Unlike bourbon or Scotch whisky, American single malt whiskey has long lacked a protected, legal definition—until now. Thanks in large part to the efforts of more than 100 member-producers who created the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission in 2016, the Bureau of Trade, Tobacco, and Firearms (TTB) began processing the application in July of this year, with official recognition likely coming in 2023. The proposed guidelines include that the spirit be made from 100 percent malted barley, mashed and matured only in the U.S., distilled entirely at one distillery and bottled at no less than 80 proof. But distilleries across the country are already producing excellent expressions—here are six bottles to get you acquainted with the category.
Under the helm of founder and distiller Paul Hletko, FEW Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, added a single malt to their whiskey lineup in 2013, released once or twice a year. Borrowing a practice from traditional peat-smoked Scotch whiskies, FEW incorporates a portion of malt smoked over cherrywood. The result is an earthy, leathery fragrance with a malty sweetness and flavors of dark chocolate and caramel reminiscent of a dark rum. $74.95, bountyhunterwine.com
The New York whiskey-focused distillery Kings County sources lightly peated malted barley from Scotland and unpeated malt from England, open ferments the grain, and then distills in Scottish pot stills before bottling their single malt at 94 proof. The finished whiskey has a subtle, smoky sweetness with flavors of hay, honey and dried citrus. $47.99, caskers.com
Produced in Denver for more than a decade, Stranahan’s original single malt whiskey earns its Rocky Mountain moniker utilizing barley and spring water both sourced from the surrounding region. A sweet and spicy spirit, the whiskey opens with the smell of banana bread and stewed apples, with sweet buttery flavors balanced by notes of peppercorn and tobacco. $58.99, reservebar.com
Single malt whiskey was the spirit that inspired Lance Winters, St. George’s master distiller, to switch careers from brewing to distilling. But his brewer’s background still influences the mash bill for St. George’s Single Malt, which uses two-row barley at a variety of roast levels. The distillery began laying down barrels in 1997, and the whiskey drawn from the barrels ranged in age from four to 19 years. It has a surprisingly delicate mouthfeel with a gentle fruity sweetness and herbal/floral notes. $109.99, drizly.com
A relative newcomer to the market, with their first whiskey released in 2014, Seattle-based Westland Distillery takes a particular interest in provenance when creating a New World single malt. Employing a five-malt blend as their foundation and fermenting with Belgian brewer’s yeast, Westland has released a peated version and an expression aged in sherry casks. But their flagship single malt, aged in American oak, is extra fragrant with citrus and blackberry jam, with spice up front and a pleasingly dry finish. $69.99, reservebar.com
Though Portland, Oregon’s House Spirits Distillery initially gained attention for their Krogstad Aquavit and Aviation Gin, by 2015 they were the largest independent distiller of American single malt whiskey. Westward is made with two-row barley grown in the Pacific Northwest, fermented with American ale yeast and matured in American oak barrels. The result is a clean, balanced whiskey with flavors of stone fruit and spice, nicely complemented by aromas of leather and caramel. $70.49, totalwine.com