Mention American Whiskey to most people, and it’s completely expected that Bourbon, Rye or Tennessee Whiskey is what will spring to mind, and to be honest, you can’t blame them for that. Single malt whisky has traditionally been considered by the masses to be coming from Scotland, but of course, we know there’s single malt whisky coming from all over the world – Ireland, Japan, India, Taiwan, Australia, even Canada. But the States? Surely not.
Well, it looks like that’s something that’s about to change.
An American Revolution
That’s right, the Americans have seen the light with more and more distilleries popping up Stateside either producing or planning to produce single malt whisky (OK OK… whiskey). While the US government hasn’t yet set in place any legal requirements as to what an American Single Malt needs to be, these rules aren’t looking to be far off, and a newly formed body, the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, is doing what it can to establish, promote and protect the category of American Single Malt Whiskey.
Their formula is pretty simple (and predictable). American Single Malt Whiskey must be:
• Made from 100% Malted Barley
• Distilled entirely at one distillery
• Mashed, distilled and matured in the USA
• Matured in Oak Casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres
• Distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) Proof (80% ABV)
• Bottled at 80 (U.S.) Proof (40% ABV) or more
We’ve included a full list of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission’s Member Producers at the bottom of this post, and as you can see, there’s a huge number of members. 139 at the time of writing in fact. While this number seems huge, remember there are over 2000 distilleries in the USA. By comparison, there’s only 128 licensed whisky distilleries in Scotland (as at 2018, according to the Scotch Whisky Association), and Australia’s punching well above its weight too, with over 120 distilleries producing whisky today. So, American Single Malt Whiskey is looking like it’s going to be a big thing.
So what are they doing differently?
With the wide range of alcohol being produced in America, and without the constraints of traditions of a centuries-old industry, the Americans have been known to dabble with a bit of experimentation in production and maturation methods. While most follow the traditional Scotch recipe of double copper pot still distillation followed by oak (everything from virgin oak, through wine casks and even Japanese style plum liqueur casks), a few of them, notably Westward and Westlands, have taken inspiration from their bourbon and craft beer relatives to introduce the concept of a mash-bill, (100% malted barley of course!). Using various craft beer recipes, yeasts and malts (chocolate malt, pale ale, stout etc) they create extremely high quality, interesting and flavourful spirit, ready for resting in oak.
Sounds interesting, right? So, if you’re ready to delve into the world of American Single Malt, that’s awesome. Only trouble is, here in Australia, it’s still a little hard to get hold of. But to whet your appetite, here’s a list of nine American single malt whiskies you should try to get your hands on, plus one you definitely can this month, from the Club.