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American Single Malt Whiskey Explained, Plus Our Favorite Bottles Right Now


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American whiskey is a varied drink. There are bourbons, ryes, blends, single barrels, and single malts to consider. Each expression offers its own levels of nuance — bringing forward certain flavors while pushing others to the background. These days, bourbon tends to take up a lot of the conversation about American whiskey. And, that’s cool. Bourbon is delicious. But there’s another American whiskey that’s starting to grab whiskey lover’s attention: American single malt.

American single malt lurks in the same world as a Scotch single malt. That is, we’re dealing with a whiskey that uses a single ingredient in its mash bill (recipe) for fermentation. Where bourbons need to have 51 percent corn and ryes need 51 percent rye in their mash bill, single malts have to have 100 percent malted barley, period. Done. No variation.

There’s more to American single malt than just the barley mash bill, though. The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission set out some clear rules to define the style. They read as follows:

  • Made from 100 percent malted barley
  • Distilled at one distillery
  • Mashed, distilled, and matured in the United States
  • Matured in oak barrels
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof
  • Bottled at 80 proof or higher

Now that we know what makes American single malt tick, let’s explore some of the best bottles on that market right now. The ten expressions below of American single malt whiskey are still a little niche. So be warned — you might have to hunt your local specialty liquor store for these whiskeys. Still, they’re unique offerings that serve up a solid counterpoint to the current bourbon-flooded whiskey market.

BALCONES TEXAS SINGLE MALT

The masters at Balcones like tinkering with the idea of what a great whiskey can be. Their Texas Single Malt is a beautifully deep expression of unpeated malted barley distillate that’s aged in multiple sized barrels until the perfect balance is reached. The whiskey is then combined and finished in a single large barrel until it hits the perfect single malt note.

Tasting Notes: Caramel and dried fruit meet you on the nose. Fatty cashew nuts, woody oak, ripe yellow fruits, creamy toffee richness, and a hint of spice meader through the sip. Finally, a pure alcohol burn takes over with a sweet, oaky edge that dissipates into a velvet texture.

Buy a bottle here for $69.99

CORSAIR TRIPLE SMOKE

Tennessee’s Corsair Distillery likes to play around with their barley. What makes this smoky masterpiece stand out is their triple approach to kilning their malts. The barley is split into three groups and smoked individually. One part is smoked with cherry wood, another with peat, and the last with beechwood. Then the malt is fermented and distilled before it goes into newly charred American oak barrels.

Tasting Notes: Smoke is a big factor here. The beechwood adds a layer of spicy pepper. Then the cherry smoke comes in with a layer of fruity sweetness. Finally, that peat hits with a classic scotch vibe. Vanilla from the oak is at play alongside dark and tart blackberries and cherries followed by a slightly spicy and funky pumpernickel maltiness.

Buy a bottle here for $48.99

COPPERWORKS SINGLE MALT WHISKEY

Washington’s Copperworks Distilling takes farm-to-glass very seriously. For their single malt, they start with local Skagit Valley barley that they make a hop-less beer from. They then distill the beer fermentation, creating the base for their whiskey. The booze is then aged for 34 months on the Seattle waterfront with all that briny sea air mingling with the new oak and spirit.

Tasting Notes: The sip opens with notes of fresh honeycomb alongside hints of freshly baled hay. Fatty peanut-infused toffee, dried fruits, maple syrup, and candy sweetness that feels a bit like an M&M shell come into play. On the end, a bready heft gives way to a subtle whiskey warmth with a distant echo of spice.

Buy a bottle here for $53.99

STRANAHAN’S DIAMOND PEAK

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A sweet indulgence.

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Stranahan’s is Colorado’s premier distiller. Their single malt is a combination of locally grown barley, aged American oak, and Rocky Mountain spring water. It’s the state of Colorado, distilled into a bottle of whiskey.

