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Craft Whiskey Distillers Work To Establish American Single Malt Category

July 27, 2016

Although still a small segment of the U.S. whiskey category, American single malts are gaining prominence, thanks in part to the market’s continued interest in both brown and craft spirits. Category pioneers like Colorado-based Stranahan’s, part of the Proximo portfolio, are seeing rising demand as they endeavor to raise American single malts’ profile.

Stranahan’s produces a core small-batch American single malt whiskey ($55-$59 a 750-ml.), as well as upscale label Diamond Peak (around $70), which features whiskey selected from the distillery’s best casks. Stranahan’s is also known for its limited-edition Snowflake release (around $100), made using different barrels from around the world and available for purchase for just one day in December at the Stranahan’s distillery. According to master distiller Rob Dietrich, the Stranahan’s range is technically classified as straight whiskey, but the lack of a more specific categorization has created challenges, particularly on-premise.

“At restaurants, people don’t know where to list this whiskey. They’ve put it under the rye category, just because it’s different, and I’ve seen it under Bourbon a lot,” Dietrich explains. “In order to fine tune and focus, we need to establish American single malt as a category, as Scotch has done.”

Along with Stranahan’s, other rising American single malt players include Alameda, California-based St. George Spirits, which produces an eponymous American single malt (around $70), as well as Seattle-based Westland Distillery, known for its flagship single malt as well as Peated and Sherry Wood extensions (all $70). Westland, St. George and Stranahan’s are all counted among the 20 members of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, recently formed to promote the category.

St. George and Westland have been active on the innovation front, each releasing new single malts this year. In April, St. George unveiled Baller single malt whiskey ($65), made with 100% American barley and aged three to four years in Bourbon and French oak wine barrels before being finished in ex-umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur) casks. Meanwhile, in mid-July, Westland debuted its Garryana American single malt whiskey ($125), matured in Quercus garryana wood (a rare species of white oak found in the Pacific Northwest) and marking the inaugural whiskey in the distiller’s limited edition Native Oak Series. —Christina Jelski

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