The Bureau of Trade, Tobacco, and Firearms (TTB) is really keeping makers and fans of American single malt on tenterhooks. The federal Standards of Identity, which will create an officially recognized category for this contemporary American adaptation of a hundreds-year-old Scottish tradition, has been pending since July 2022—and in the works for close to a decade.
The hold up hasn’t stopped craft whiskey creativity, however, starting with the first American single malt experiments back in the 1980s and growing into enough distiller enthusiasm to prompt the formation of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) in 2016.
Today, more and more producers—from the craft distilling industry to giant global distillers like Jack Daniels, who released its first American single malt into duty free airport shops in October 2023—are dipping their toes in or, indeed, fully embracing the style. What is it, though? American single malt is a whiskey made in the United States from malted barley in a single distillery. There are currently more than 200 distilleries making at least one SKU and oftentimes more, according to the ASMWC. Despite its provisional status (as of writing, the TTB would not confirm a date of approval), producers have been tweaking and fine-tuning, allowing their respective spirits to age longer for that perfect moment to release them into the world.
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SevenFifty Daily checked in with spirits buyers around the country to learn which American single malt whiskeys they’re excited to sell and why. (All whiskeys are listed with price per bottle at the noted establishment.)
Hillrock Estate Distillery Single Malt, Hudson Valley, New York; $109.95
Chimene Macnaughton, the beverage director of Honest Man Hospitality in East Hampton, New York, looks for both stellar yet relatable flavor and a rich story in the spirits she selects. She first discovered Hillrock Estate Distillery when its founding master distiller Dave Pickerell was still alive, and she tasted through the entire line at the estate in the Hudson Valley. “[It’s] one of the few field-to-glass distilleries in the world and the first in the U.S. since before Prohibition to floor malt and handcraft all their whiskeys onsite from estate grown grain,” says Macnaughton. With her background in wine, the distillery’s terroir-driven tale is particularly compelling and it resonates with guests. “What I appreciate about their single malt is that all the barley comes from the Hillrock estate. The terroir shines through without the whiskey coming across like a bourbon-wannabe, and it has gorgeous baking spice notes of cinnamon, clove, and allspice, knitted together with forest floor, cedar, and tobacco smokiness on the finish.”
Santa Fe Spirits ‘Colkegan’ Mesquite Smoked Single Malt Whiskey, Santa Fe, New Mexico; $59.99
Many craft American single malts currently on the market can be tricky to find due to the complexities of national distribution regulations, especially in control states like Pennsylvania. Andrew Auwerda, the owner of Botld in Philadelphia, has found an innovative workaround to introduce the guests of his bottle shop to new spirits. He buys in bulk from around 28 craft distilleries outside of the state, and essentially acts as a bottler and packager for them. For some of his more adventure-seeking customers, ‘Colkegan’ Mesquite Smoked Single Malt Whiskey from Santa Fe Spirits is a favorite suggestion. “An English guy moves to the desert and creates a single malt whiskey?” says Auwerda. “The fact that he uses mesquite to add smokiness is just so right. If you’re making single malt in Santa Fe, something from the desert terroir should be part of it.”
Long Island Spirits Field & Sound American Single Malt Whiskey, Long Island, New York; $50
Since the original Manhattan location opened in 2012, Tommy Tardie’s Flatiron Room has been not just a keeper of stellar spirits, but a place to learn from his personally sourced whiskey collection. When it comes to American single malt, it was his first taste of the category years ago that still holds sway in his memory and appreciation, and led him to his current favorite, Field & Sound American Single Malt. “Long Island Spirits’ Pine Barrens was my intro to American single malt, or the first I actually drank and enjoyed,” says Tardie, noting that the bottled-in-bond Field & Sound demonstrated a thoughtful and broad pivot from the distillery’s first American Single Malt. “It’s nothing like Pine Barrens at all. For me, it’s an easy way to get someone interested in the category,” says Tardie. “Some American Single Malts and craft whiskeys in general just aren’t there yet. That can be a real turnoff and make someone walk away from it saying, ‘eh, I’m not a fan.’ We don’t want that. Field & Sound just seems ready. It’s complex with rich flavors and a nice finish—and that’s a big deal.”
