The burgeoning American single malt style has practically exploded in recent years. Though the technical aspects of it are still legally unregulated, distillers across the country are giving single malts their own unique spin, including using distinctive finishing casks, a variety of smoke sources, and other variants of production. And while not everyone agrees on the definition of American single malt, that means that a wide range of flavor profiles are possible.
Here at Whisky Advocate, we’re big fans of this up-and-coming style. One American single malt from this list, Balcones Lineage, earned the No.-17 spot in our 2020 Top 20. All of these whiskeys are distinct in flavor, thanks in part to their origins in different corners of the country—Texas, Colorado, and beyond.
Look for American single malt to continue growing over the next few years, as more and more distillers discover the versatility of the style. For now, whether you want an introduction to American single malts, or you’re already a seasoned fan, the bottles below are well worth a taste.
5 AMERICAN SINGLE MALTS TO SEEK OUT
Dogfish Head Let’s Get Lost
92 points, 51% ABV, $30
Perfumed with orange blossoms and dripping with nectar, the nose also has watermelon, pistachio pudding, coconut, vanilla bean, and apple-scented tobacco; new aromas reveal themselves with every sniff. Tropical fruit mingles with dried chiles, cocoa powder, coffee bean, barrel char, cinnamon, and jalapeños on the palate. The finish has good length, highlighting chile-chocolate, coffee bean, charred oak, and grilled pineapple. Warming and complex, with good development, though it never feels heavy. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Balcones Lineage (Batch SML20-2)
91 points, 47% ABV, $40
As American single malt ascends, Balcones shows its leadership with this triumphant offering. It’s bursting with tropical fruits—kiwi, mango, guava, jackfruit—buttressed by undercurrents of cinnamon, dried chiles, blueberry muffins, and nuts. Those juicy ripe fruits remain intense on the palate, two-stepping with cocoa powder, barrel char, roasted pecans, and black pepper; the dance sweeps into a lengthy finish of grilled pineapple, mocha, and tobacco, tapering off into bitter chocolate and oak. Balcones is putting both American single malt and the state of Texas on the map. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Shelter Distilling Embers Peated (Barrel No. 33)
91 points, 46%, $108
The sweet, mineral, herbal smoke of this whiskey is a rare treat, calling up memories of the shells of grilled oysters, smudging a bundle of sage, and lightly charring marshmallows over a campfire. Subtly smoky on the palate, well-woven with sweet confectionary notes of meringue, candy cigarettes, and powdered dried lemon zest. It finishes mild and still sweet, vanilla and coconut on the final breath. Curious, unique, and delightful. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Stranahan’s 10 year old Mountain Angel Colorado Single Malt (Batch 001)
88 points, 47.3% ABV, $130
The nose is reticent and doesn’t yield much, but candied lemon peel, strawberry, grape soda, and jasmine perfume emerge. It’s super sweet and fruity on the palate, like a bag of Skittles; guava, pineapple, mango, kiwi, and cantaloupe shine, with a length of oak to temper the effusive brightness. The finish is fairly short, and overall a bit more muted than the palate suggests. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Wood’s Dawn Patrol Colorado Single Malt (Batch 1)
88 points, 48% ABV, $90
This smells like nothing so much as instant oatmeal of the maple and brown sugar variety—sweet cereal, buttressed by fresh-hewn oak, orange marmalade, and a sprinkling of cinnamon. The palate does well, given a bit of water and time to open up, revealing maple syrup, almond, milk chocolate, cinnamon, orange peel, and a hint of tobacco, as well as new wood. More tobacco, like the end of a cigar, on the finish, along with milk chocolate and persistent oak. —Susannah Skiver Barton