W W W. C R A F T BY U M H . C O M D A V E P I C K E R E L L T he R ise of A merican S ingle M alt W hiskey In order to fully understand the rise of American single malt whiskey, it is helpful to take a peak back to the early days of craft beer. When the craft beer movement kicked off, the bigger companies were essentially making water and light water. There was no real competition from the big boys in a wide range of products … IPA, APA, witbier, kolsch, and so on. There was plen- ty of room for the nacient craft beer guys to make great tasty beers without having to compete directly with the larger companies. This was not the case when the craft spirits movement kicked off. The big companies were already competing with good quality products in every single spirit category … except American single malt. Competition in the American single malt arena is a bit like the hunters that were out in the woods setting up a base camp. They heard a bear off in the distance and decided that it might be wise to leave and come back later to finish up. As they were leaving, one of the hunters stopped to put on running shoes. Someone looked over at him and said, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” He replied, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just need to out- run one of you!” Many, if not most, of the craft spirits in the American single malt space are not trying to be “American Scotch”, they are just trying to carve out a unique space where they can make a good, tasty spirit and stand out a bit from the crowd. Federal regulations in the United States further complicate the landscape of American single malt whiskeys. The standards of identity for American dis- tilled spirits are spelled out in 27 CFR 5.22 which requires that malt whiskey be stored in charred, new oak containers. The United States is the only coun- try in the world that requires malt whiskey to be stored in charred new oak containers; everywhere else in the world, malt whiskey is stored in previously used charred oak barrels. This means that American producers of single malt must either comply and start the maturation process with new charred bar- rels or employ used barrels for aging and call the product “whiskey distilled from a malt mash”, a rarely used and even less understood category. Some consider these regulations over restrictive, others see this as an oppor- tunity to set their own course to make delicious products that are not neces- sarily conforming to global expectations for single malt. Balcones Texas Sin- gle Malt Whiskey, Corsair Small Batch Triple Smoke, Hamilton Distillers Del Bac Dorado Mesquite Smoked Aged Malt Whiskey, Hillrock Estate Distillery Single Malt Whiskey with OPX finish, and Wasmund’s Single Malt Whiskey are great examples of distillers who are bringing American single malt whis- key to the forefront. Balcones uses 100-percent unpeated malted barley, ages this whiskey first in several different sized barrels, and then marries these spirits into one big barrel to finish out the maturation process. Corsair smokes their malt with three different fuels: cherry wood, peat, and beechwood, then marries these malts and ages in new charred oak barrels. Hamilton Distillers Del Bac Do- rado malts their barley over mesquite instead of the traditional peat. Hill- rock takes a more traditional approach with estate grown barley malted and smoked with Speyside peat, fermented in a traditional washback system, aged first in new charred oak barrels then moved to once used bourbon bar- rels, and finished first in Pedro Ximenez barrels and then Oloroso barrels. Fi- nally, Wasmund’s uses apple and cherry wood to smoke their malted barley. All these whiskeys have achieved high recognition, Balcones, Corsair Triple Smoke, and Del Bac Dorado have scored double gold medals at the San Fran- cisco International Spirits Competition. Wasmund’s scored 94.5 points in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible. Hillrock Estate Single Malt scored 97 points from Wine Enthusiast as the highest rating ever received in the malt whiskey category globally. The American single malt category has not yet achieved the status and recog- nition accorded single malts from Ireland, Scotland, or Japan, but it deserves consideration. There are many absolutely wonderful products using both time-honored, traditional approaches and novel techniques to produce world class spirits. © Hundred-to-One LLC 2018. All rights reserved.