A growing number of American whiskey producers are experimenting with single malts—and some are as good (a few might say better) as the sacred stuff from Scotland.
One of the standouts is the smoky and peaty Sherry-barrel-aged whiskey from Seattle’s Westland Distillery.
That such a complex single malt is made in the Needle City is not surprising. The local barley is some of the best in the world, the water quality is the envy of other metropolises and, most importantly, the will-it-ever-stop-raining, cool maritime climate is eerily similar to Scotland’s.
“For us, a single malt is the ultimate expression of what our home wants to do,” says Emerson Lamb, president of Westland Distillery.
Still, great single malts don’t require miserable conditions—only great Scotch-like single malts do. Amazing whiskey can be made almost anywhere, but where it’s distilled can effect it. Put another way, the terroir can shine through in each stiff sip.
In New York’s Hudson Valley, Hillrock Estate Distillery is crafting incredibly complex brown water from grain grown on site, and it recently added a single malt to the lineup.
In Hillrock’s private fields, Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (a former distiller for Maker’s Mark) smelled clove and cinnamon one day while walking the rows, and his single malt was born.
It doesn’t taste like a Highlands or Coastal Scotch, instead, it tastes like a single malt from upstate New York, with the region’s signature clove and cinnamon notes.
“When we noticed it, we just decided right then and there, ‘That’s it. This our terroir—let’s hug it,’” Pickerell says.
Five American Single Malts To Try
Hillrock Estate Single Malt Whiskey ($100). From the Hudson Valley in New York, this grain-to-glass sipper is bold and flavorful. Smoky-sweet campfire notes lead into toffee, chocolate and espresso before drying to a gentle exhale of smoke.
Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey ($55). Light gold in the glass, this single malt made in Texas from Scottish malted barley is scented with apples, pears and vanilla. It features a lightly charred, smoky note on the palate.
St. George Single Malt Whiskey Lot 14 ($80). California’s St. George releases single malts annually. The 2014 edition is clean and bold, morphing from tropical pineapple and coconut to lightly smoky, finishing hoppy and beer-like. If it’s already gone, don’t worry. Lot 15 will be released in late summer or early fall.
Westland Distillery Peated American Single Malt Whiskey ($70). The peated version of Westland’s Seattle-born single malt is modestly smoky on the nose but more intensely smoky on the palate, underpinned by vanilla and caramel.
Few Single Malt Whiskey ($70). From Evanston, Illinois, a portion of this single malt is smoked with cherrywood. In the glass, look for rounded, honeyed flavors. A splash of water coaxes out additional vanilla sweetness and baking spice.