American single malt whiskey might be the next big thing to hit the American whiskey scene. Whereas bourbons and ryes have mash bills (grain recipes) with two, three, and sometimes four or more grains and cereals, American single malt has only one grain. Malted barley is the star of the show.
There’s little to no place to hide when you only have one grain to work with. That means American single malts — like Scotch or Japanese single malts — have a certain clarity of focus by design. It also means that we’re dealing with a very different flavor profile than your average bourbon or rye, since there’s no corn, wheat, or rye at play. To create distinct expressions, American single malt distillers often experiment with aging and barrel types, evident when you compare their bottles to common bourbons and ryes, which both have fairly strict aging rules.
The ten whiskeys below will introduce you to American single malts in a major way. These are the bottles that’ll help you elevate your whiskey game and expand your palate. You can also get any of these bottles delivered right now, just in time for another weekend in quarantine.
Virginia Distillery Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky
Distillery: Virginia Distillery, Lovingston, VA
Average Price: $57.99
Okay, we’re already cheating a little with this choice. While this is made from 100 percent malted barley, it’s made from a Scotch single malt and a Virginia single malt. This is technically a blend of two single malts to create one whiskey that’s then finished off in port casks from a port winery in Virginia.
Apple orchards, ripe figs, and fresh honey lead the way here. Sweet and crisp apples play next to dark chocolate cut with powdery cinnamon and clove as hints of oak and smoke linger in the background. An almost rummy sense of brown sugar peeks in late as the warmth, oak, and figgy nature of the sip fades slowly away.
Kings County Distillery Single Malt
Distillery: Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn, NY
Average Price: $45.99 (half bottle)
This is an American single malt made in Brooklyn by way of Scotland. The spirit is made in New York from malts acquired from England and Scotland. Scottish pot stills are employed for the double distillation. Then the hot juice goes into Kings County’s own ex-bourbon barrels for up to four years.
There’s a sense of fruit and dried flowers on a dry edge, cut with honey. That honey carries through and dried orange zest mixes with dried straw and an echo of peaty smoke. The malts shift toward creamy as the honey, earthiness, and light oaky touches take center stage before the dry, slightly medicinal final notes.
Old Line Single Malt American Whiskey
Distillery: Old Line Distillery, Baltimore, MD
Average Price: $51.99
This whiskey is a bit of West Coast meets East Coast. The Maryland-made tipple has a base of malted barley grown all the way out Pacific Northwest. The juice is then aged in small-format 10-gallon charred new white oak casks. The smaller casks mean shorter aging times, so this expression only spends two years mellowing.
Those malts come through with a sense of oaky char and plenty of fruit. Honey is present and mixes well with the vanilla. There’s a slight wisp of smoke and a hint of spice on the malty and full finish.
Del Bac Dorado Mesquite Smoked Single Malt Whiskey
Distillery: Whiskey Del Bac, Tucson, AZ
Average Price: $58.23
Usually, Scotch single malt uses malted barley made with peat. This small, family-run distillery out in Arizona changes that up by using locally grown mesquite wood to malt their barley. It’s a great way to really imbue a local flavor into single malt. The copper pot distilled juice is then aged in white oak barrels under the Arizona sun.
It should come as no surprise but tobacco smoke is front-and-center with a hint of dark chocolate cut with spicy chili. The smokiness turns those chilis towards chipotle with the chocolate bitterness fading as a burnt sugar note sails in alongside a clear billow of campfire smoke.
All that smoke, spice, and vegetal nature fade slowly like the coals dying down at the end of a spring evening.
Deerhammer American Single Malt Whiskey
Distillery: Deerhammer Distillery, Buena Vista, CO
Average Price: $53.99
This is a grain-to-glass distillery that takes their whiskey-making very seriously. This expression is made from a mash fermented via open air for days and is then distilled in direct-fire copper pot stills. The juice then goes into charred new white oak and is aged at the base of the Rocky Mountains for at least two years.
