I suppose we should summarize briefly what the rules are when calling something an American Single Malt Whiskey. It must be made in the U.S., from one distillery, primarily of malted grain, and aged in new charred oak barrels.
Sounds kind of like bourbon and rye restrictions, but with more ambiguity—particularly with barrel exclusivity. This is great for innovation and differentiation; already we’ve seen complex blends and whiskey being aged in port, sherry, wine, cognac, and other barrels. Many distillers have opted for 100% malted barley mash (in the Scottish tradition), but the rest is all over the place.
With all these variations, the flavors coming from single malts have huge potential to be broader than the characteristics of caramel, vanilla, leather, spice, and wood we’ve come to expect from bourbon and rye.
Already American single malts in the wild have been tagged with notes and flavors like chocolate, cookies, pear, stone fruit, waffle cone, rose, marmalade, toast, cherry, plum, honeysuckle, hazelnut, nectarine, pine, cedar, pineapple, coconut, mocha, anise… among others.
If whiskey is capable of transforming into that, I want to taste more of it.
Current American Single Malts
Here’s a list of current distilleries producing single malt whiskey in the U.S. By no means is this comprehensive, but they’re making headlines at the time of this writing:
- St. George Spirits - Alameda, CA
- Westland Distillery - Seattle, WA
- Balcones Distilling - Waco, TX
- Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey - Denver, CO
- FEW Spirits - Evanston, IL
- Corsair Distillery - Nashville, TN
- Clear Creek Distillery (McCarthy’s) - Portland, OR
- Hillrock Estate Distillery - Ancram, NY
- Copper Fox Distillery (Wasmund’s) - Sperryville, VA
- Sons of Liberty Spirits Co. - South Kingstown, RI
- Long Island Spirits (Pine Barrens) - Baiting Hollow, NY
- Lost Spirits Distillery (Leviathan) - Pruneville, CA
- Cut Spike Distillery - La Vista, NE
These distilleries (and others) are on our radar, and we look forward to featuring as many as we can get in Seattle in the coming months and years.
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Seattle Whiskey Collective gathers monthly to taste American whiskeys. To receive event invitations, join our email list on our homepage: seattlewhiskeycollective.com.