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Taste Test: American Single Malts

Story: Penelope Bass

Unlike bourbon or Scotch whisky, American single malt whiskey has no legal definition—yet. More than 100 member-producers have joined the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, with the aim to establish and protect the category. Their proposed guidelines include that the spirit be made from 100 percent malted barley, is mashed and matured only in the U.S., distilled entirely at one distillery and bottled at no less than 80 proof. Distilleries across the country are already producing excellent expressions—here are six bottles to get you acquainted with the category.

FEW Single Malt Whisky 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

Kings County Single Malt Whiskey 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. $49.99, caskers.com

Stranahan’s Rocky Mountain Single Malt Whiskey 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. $60, reservebar.com

St. George Single Malt Whiskey 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. Now in its 18th release since the first batch in 2000, the whiskey was drawn from barrels ranging in age from four to 19 years, and has a surprisingly delicate mouthfeel with a gentle fruity sweetness and herbal/floral notes. $79.99, klwines.com

Westland American Oak Single Malt Whiskey 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. $67, reservebar.com

Westward American Single Malt Whiskey 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. $85.99, holidaywinecellar.com

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