American Single Malts: How the west is being won

03 January, 2019

At the other end of the spectrum, rep- resentatives of Diageo recently visited the UK parliament with proposals to relax the regulations currently stran- gling the options for wood nishing. For a whisky to be labelled ‘single malt scotch’, it must only be aged or nished in American or European oak, but this is one of the rules which, as Hawley says, has been relaxed, meaning the category must still use oak to age its liquid, but could use any type of oak from around the world. This is a huge opportunity to create a category with more potential for further innovation than its Scottish cousin.


Because American single malts is an emerging category, it is led by small, cra distilleries. But America’s ability to have smaller producers is a modern luxury.

Greg Dillon, founder of online blog Greatdrams, says: “America has had a challenging time when it comes to innovation due to various things, from Prohibition to the temperance movement. But take New York for exam- ple – even in 2008 a distilling license would have cost around $16,000 annu- ally. Not too much when you factor in returns from selling spirit, but with equipment, the cost of NYC real estate and business rates, that really was prohibitive.”

According to Dillon, the introduction in New York State of the Farm Distillery License a few years ago has allowed small distilling brands in New York to pop up. Although the licence states that a maximum of 100,000 gallons per annum can be produced, and 75% locally grown NY farm produce must be used within the production process, it will help smaller categories such as American single malts grow.

Dillon adds: “The licence was put in place to facilitate and encourage the exploration of creativity.” A three-year licence costs $384. Dillon says: “This is a signi cant reduction in costs that had kept cra distillers from starting up operations for 75 years, and is why New York is one of the top states for cra spirit production.” Dillon says he believes 15 of NYC’s small distilleries came about on the back of this newly created licence.

Seventh-generation Beam fam- ily member Steve Beam, who now runs Limestone Branch Distillery in Kentucky, has seen signi cant changes to the American whiskey industry throughout his career.

“When I started there were fewer than 200 small distilleries around the coun- try and now there are more than 1,800,” says Beam. “I’m hoping everyone set- tles in to what suits their surround- ing environment and I see single malts doing really well in the Paci c Northwest, where there are cool, even temperatures. Speci c spirits do well in certain climates. When it comes to American single malts, a lot has to do with the economy too, because corn is so much cheaper in America than malt. It’s about a third of the price.”

According to Jack Daniel’s assistant master distiller Chris Fletcher, more experimentation needs to be done when it comes to innovation in barley- based whiskeys because of the lower avour intensity.

Fletcher says: “Barley, in my opinion, looking at the avour contribution, is less impactful than corn or rye. Corn brings a lot of sweetness and rye pro- vides spice, while barely is more of a toasted-biscuit mouthfeel. You don’t get a lot of avour from barley itself.

“If you look at great scotch whiskies, a lot of them are adding peat or sherry casks to build on the barley avour. I think, as American-based malt whis- keys continue to grow, it’s going to be interesting to see how the distillers of the US build on the malt avour the way a traditional scotch distiller would.”

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