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.