American single malt whiskey is one of the most exciting sectors of the entire whiskey-sphere at the moment. The movement is being spearheaded by small craft distilleries around the country, with a desire to make something that isn’t just more bourbon. I mean… we love bourbon but even we need some variety in our drinking diets.
In general, American single malt doesn’t have quite as strict rules as, say, Scottish single malts. Still, there’s a throughline in the booze whether it’s made up in Seattle or down in Texas. Malted barley is still the main grain in use. Whether that’s peated or ale barley is up to the distiller in charge. Beyond that, barreling, aging length, and even proof are up for grabs.
There’s a lot of variation, which leads to a lot of great drams. This, in turn, leads to a lot of drinkers finding new expressions that expand their palates.
The eight bottles below represent new(ish) single malt bottles that have been either released this year or within the last few years. These are the bottles we think are worth tracking down, especially if you’re already a Scotch single malt fan (or a bourbon fan!) who’s looking for something new.
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Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky
Distillery: Virginia Distillery Co., Lovingston, VA
Average Price: $75
Virginia Distillery is one of those craft distilleries you’re going to be hearing more and more about in the coming years. Their Courage & Conviction is the second in a series of single malts the distillery plans to release in this line. This expression is a single malt blend of 100 percent malted barley distillate that’s aged in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-Cuvée wine casks. The blend is a split of 50 percent from the bourbon cask and an equal measure from each the sherry and Cuvée casks.
This 2020 release is about to have some company as well. Next year, the distillery plans on releasing a single malt that represents each of those three casks individually.
You’re greeted with a clear sweetness that edges from bourbon caramel towards buttery toffee and malts. The palate follows suit and adds in notes of tart raspberry next to hints of vanilla and oaky spice. The addition of a drop of water brings about a dark chocolate powder in both texture and taste. The sip fades evenly back through the warm spice, bright berry, and toffee sweetness.
This makes for a fine sipper with a little ice or water. I really dig it in a highball with soft mineral water. It also has a solid bottle design with a heavy cork and nice tin, which always makes for a classic gift.
Lineage Texas Single Malt Whisky
Distillery: Balcones Distilling, Waco, TX
Average Price: $35
Balcones’ Lineage has quickly become a classic from the Texas distillery. Lineage is a marriage of two distillates — one made with Scottish malted barley and one made with Texas-grown malted barley — that is then aged in new and used American oak.
The result is a prime example of the grain-to-glass craftsmanship that Balcones is heralded for.
This is a Balcones’ classic for a reason. Notes of cream soda sit next to overripe stone fruit, a sourdough tang, and a hint of spicy apple cider. The sip then leans into its oak as a honeyed sweetness arrives with a light touch of autumnal nuts and earthiness. That spicy apple cider comes back on the end as mild black tea bitterness kicks up on the slow fade.
The key to what makes Balcones so successful is its pricepoints. A bottle this complex and enjoyable should cost twice as much. That low price means I don’t have a problem using this as a cocktail base. But you can easily drink this as a sipper with a few rocks.
Westward American Single Malt Whiskey
Distillery: Westward Whiskey, Portland, OR
Average Price: $80
Portland’s Westward Whiskey has its roots in Pacific Northwest craft brewing culture (similar to most craft distilleries in the PNW). This juice is emblematic of how important the first step of whiskey — the fermented mash that is, basically, beer — is to the whiskey-making process. And while Westward’s Stout Cask Finish was getting all the love this year, just last year this expression won Double Gold in San Francisco.
It’s a hell of a dram is what we’re saying.
There’s a clear malty base with a nice, bright fruitiness. Hints of vanilla sit next to wet brown sugar as a rush of Christmas spices arrive with a flourish of age via pipe tobacco. A little water brings about a cacao underbelly with a note of worn leather.
This is another easy sipper with a little water or ice. It’s on the spendier side, so take your time enjoying the depth.
Copperworks American Single Malt Whiskey, Release 031
Distillery: Copperworks Distilling Co., Seattle, WA
Average Price: $60
Sticking with that PNW craft brewing culture, Copperworks was also founded by former brewers looking to make great spirits. This expression — released last month — is the 31st iteration of their award-winning single malt. The juice is a blend of seven distinct casks of single malt. The most important cask being the “Full Pint” cask which was made with local Skagit Valley barley. The remaining six casks were all aged a minimum of 32 months and all in new American oak.