Tasting Notes: Christmas spices dominate this expression with a lush powdered sugar texture. Notes of peppermint come into play with a sweet candy nature that gives way to toffee, vanilla, and more cinnamon-forward spice. Fatty almond leans into marzipan as the subtle smoke comes in on the backend.

Buy a bottle here for $69.99

WESTWARD AMERICAN SINGLE MALT

Out in Oregon, Westward Whiskey is bottling some solid single malts at House Spirits. Local Oregon malts are spiked with ale yeasts for fermentation then twice distilled for refinement. Next, the spirit goes into variously sized new American oak to rest and mature. The final product is a combination of five to six barrels in each bottle of single malt.

Tasting Notes: Fatty nuts, fresh honey, and malt greet you on the opening of this sip. The toasted nature of the malts has a buttery edge that’s cut by a yeast funk. Finally, the oak and spice come into play with a nice level of caramel sweetness, tying everything together.

Buy a bottle here for $79.99

VIRGINIA DISTILLERY PORT CASK FINISHED VIRGINIA-HIGHLAND WHISKY

Virginia Distillery’s Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky is a mouthful of a label. The whisky blends malted barley whiskies from both Virginia and Scotland into a single expression that is then finished in, you guessed it, old port casks. The final product is bottled and is one of the more unique American whiskey expressions you’ll ever drink.

Tasting Notes: Deeply red berries are front-and-center. Tart red currants and succulent blackberries dominate. Toasted malt comes in next to a spiced holiday cake sweet vibe. The end has a distant whisper of smokiness from Scotland with a vinous note from the port cask.

Buy a bottle here for $57.99

WESTLAND AMERICAN SINGLE MALT AMERICAN OAK

Westland Distillery’s American Oak American Single Malt hits a lot of classic single malt notes. Local Washington state barley is combined with Belgian brewer’s yeast for fermentation before distillation. The spirit is then matured for three years in a combination of new American oak and ex-bourbon barrels before it’s bottled.

Tasting Notes: The opening of roasted barley has a roasted coffee bitterness at play. That gives way to rich toffee, oaky vanilla, and billows of pipe tobacco. A sweet and leathery nature arrives before the finish of light spice and warmth.

Buy a bottle here for $69.99

COLKEGAN SINGLE MALT WHISKEY

New Mexico is very present in Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan Single Malt. The malts are kilned with a lot of smoke. Where Scotland uses peat, Santa Fe Spirits uses local mesquite. This gives the malts a very local, high desert feel that elevates the whiskey.

Tasting Notes: That smoky mesquite is certainly there but it’s refreshingly subtle. There’s a briny nature to the sip that pairs well with the high desert smoke and warming spiciness. Slight notes of florals come into the mix late as the mesquite smoke dissipates into a warm alcohol finish.

Buy a bottle here for $49.49

SWIFT TEXAS SINGLE MALT SAUTERNES CASK FINISH

Back in Texas, Swift Distillery is killing the single malt game. They import their barley straight from Scotland and ferment and distill locally. Then the spirit rests in former Four Roses Bourbon barrels for about a year-and-a-half. Finally, the whiskey goes into a French Sauternes (wine) cask for at least one more year.

Tasting Notes: Balance is the word to use here. There are hints of apple, honey, sweet malts, and tart red berries up front. Oaky vanilla comes in alongside notes of spice and dry wine grapes. Fruits, warmth, and spice finish off the sip with a nice sense of balance.

Buy a bottle here for $52.99

FEW SINGLE MALT WHISKY

Chicago’s FEW Spirits focuses on the locally grown agriculture around them to make their whisky. The barley is all sourced from within 100 miles of the distillery. It’s then malted in two batches, one smoked with cherry wood and one unsmoked. This ripple adds an interesting depth to the single malt game.

Tasting Notes: There’s a sweetness to the smoke on this one. The cherry really shines through next to nice layers of spice and tart fruit. Oak, creamy toffee, and more spice come in on the backend with a sharp warming hit.

Buy a bottle here for $79.99

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