Whisky Advocate reviewed 135 whiskies in the Summer 2020 Buying Guide—everything from peaty scotches to age-statement bourbons, plus half a dozen American single malts. These highly original whiskeys belong to a vibrant, sometimes contentious movement in American whiskey that isn’t yet bound by a legal definition, and tasting them is the best way to explore this new frontier.
The lack of formal regulations hasn’t prevented American single malt whiskey from flourishing, with more than 150 distillers across the country creating an incredible diversity of flavors. The Summer issue features an in-depth look at these producers and their whiskeys, exploring the issues around the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission’s effort to officially define the style, and hearing from distillers who believe it’s too soon to establish strict regulations.
Can such a disparate group of innovators reach consensus? Pour a glass of one of these American single malt whiskeys from the Summer 2020 Buying Guide as you read, and see for yourself why this style is sparking such strong debate.
4 American Single Malt Whiskeys to Try This Summer
Breuckelen 6 year old Brownstone Malt (Batch 1)
93 points, 50% ABV, $75
A peculiar nose of cucumber, cinnamon Red Hots, cedar shavings, fresh melon, jasmine tea, and tobacco barn, and somehow it all works. There’s much complexity to be explored here, with a whole spice cabinet tumbling out on the palate, dusting black tea, Cherry Coke, pecans, espresso, and taut oak with its clouds of blooming flavor. The finish expresses lovely barrel char, red chiles, coffee beans, herbaceous pops of licorice, and a lingering incense quality. Enchanting. (1,000 bottles) —Susannah Skiver Barton
Virginia Distillery Co. Courage & Conviction American Single Malt (George G. Moore Batch)
91 points, 46% ABV, $75
The official debut of the distillery’s 100% own-make single malt. The nose has an earthy expression of the grain, and works in heady aromas of guava, pomegranate, blueberries, and kiwi, along with sandalwood soap. It’s oily and silky in the mouth, with forthright lemon and orange oil, guava, and kiwi, as well as dried leaves, nutty tobacco, and peppery spice. The finish is gentle and fades slowly, with lemon oil, milk chocolate, and a hint of ashy charred nuts. (9,600 bottles) —Susannah Skiver Barton
Westward Oregon Stout Cask-Finished American Single Malt
90 points, 45% ABV, $90
Tropical and floral on the nose, with kiwi, mango, hibiscus, coconut cream, and pistachio and almond halva; add water and a big burst of honeysuckle blooms. There are more tropical notes on the palate: melon, guava, pineapple, and Juicy Fruit, as well as almond, coffee ice cream, milk chocolate, and spice. The mouthfeel is robust, becoming mouthwatering on the finish, which is oak-led but balanced with floral hop character. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Rogue Spirits Dead Guy American Single Malt
86 points, 40% ABV, $45
Tropical fruit on the verge of overripeness: pineapple, papaya, kiwi, plus jasmine flowers, almond halva, and the piney-lemon aroma of hops. The hoppiness is evident on the palate, which is light in body and consequently less expressive in flavor, though there’s dry nuttiness and grain, overlaid with sweeping tropical fruit. More of the same hoppy, juicy fruit flavors juxtaposed with oak on the finish. If you like beery whiskey, this is one to try. (10,000 bottles) —Susannah Skiver Barton
Bonus Scores: Check out two more high-scoring American single malts from the Summer issue—Tattersall American Single Malt and Wood’s 7 year old Sawatch American Malt (Batch 2).