In the vast landscape of the spirits industry, American single malt whiskey has emerged as a distinctive and competitive category, capturing the palates and hearts of whiskey enthusiasts worldwide. This unique trend represents a departure from traditional American whiskey styles, such as bourbon and rye, showcasing the creativity and innovation within the craft distilling scene.
“Single malt whisky is the original whisky, created a thousand years ago by Irish monks, refined by Scottish distillers, and then becoming the world’s most desired and appreciated spirit.” (https://singlemaltusa.com/the-history-of-american-single-malt-whisky/)
The roots of American single malt whiskey can be traced back to the 1990s when Steve McCarthy’s Clear Creek Distillery released the first American single malt- McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey. However due to the higher cost of the barley, it was not until early 2000s that demand drove wider experimentation.
One of the defining characteristics of American single malt whiskey is the emphasis on craftsmanship and innovation. For a whiskey to be identified as American single malt, it needs to be made from 100% malted barley and produced at one distillery. Distillers, often operating on a smaller scale, maturing the whiskey in 700-litre oak casks or smaller.
Single malt American whiskey is aged in new charred oak barrels, often contributing to a more intense and robust flavour profile. The ageing process varies but commonly ranges from a few years to a decade or more.
Traditional Scottish whisky is primarily made from malted barley and American distillers also have a shared definition for Single Malt being made malted barley, this is a departure from other American styles that can also include other grains like corn, wheat, and rye. Scotch whisky is typically distilled twice in pot stills and many traditional Scottish distilleries lean towards smaller casks of less that 700 litres, like the iconic hogsheads and sherry butts and American Whiskey follows suit here too. Scotch whisky is renowned for its ageing process in oak barrels for a minimum of a couple of years. The climate in Scotland, with its cool temperatures and varying humidity levels, plays a crucial role in shaping the final product. So the differing American climate has a part to play in its variations from its Trans-Atlantic cousin.
Just as Scotch single malts showcase regional variations, American single malts are starting to exhibit distinct characteristics based on their geographical origins. Distilleries in different parts of the country leverage local ingredients, climate, and water sources, contributing to the diversity of flavours within the category.
American single malt whiskey has not only gained popularity domestically but also worldwide. The international recognition is a testament to the skill and dedication of American distillers in producing high-quality single malt expressions. (https://singlemaltusa.com/the-history-of-american-single-malt-whisky/)
Whiskey and Whisky enthusiasts, both seasoned and novice, are increasingly drawn to the rich and diverse flavours offered by American single malts. The category appeals to those looking for something different from the traditional bourbon and rye options. Tasting notes often highlight the complexity, depth, and balance that characterise well-crafted American single malt whiskies.
The emergence of American single malt whiskey as a distinctive and competitive category in the spirits industry is a testament to the spirit of innovation and craftsmanship within the American whiskey landscape. As distillers continue to push boundaries, experiment with flavours, and showcase regional distinctions, the future looks bright for American single malt whiskey, offering whiskey enthusiasts a journey of discovery and delight.