When you hear the term “single malt whiskey,” you likely think of Scotch whisky. Scotland’s bold distilleries have made the term almost synonymous with the country’s single distillery offerings. But American distillers are taking up the single malt mantle as well.
An American single malt whiskey, like a Scotch single malt, is a whiskey that’s made with solely malted barley at a single distillery (meaning not blended with other whiskies from other locations). American single malts are relatively new in the spirits world, and the U.S. government doesn’t yet have a classification for strictly American single malts. They currently fall under “whisky distilled from malt mash,” “straight malt whisky,” or simply “malt whisky.” All three of those classifications fail to require a 100 percent barley mash from one distillery. However, a new American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, established in 2016, is hoping to maintain standards.
These eight bottles are true American single malts you need to try to understand the style, whether the government has a classification for them or not. All standard price estimates via Wine Searcher.
Westward American Single Malt Whiskey from House Spirits
Westward has hints of vanilla and is slightly sweet, with notes of coffee toward the end of each sip. House Spirits, the company that makes Westward, is based in the Pacific Northwest, and uses barley from the region fermented with American ale yeast. Distilled in one of the largest pot stills in America, Westward is then aged in new charred American oak for an unspecified amount of time. In other words, when it’s ready, it’s ready. Price: $80
FEW Single Malt Whisky
FEW goes with the Scottish spelling of whisky, but it’s clear that it’s not Scotch from the very first sip. FEW made a name for itself with bourbon, rye, and gin, but its single malt whisky is its best offering. It’s made with cherrywood-smoked malt and un-smoked malt from barley sourced within 100 miles of the distillery. There’s a spicy kick to the spirit that’s balanced out by a noticeable wood flavor. Price: $70
Garryana Whiskey from Westland Distillery
Westland uses barrels made from a native Oregon oak tree called Quercus garryana for its single malt whiskey, hence the name. It’s a sipping whiskey that opens up with a bit of water and shows flavors of clove, molasses and coffee. Garryana is a limited-release offering and will set you back some, but it’s well worth the experience. Price: $139
St. George Single Malt
St. George Spirits was one of the first American single malts when it first came out in 2000. Today, their Lot series of single malts is well established and loved. Each Lot varies by year, but the whiskey is generally fruity and floral — much lighter than a big smoky Scotch single malt and even some of the other American single malts on this list. The whiskey is aged for four to 15 years in French and American oak barrels. Price: $116
Traveler’s Rest American Single Malt Whiskey from Alpine Distilling
One of the newer American single malts on the market, Utah-based Alpine Distilling is coming in strong with a single malt aged in former Jack Daniels Missouri oak barrels. It’s nutty and full-tasting at 44 percent alcohol by volume. Alpine Distilling also offers a barrel proof edition. Price: $50 for the 44 percent, $74 for the barrel proof.
Hillrock Estate Distillery Single Malt Whiskey
Single malt whiskey producers are heavily involved in their product from sourcing the grain to the final whiskey. Hillrock takes it a step further by growing their own grain as well. Hillrock’s single malt is on the spicy side, with notes of vanilla and leather. Price: $97
Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey from Santa Fe Spirits
Santa Fe Spirits wouldn’t want their single malt to be called a Scotch even if it could be. It’s smoky thanks to smoking the malt, but rather than using peat like in Scotland, Santa Fe Spirits uses a unique wood smoking process. It’s a big whiskey with a nice blend of smoke, wood, and vanilla flavors. Price: $55.
Hudson Single Malt from Tuthilltown Spirits
Tuthilltown is perhaps best known for its Hudson Baby Bourbon, but you don’t want to ignore its single malt offering. The whiskey is a big 46 percent alcohol by volume and aged in small new American oak casks. The new oak imparts a lot of flavor on the spirit, and benefits from a dash of water to bring out some of the more subtle fruit flavors. Price: $45