The American Future: Single Malt

Zach pulling single malt samples with distiller Marco

Bourbon’s renaissance began in the early 2000’s, and 2010 marked the beginning of the rye resurrection. So what about this next decade? Will it be American single malt?

In 2000, roughly 50 U.S. distilleries made bourbon or rye. Now it is closer to 1,500 distilleries. Coupled with the rush to increase capacity at the historic distilleries, we can expect a glut of high-quality, “traditional” American whiskey hitting the market in the coming years. The available space for American whiskey entrepreneurs (who rely heavily on novelty and differentiation) is skewed heavily towards the single malt category.

The timing is perfect. The international single malt category changed dramatically over the last decade. Single malt is no longer seen as exclusively a product of Scotland. Excellent, internationally recognized single malt is now produced in Taiwan, India, Wales, Australia, France, Israel and Japan. More importantly, the shortage in aged scotch and Japanese whisky is forcing a corresponding shift in the marketing of those two categories. The steady, booming “age equals quality” mantra is now an antiquated buzz, greatly easing the pressure off of young distilleries as they bring product to market. They are no longer forced to contend with inexpensive 10 – 15 year old whiskies.

Meanwhile, Westland, Balcones, Stranahan’s, Tuthilltown and Boston Harbor Distillery (among others) are creating momentum for American single malt, helping establish the infrastructure for the entire category. Soon we will see “American Single Malt” in stores and on bar menus. International spirits competitions such as the World Whiskies Awards and the International Whisky Competition already have a “Best American Single Malt” category.

The United States grows its own barley, has its own peat and has excellent cooperages. From a climate standpoint, the United States possesses immense regional diversity, endowing the United States with the opportunity for equally immense stylistic breadth. Furthermore, compared to bourbon, the category is substantially less restrictive. So… while we don’t have the history yet, the category will blossom in this coming decade.