Dark, spicy chocolate bars dipped in fresh honey greet you. That bitter chocolate carries on with the spice as a sense of caramel and sweetened coffee come into play. Oak, grassy bales of hay, and rich toffee take hold on the long, warming end.
Copperworks American Single Malt Whiskey
Distillery: Copperworks Distilling Company, Seattle, WA
Average Price: $64.99
Seattle’s award-winning waterfront distillery has its roots in craft beer. Co-founder Jason Parker has brewed beer for Seattle craft icons Pike Brewing (he was their head brewer), Fish Brewing, Redhook, and Pyramid. In fact, Copperworks’ entire ethos for making whiskey is based on its craft-beer heritage. It’s a good ethos, as Copperworks is now a multiple award-winning craft distiller.
Bales of hay next to freshly broken honeycombs mingle with notes of sherry plum and a hint of roasted nuts. A dried fruit nature takes over with malts covered in treacle with a whisper of orange Necco Wafers. A sourdough malted bread loaf baked with pecans kicks in late as the sip ends on a warm-yet-sweet final note.
Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky
Distillery: Balcones Distillery, Waco, TX
Average Price: $69.99
This Texas whisky does things a little differently. The mash bill is made from 100 percent unpeated barley, giving the mash a very clean line of malts. The juice is then aged in various sized barrels in the Balcones rickhouse, on various floors. Once the right notes are hit, the whisky is then blended and aged in single large-format barrels for a finishing touch.
A fruit bowl brimming with bananas, pears, and peaches mingle with light notes of rose water cut with citrus oils and honey. The sip turns towards a toasted sourdough slice with plenty of butter and a dollop of orange marmalade. That toast fades as the oak rises to the fore — along with burnt sugar, malty earthiness, and a lingering sense of citric acid.
FEW Single Malt Whisky
Distillery: FEW Spritis, Evanston, IL
Average Price: $69.99
FEW also brings their own flourish to the single malt game. They use both smoked and unsmoked barley, using cherry for smoking. This is also a grain-to-glass distilling experience so all the barley is sourced with 100 miles of the distillery.
Marzipan and a wisp of smoke open this one up. There’s a clear sense of grainy malts next to mild notes of spice and fruit with an echo of herbal oils. The oak is more reminiscent of a lumberyard as more hints of fruit with vanilla enter the mix near the sweet-yet-mild finish.
Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Single Malt Whiskey
Distillery: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, Denver, CO
Average Price: $80.82
This one is all about the finish. Stranahan’s takes their 100 percent malted barley that’s been aged for four years and transfers it to special sherry casks. They source 500-liter (i.e. huge) casks from Andalusia in Spain. They specifically choose casks that have been aging sherry for up to 40 years.
Freshly threshed straw mingles with ripe cherries and tart apples alongside a note of leather. The cherry carries through with nice hits of walnuts, figs, tart red berries, and a honey sweetness that’s cut by a slight salinity. On the palate, the dram hits notes of a creamy and buttery pudding filled with all that fruit, counterpointed by a slash of chili spice on the quick finish.
Westward American Single Malt Stout Cask
Distillery: Westward Whiskey, Portland, OR
Average Price: $95.00
Westward starts its distilling process in true Pacific Northwest fashion by using craft beer techniques in the mash to make their base American single malt. After four years of aging, that expression is moved into barrels that have been seasoned with stouts from a long-list of Oregon’s craft brewers. The whiskey spends another year in those barrels, giving the single malt a clear line of brewery-focused whiskey throughout.
Orange zest, Christmas spices, toasted oak, and rich dark chocolate come through upfront. The sip really embraces the dark chocolate notes as burnt sugar sits next to vanilla, dried orange, and slight roasted almond flavor. The dark chocolate hits a bitterness note — balanced by the oak and spices — which carry the vanilla and sweetness to a long and warming finish.