St. George Spirits ‘Baller’ Single Malt Whiskey, Alameda, California; $50
Before Evan Bucholz opened Brix & Rye in Greenport, New York, the old fishing town hadn’t seen a whole lot of Sazeracs, let alone the breadth of quality craft spirits that this veteran bartender brought to the table. When it comes to American single malt, his go-to share is a benchmark in the category. “A personal favorite we offer at the bar is St. George ‘Baller’ Single Malt Whiskey,” he says. “St. George Spirits has been on the forefront of experimental distillates for decades now and makes some of the most exciting marks anywhere.” The Baller, he says, is in the vein of a clean, harmonious Japanese whiskey, and is finished in casks that originally held plum liqueur. “It gives it a subtle softness. It’s a fantastic intro to a category where bottles are often hard to come by and prohibitively expensive,” Bucholz says. “It’s also a great entry point to a distillery that is unafraid to put their meticulous stamp on any style of spirit.”
Cedar Ridge ‘The QuinteEssential’ American Single Malt, Swisher, Iowa; $58
For drinkers with an affinity for Islay single malts, Auwerda loves introducing them to ‘The QuintEssential’ American Single Malt from Cedar Ridge Distillery. It offers, he says, “a nod to that history of what Americans think of as single malt”—that is, of the smoky Islay ilk. ”Their approach [to American Single Malt] has some peaty notes,” he says. “It’s a really great distillate from a lovely family.” Not only is it a good fit for traditionalists, it also fills the bill of affordability. “You’re getting great juice at a great value. We can start stealing Scotch customers with this and bringing them over to American single malt.”
Balcones ‘1’ Texas Single Malt, Waco, Texas; $75
As spirits specialist at Vintage Wines & Spirits in Van Nuys, California, Sam Green, California’s first certified whiskey sommelier and the author of The Beginner’s Guide to Whiskey, has been happily upping the ante on the shop’s whiskey selections. For his whiskey-curious clients, the American single malt category has been a fun place to play and he enjoys introducing them to lesser-known whiskey producers and regions. “My absolute top pick is coming out of Texas from Balcones—I love what they’re doing. I especially love their Balcones ‘1’ Texas Single Malt,” he says. “Despite being a young age, it’s got a very nice palate—very well matured and developed partly because of the rapid maturation process in Texas due to the weather, which is very different from Kentucky or Tennessee.” He finds this to be a winning selling point. “It’s something unusual—I find our customers are not expecting a whiskey out of Texas. They’re also intrigued by the cask strength, which varies per year and per batch.” Acquired by Diageo in November 2022, Balcones promises more growth and distribution in the future years. “They’re getting a lot more light shone on them,” he adds.
Copperworks American Single Malt Whiskey, Seattle, Washington; $90
For those who want a bit of a special splurge, Auwerda was excited to bring in Seattle’s Copperworks Distilling Co., which was founded by Jason Parker and Micah Nutt, both veterans of the craft beer world. American single malt offers the kind of dialed-in nuance Auwerda tries to highlight for his customers at Botld, and Copperworks’ small-batch versions are a prime example. “To me, most notable in our store is Copperworks American Single Malt. They have a brewing history, which makes sense for single malt—they really know what they’re doing,” he says. “We got two special barrels we selected and bottled from them. They’re unique—each one uses a mash bill that’s a tiny bit different from the other. It’s pricey, but for the customer with real knowledge of the category, they can appreciate those small differences.”
Westland Distillery ‘Garryana’ American Single Malt, Seattle, Washington; $149.99
Seattle’s Westland Distillery, which produces only single malts, keeps things hyper-local by sourcing their barley from within Washington State. “Their spirits are all stellar,” says Bucholz, “but I particularly like their ‘Garryana’ American Single Malt. It’s a fantastic way to explore the effects of different wood on the aging process.” Garryana does the brunt of its aging in Washington-sourced Garry oak casks, and then finishes in a complex combination of Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, American brandy casks, Calvados, and American apple brandy casks. “The star of the show is the Quercus garryana, an oak native to the Pacific Northwest. It adds a rich earthiness to this spirit and imbues it with a unique sense of place. It’s a perfect example of what’s exciting about American single malts, a category that embraces tradition while leaving room for experimentation and variation.”
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Amy Zavatto is the author of Prosecco Made Me Do It: 60 Seriously Sparkling Cocktails, Forager’s Cocktails, and The Architecture of the Cocktail. Her stories appear in Liquor.com, Imbibe, Beverage Media, and many others. She judges at the American Craft Spirits Association annual competition and the New York Wine & Food Classic, and she earned her Level III Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, but her favorite way to learn is through taste and travel. She’s a big fan of underdogs and talking with her hands.