So what exactly is an American Single Malt Whiskey?
Technically, American Single Malt Whiskey is still a new breed and not officially recognized as a “class” of spirit. So, unlike bourbon which must be made from at least 51% corn, or Scotch, which must be made in Scotland, there currently are no legal requirements around how an American Single Malt Whiskey must be made in order to be called an “American Single Malt Whiskey”.
Cool, so it’s a free-for-all? Not necessarily. Let’s break this down.
Whiskey is classified as a spirit that is distilled from a grain mash and that’s at least 40% ABV.
Malt whiskey has different classifications based on where it’s created. In Scotland and Ireland, malt whisky (notice the lack of the ‘e’ in the word whisky) must be made from a mash bill of 100% barley. (A mash bill is the grains used to make a whiskey, and the ratio of those grains.) In America, malt whiskey must be made with a mash bill of at least 51% barley. With this in mind, you can imagine that there’s a lot of room to play with American malt whiskey.
A single malt whiskey is a malt whiskey that is made from a single distillery. We’ll get into the sourcing of raw materials (grains, alcohol, etc.) in our next post, but for now know that some spirits are made from pre-made distilled alcohol (that sometimes is also pre-aged), and then brands add their own spin on the final product. (This is actually really common, and we’ll get into why in our next post.) So while a brand may own the label of their take on a whiskey, it technically would not be classified as a single malt whiskey because some part of the process is not made in the same distillery.
When you get into the details around Single Malt Scotch Whisky or Single Malt Irish Whisky, there are additional regulations around the type of stills used, how long the spirit is aged, what type and size of casks the spirit is aged in, and more. No such legal regulations currently exist for Single Malt American Whiskey, which is why there is increasing popularity in this space; there’s room to experiment.
However, the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) has been formed to begin to address regulation issues and protect this new yet-to-be spirit classification.
“The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) has been formed in response to the growing need for American-based producers to define the category—both domestically and internationally—in order to protect, educate, promote and ultimately grow it.”
With this, they have come up with a Standard of Identity that an American Single Malt Whiskey must be:
Made from 100% malted barley
Distilled entirely in one distillery
Mashed, distilled, and manufactured in the United States
Matured in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters
Distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume)
Bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume)
Many distilleries around the country are collaborating and “opting-in” to these regulations and guidelines for this new classification, and so are we in the case of our Trestle American Single Malt Whiskey.
Stay tuned for our next post as we dive into actually making whiskey, and starting with raw materials.
If you missed our previous posts as we unveil the steps taken to make our soon to be released Trestle American Single Malt Whiskey, check them out:
Coming up next: Raw Materials for Making Whiskey.