Tasting Notes (from the distillery):
“The release offers aromas of browned butter, orange cream, and grapefruit peel followed by ripe blackberry and spice. Flavors of honeydew, cut hay, Thai basil, and melon rind lead to a finish of blackberry, tomato vine, fruit, and a slight, sweet brininess.”
I have yet to try this brand-new release. But if the last few Copperwork’s releases I’ve enjoyed are any indication, this will be a robust sipping whiskey over a nice glass full of rocks.
Westland Black Raven Cask Exchange Single Malt Whiskey
Distillery: Westland Distillery, Seattle, WA
Average Price: $106
Seattle’s Westland takes the “beer” aspect of whiskey and raises the stakes. In this case, used Westland whiskey casks are sent out Black Raven Brewing Co. where they age stout and kriek beers. Then, the casks are sent back to Westland where they’re filled again with whiskey and stored on the Washington coast for up to 80 months.
There’s a mingling of fresh, savory herbs next to sharp ginger cut with sugar and a roasted nut undertow. Brandied cherries covered in dark chocolate arrive on the palate with a burst as the ginger becomes more of a ginger cake full of dark spices. A little water brings a slight and welcome bitterness as the sip slowly fades out through all the cherry, chocolate, and spice.
I was lucky enough to try this last year when it dropped and I still find myself thinking about it randomly. There were only 952 bottles released, so it’s not getting cheaper. It’s a great example of how complex yet enjoyable a sipping whiskey can be. Just don’t forget to open it up with some water or a single rock.
Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond
Distillery: Vapor Distillery, Boulder, CO
Average Price: $68
This Colorado whiskey is a fascinating experiment — asking what a single malt that’s treated like a bottled-in-bond bourbon might taste like. The juice is made from 100 percent malted barley. Then is spends four years in a bonded warehouse aging in new American oak. It’s then bottled at 50 percent ABV per B-i-B regulations.
Tasting Notes (from the distillery):
“A black cherry aroma is followed by a nice spicy and creamy palate. Soft and mellow, the cherry returns in the finish along with subtle hints of licorice. ‘As close to a good Scotch as we dare claim.’”
I was a big fan of Boulder’s Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon the last time I had a dram — though, I’d treat it more as a mixer. Their American Single Malt Port Cask Finish is also a heavy-hitter with great depth and good sipability.
If those drams are any indication, this award-winning expression should make a great addition to any home bar shelf.
Stranahan’s Sherry Cask
Distillery: Stranahan’s Distillery, Denver, CO
Average Price: $90
Sticking with the Rocky Mountain State, Stranahan’s Sherry Cask has become a much sought after bottle. The four-year-old single malt is transferred to 500-liter sherry barrels that have held Andalucian sherry for 40 long years. That depth of flavor is imparted in this single malt down to the core as it finishes in that old oak.
There’s a fresh cut straw nature that draws you into a matrix of fresh cherries and orchard fruits next to roasted almonds and a mild nose of old saddle leather. The cherries and nuts really dominate the palate as an almost savory, figgy fruitiness arrive next to a hint of fresh honey. A little water really steers this sip away from getting oversweet, as a chili pepper spice emerges next to creamy caramel.
This is a good gift bottle. It’s complex, sippable, and within an attainable price range. Try it over a couple of rocks to help it really open up, but don’t overdo it with the water.
The Notch Nantucket Single Malt Whisky Aged 15 Years
Distillery: Triple Eight Distillery, Nantucket, MA
Average Price: $500
The Notch is continually named the “best” American single malt in the world, including at this year’s World Whisky Awards. Like many of the single malts on this list, this hinges on the quality of the beer brewed as the base. They use the much-coveted Maris Otter barley that’s processed on-site at the brewery before being sent to the distillery to start this whisky. The hot juice is then barreled and stored next to the sea. This expression is a blend of whiskies aged in former sherry barrels, Cognac barrels, wine casks, and sauternes barrels (a sweet French wine).
The oak comes through up top and is supported by dried red berries, dried tobacco, worn leather, creamed vanilla, and a hint of dark spice. The sip leans into aged notes and oak as the spice wanes and a musty nature takes over with an old hay edge. The warmth of the dram is drawn back and edges more into the peppery spice as the fruit and tobacco help the sip fade slowly away.
Having tried this at a tasting I can safely say: try this one (probably at a tasting). It’s really good. It’s the ultimate sipper that’ll help you “get” what good single malt is. If you can afford it, buy two — one as an investment bottle.