Whiskey experts have been predicting that American single malt whiskey was one to watch. And now the data backs up that assertion. It’s now the fastest-growing whiskey category in the United States. The major international spirit competitions, including the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the New York World Spirits Competitions and the Las Vegas Global Spirit Awards, are recognizing it as well.
This style of whiskey has been produced in the United States since the 90s, and there are more than 200 different expressions from more than 100 distilleries. So, why is the whiskey world paying attention to it now?
A group of craft distilleries formed the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, which has been lobbying (for over half a decade) to make American single malt whiskey an official category, which would include strict regulations and a standardized definition.
If and when (experts say it could happen at any moment) this happens, it would stipulate that American single malt whiskey must be produced at a single distillery from 100 percent malted barley, be distilled to 160 proof or less and bottled at 80 proof or more, and be matured in oak barrels with a maximum size of 700 liters,
Because there are already more than 100 distilleries producing American single malt whiskey, the standardization would give consistency to the category’s quality and style. Christian Krogstad, founder and master distiller of Westward Whiskey says it would help solidify that “American single malt is not just Scotch in America.”
“It’s just going to codify what’s already being done,” he told Thrillist. “But what’s great about it is, it gives the weight of that official style, of that type of whiskey to the retailers, and to the competitions, and so forth, so that it’s being recognized in retail, liquor stores, and bars as a movement, as a thing.”
The reason Krogstad is so adamant about American single malt being more than just a reinterpretation of Scotch has to do with the experimentation that’s already present within this style of whiskey. “A lot of the innovation is happening around fermentation, around different yeast varieties, sometimes playing around with hops, or just working with different malt varieties,” he said. “And just really opening up the style, opening up the possibilities of what a single malt can be, and not being as tradition-bound as it is, say, in Scotland.”
Steve Hawley, president of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission says the innovation is the most exciting part about single malt emerging as its own category. “Some of our members see distinct regional styles starting to emerge. More traditional styles on the East Coast, a brewing influence in the Pacific Northwest, and mesquite-smoked whiskeys in the Southwest, for example,” he told Forbes. “In each region, some distilleries fit stylistic archetypes; some don’t. Personally, I think regional styles are likely to emerge naturally as reflecting a distinct sense of place in whiskey as a primary goal to many, if not most of our members.”
Hawley cautions to let the experimentation play out rather than jump to quick assumptions about the style in general. “Creativity and innovation are core to the promise of American single malt, and individually and collectively, I think we’re adding an entirely new voice to the global conversations. That’s what is so exciting about it,” he said.
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