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American Single Malt

Updated: Mar 24, 2023


Someone I love in the industry just launched an American single malt and everyone loves it, but only a few know what it's about.


Single Malt is what made Scotch and Irish whiskies so famous. In general, Malt whisky is considered to be made from 100% malted barley, distilled in a pot still, and aged in a used barrel no larger than 700L, for a minimum of 3 years.

In addition, a Single Malt is a Malt whisky produced by a single distillery. Blended Malt whisky is a mixture of Malt whiskies from different distilleries. Every producer of Single and Blended Malt whiskies should follow these rules, but this is not always the case.

The popularity of Single Malt led distilleries around the world to start producing whisky using the same rules. However, not everyone in the US thinks of Single Malt in the same way.

Currently, there is no definition for American Single Malt Whiskey, but there is a type of whiskey called American Malt Whiskey, which is regulated in a different way. American Malt Whiskey has to follow federal government rules in the TTB: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB.GOV).

Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted barley and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers

This definition could not be more different from what we mentioned before. In fact, American Malt Whiskey only needs a minimum of 51% malted barley, can be distilled in a column still, must be aged in a new charred oak barrel, and does not have a minimum age unless it is a Straight Malt Whiskey, which has to be aged for at least 2 years. The definition is more similar to Bourbon than a Single Malt and is confusing for consumers and producers alike. The growth of craft distilleries has brought even more attention to American Single Malt, making it now a serious topic for the federal government.


After receiving the first request from distillers and the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) for a definition of American Single Malt Whiskey in October 2017, the TTB published a first draft of the regulation on 29 July 2022 and provided time for comments until 29 September 2022. 158 comments were submitted, including an exchange with the Scotch Whisky Association.


The first proposal of the ruling on American Single Malt Whiskey looked something like this:

Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of 100% percent malted barley, distilled at the same distillery in the United States, stored in oak containers of no more than 700 liters capacity, and bottled at no less than 40% abv (80° proof).

Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted barley and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers

The ASMWC, along with American producers and whiskey lovers, started with the sincere goal of raising the profile of American Single Malt Whiskey in the US and to create a new definition for the category. It ended up being dictated by the SWA, the same group that prohibits the sale of American whiskey aged under 3 years (such as straight whiskeys and any whiskey that is not Kentucky straight) in the UK, regardless of the laws of the country of production.

These are some of the main points added by the SWA to the proposal:

  • The use of used, uncharred new, and charred new oak barrels

  • Mashing, fermentation, and distillation to take place at the same distillery

  • Minimum age of 2 years

  • Only the addition of plain caramel colouring (E150a) is permitted

  • 700-litre limit for oak barrels for aging American Single Malt Whiskey

  • Descriptions such as 'American Blended Malt Whisky' would be suitable as

  • long as it is clear that neutral alcohol is not permitted (as is the case for 'Blended Whisky' as defined in the Federal Code).

Here is the full SWA response.


Even though I may agree with some of the above points on such a globally used category of spirit, I'm fascinated by the diversity of the whisky category, including the 51 types approved by the Federal government. As long as they are coherent with their country's law and the standard of quality, I think we should welcome every style of spirit as they represent centuries of local traditions, and after all, we wouldn't have a rainbow with just one colour.







 

You heard it right - Stephen Beam just launched Yellowstone American Single Malt.

Would you like to be one of the first to try it? How about a masterclass with Mr. Beam himself? Leave your email below for updates.



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