The American single malt whiskey category is the most exciting style of whiskey right now. There’s so much fun innovation and newness to the whole category that there’s something for every type of whiskey drinker out there. Still, this is a very small category compared to bourbon or rye or even Scotch whisky. Meaning that finding a good bottle takes a little research and effort — which is where I come in!
I’m conducting a double-blind taste test of American single malt whiskeys below. My wife was kind enough to set this one up for me by randomly grabbing American single malt whiskeys off my shelf. She seemingly grabbed the bottles at the front since most of her picks are pretty new bottles with a couple of modern classics thrown in.
Here’s the lineup for today:
- Colkegan Unsmoked American Single Malt Whiskey
- Old Line American Single Malt Whiskey Double Oak Series Sherry Cask
- Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky
- Stranahan’s Blue Peak Single Malt Whiskey
- Clermont Steep American Single Malt Whiskey
- Brother Justus American Single Malt Whiskey
- Lost Lantern Single Distillery Series Gentle Giant Balcones Distilling Texas Single Malt
- Hinterhaus Distilling American Single Malt Whiskey Discovery
Since this was double-blind, I simply ranked each pour by how tasty it was. It’s that easy so let’s dive right in!
Part 1 — The American Single Malt Tasting
Nose: The nose opens with velvety fruit (think apples, grapes, peaches) next to a hint of spicy woody warmth cut with brown sugar and cinnamon butter with a hint of nuttiness.
Palate: That nuttiness gets creamy on the palate as cinnamon toast and leathery dried apricots lead to a try nutshell and spice bark vibe with a hint of vanilla wafer.
Finish: The finish is lush and dry with a toffee and butterscotch creaminess cut with plenty of dry winter spice and orchard barks.
This was really nice overall. It tasted like a classic malt whiskey.
Nose: Caramel jumps out on the nose with a touch of salt and burnt toffee next to soft brown sugar, old leather, and prunes with a whisper of spiced tobacco.
Palate: The palate is very plummy with plenty of buttery brown sugar and cinnamon clumps (like fancy restaurant butter balls) next to a hint of almond and rum-raisin.
Finish: The end leans toward the almond shells with a touch of vanilla tobacco wrapped up in old leather and cedar bark.
Wow. This is super luscious with great depth. I like this one a lot.
Nose: There’s a good dose of pecan waffles, maple, and sharp sarsaparilla on the nose with a deep earthiness that’s part grain silo and part high desert scrub brush.
Palate: The palate is creamy and hits on some serious warmth as pear candy mixes with fresh ginger and a pile of pecan shells next to a hint of floral Earl Grey and more of that high desert dry florae vibe.
Finish: The finish leans into the dryness of nutshells and black tea while hinting at the maple and sarsaparilla from the nose.
This is dry and wildly different. I’m guessing this is something from Texas in that case. And it’s pretty good but very different.
Nose: Marmalade and dried apricot on toast with plenty of butter is the dominant note on the nose with a hint of winter spice.
Palate: Butterscotch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch drive the palate toward stewed apple with a nice hint of dry spice that leans toward red chili pepper.
Finish: The leathery apricot kicks back in with that sharp chili pepper spice before softer notes of vanilla oil and cinnamon sugar syrup soften the landing.
This is fine. It’s a little thin and sweet at the end.
Nose: The nose opens with a toasted caramel maltiness that’s super grainy with salted toffee syrup and a nice dollop of butter with a hint of chocolate-covered caramels in the background.
Palate: The palate is light with a Kentucky winter spice bark vibe next to a bowl of Cream of Wheat with a hint of honey and nasturtium as a counterbalance.
Finish: The end really leans into the Kentucky wood spice with a hint of pear orchards and soft chewing tobacco just kissed with chili pepper spice.
This felt completely different too. It’s extremely grain-forward on the nose almost to the point of anchovy umami. It’s wildly different.
Nose: The nose opens with a fruit candy vibe that’s part Apple Jolly Rancher and part orange wedge with a note of winter spice.
Palate: Caramelized malts and vanilla pods drive the soft palate toward a hint of smudging sage and old oak staves.
Finish: The end circles back around to the orchard fruit candy sweetness with a dash of cinnamon and vanilla over caramel maltiness.
This is perfectly fine.
Nose: This opens with Granny Smith apple skins over winter spice barks dipped in floral honey and dried next to orange wheels and Graham Crackers.
Palate: The orchard-iness drives the palate with a sense of soft salted toffee cut with vanilla oils and dipped in dark chocolate orange sauce and wrapped in damp black tea leaves.
Finish: Orchard woods and soft malts round out the finish with a hint of honeyed toffee and spiced apple fritter.
This is delicious.
Nose: Soft caramelized malts lead on the nose with layers of rich toffee, sharp winter spices, fresh mint, and berry cobbler.
