Single-malt whiskeys—that is, whiskey made in a single distillery from 100 percent malted barley—are soaring in the United States. Especially in the beer-obsessed Pacific Northwest, where brewers readily traffic in malted barley and there’s an abundance of oak for barrel aging.
Like with bourbon, these original whiskeys are generally aged in new oak, rather than the used barrels that scotch distillers employ. Unlike bourbon, however, American single malt does not yet have an official designation. There’s currently a push among some distillers to define what constitutes an American single malt, while others are enjoying the Wild West–like freedom granted by a lack of legal definition. Either way, one thing’s for certain: There has never been a better time to be an American whiskey drinker. This is a five-bottle introduction to the best in American single malt.
This amber-colored single malt from House Spirits is made from 100 percent Oregon malted barley and aged in new American oak. While the whiskey varies from batch to batch, you’ll reliably find plenty of vanilla, leather, fruit and spice, and a dark, lush body. Most batches have strong notes of banana bread, due in part to the Belgian yeasts used in the wash.
Unlike many other single malts from the northwest, McCarthy’s from Portland’s Clear Creek is peated like a scotch. In fact, the peated barley is flown in from Scotland to a local brewery that creates the wash for Clear Creek to distill and age in new Oregon oak barrels. Light gold with delicate but assertive smoke and notes of golden straw and toast with preserved fruit, it’s like a Pacific Northwest campfire in a glass.
Heavily inspired by the Oregon beer scene, Bull Run developed its single malt with Burnside Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore. The spirit is light but with a firm body. On the palate, bright honey and green apple give way to spice and chocolate, with a long brown butter finish. This whiskey also comes in a barrel proof ($75) that’s not to be missed.
Located in Seattle, Westland Distillery uses Washington barley to make its single malt, which is aged in predominately new oak. Expect rich and bold flavors—coffee, almond, cinnamon and chocolate notes—along with a creamy, smooth body. It also comes in a peated variety, a sherry-cask aged bottling and Garry-oak-aged version, all of which are pricier but worth introducing to your home whiskey collection.
A collaboration between Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewery and New Deal Distillery, the HUB Brewer’s whiskey is aged in a variety of oak barrels. The spirit is strongly aromatic, with fruit and floral notes on the nose. In the glass, it’s light but complex, with dried apple and dark currant on the front and leather and vanilla on the finish. This can be a tough bottle to find outside of Oregon, but locals can pick one up at HUB locations.
Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.