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Whisky Advocate: American Single Malt Gets Its Day In The Sun

August 12, 2022

After years of concentrated efforts, false starts, and anticipation, last week American single malt distillers received the long-awaited news. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) released guidelines for the category, making it all but certain that American single malt will be an official part of the American whiskey lexicon before year-end.

Under the TTB’s proposed rule—this is technically just a notice to define and recognize American single malt whiskey and isn’t final quite yet—the whiskey must be distilled entirely at one U.S. distillery, and must be mashed, distilled, and aged in the U.S. It also has to be made from a fermented mash of 100% barley, stored in oak barrels no larger than 700 liters, and while it may not contain neutral spirits, additives like coloring, flavoring, and blending materials are allowed. As with all other whiskeys produced in the U.S., American single malt must be bottled at 40% ABV or higher as well. Over the next 60 days, the TTB will be taking commentary on these proposed guidelines; after this period, these new rules will likely go into effect.

“We’re ecstatic—it’s major validation, and it provides a framework so that when people buy a bottle of American single malt, the words on the label mean something,” says Matt Hofmann, managing director at Seattle’s Westland Distillery. “This is history in the making. How often does something like this happen? This is like when Bourbon was created, or Champagne was made official. This is that moment, and it’s incredibly exciting that we’re all living through it together.”

While some note that officially defining American single malt could stifle innovation by limiting what’s allowed in the category, most say the right balance is being struck with the proposed rules. Aside from a maximum barrel size, for instance, there are no stipulations on what sort of oak casks producers can use in the aging process, as there are for the others (which must be aged in new, charred oak casks).

“The new American single malt definition is specific enough to regulate the category, while keeping its uniqueness as an American spirit,” says Stranahan’s head distiller Owen Martin. “Scotch whisky regulations are overly restrictive and inhibit creativity, but the ASMWC’s proposed rules are intentionally fairly broad, allowing distillers to be freer in experimentation and brand building.” Whisky Advocate has the full story.

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