Palate: The toffee gets a little salt on the palate as rich vanilla and pear pudding move the taste back toward sharp winter spice that is so cinnamon-heavy that it starts to feel like Red Hots.
Finish: That sharp yet sweet hot cinnamon is countered by vanilla malt and salted caramel over apple pie filling cut with cranberry.
This is pretty good overall. I don’t know what it is but it’s a nice malt whisky experience.
Part 2 — The American Single Malt Ranking
8. Clermont Steep American Single Malt Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $65
This new release from James B. Beam in Clermont, Kentucky is Jim Beam’s foray into the world of American single malt whiskey. The juice was crafted from 100% American malted barley and fermented with Beam’s proprietary yeast strain. That whiskey was left for five years to mellow in toasted barrels that were barely charred. The final product was batched and proofed down before bottling.
This was so grain-forward that I think a little bit of the nuance gets lost. There’s a lot going on that works, don’t get me wrong, I’m just not 100% that it’s all there yet.
7. Stranahan’s Blue Peak Single Malt Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $36
This Colorado malt whiskey is made with Stranahan’s classic double distilling high up in the Rockies. The whiskey is aged in new American oak for four years before being solera batched — that means the whiskey goes into a vat that is never emptied.
This was fine but the thinnest single malt sip today. It feels like it’d be fine in highballs or citrus-heavy cocktails.
6. Brother Justus American Single Malt Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $59
This Minnesota whiskey is a grain-to-glass bottle. The mash is made with malted barley grown and malted in Minnesota. That mash is then pot distilled and rested in oak for a year before batching and bottling.
This has some nice nuance but simply needs a year or two more to really start to pop. It’d be fine for highballs.
5. Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky — Taste 3
Average Price: $78
This whisky is made with a lot of care. The juice is 100% malted barley imported from Scotland, specifically Scottish Golden Promise Malted Barley. The spirit then ages in a combination of barrels ranging from new and used American, French, and Hungarian oak. After a few years under the hot Waco sun, the barrels are vatted and bottled with no fussing besides a touch of local water.
This is wildly bolder and earthier than any other pour. That said, I really have to be in the right mood to reach for this one. Still, this rocks over some ice where it opens up toward creamy butter goodness with a nutty edge and leaves some of the danker earthiness behind.
4. Colkegan Unsmoked American Single Malt Whiskey — Taste 1
Average Price: $69
This high desert whiskey is usually a bold peated malt. This version is the unpeated expression that was made as an experiment over four years ago. The unpeated whiskey was left in the back corner of a warehouse in new American oak and used bourbon barrels. Once those barrels hit the right mark, they were vatted and bottled with a hint of proofing water.
This is pretty nice overall. It’s probably the most middle-of-the-road pour. I mean that in a good way. You know what you’re getting with this pour of whiskey — a good standard American single malt whiskey.
3. Hinterhaus Distilling American Single Malt Whiskey Discovery — Taste 8
Average Price: $67
This Sierra Nevada, California, distillery is all about local. They use local mountain water to ferment their local malt. The blend in this expression is 69% from a first fill ex-American single malt barrel and 31% from a heavy toast and medium char new American oak barrel. Both were aged at least 18 months before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This was really nice. It’s classic American single malt whiskey and feels like it through and through. I can see sipping or mixing this pretty easily.
2. Old Line American Single Malt Whiskey Double Oak Series Sherry Cask — Taste 2
Average Price: $65
This Baltimore whiskey is made with 100% malted barley — Premium 2 Row Malt and Deep Roast Malt — before going into new American oak for exactly “3.6 years” (their metric). Once those barrels hit that sweet spot, they’re vatted and then re-barreled into ex-Olorosso sherry casks for a final ten-month rest.
This is lush and delicious. It didn’t quite have the same depth as the next entry but it’s very, very good whiskey. Drink it however you like to enjoy your whiskey.
1. Lost Lantern Single Distillery Series Gentle Giant Balcones Distilling Texas Single Malt — Taste 7
Average Price: $99
This rare blend from Balcones via Lost Lantern is a batch of five-and-a-half super rare casks. The batch is made from single malts aged in a four-year-old double cask apple brandy cask, a three-year-old large European cask that dried outside for three years, another one of those casks but just a little older, a four-year-old ex-bourbon cask, and a half-full European oak cask that was exactly three years and 56 days old when it was dumped. All of that whisky was vatted and bottled as-is.
This is excellent American single malt whiskey. It’s so nuanced and deep while still feeling welcoming. Overall, this is a great sipper to have around.
Part 3 — Final Thoughts on the American Single Malt Whiskey
I’d argue the top four entries are all worth checking out — or at least that’s where I’d focus my energy on this list. The top two are standouts, but all four of those bottles are worthy.
That all said, Gentle Giant and Old Line are both excellent and the real winners of this double-blind tasting. They’re deep, nuanced, and very easygoing sips of whiskey. They deliver in every way.