The American Single Malt Whiskey Standard of Identity in 2022

Malt Whiskey

Largely influenced by petitioning from the American Single Malt Whiskey commission, the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is proposing to establish a standard of identity for American single malt whiskey. Like a lot of craft malt, beer, and spirits distillers we’ve been advocates of this style of whiskey for years now. 

It’s a game-changer for the craft malt community because for the first time there will be a minimum qualification for single malt produced in the United States, says Will Goldberg, the Founder and Head Distiller at Oak & Grist Distilling Co. in Black Mountain, North Carolina. 

Under this Single Malt Whiskey proposal, to designate this category the product must be distilled entirely at one United States distillery. It must be mashed, distilled, aged in the United States, and sourced from a fermented mash of 100% malted barley, at a distillation proof of 160° or less, and stored in oak barrels not exceeding 700 liters. 

“At this point it doesn’t look like there is going to be an age requirement,” Goldberg says. “It also doesn’t look like there will be a requirement for the beer for the whiskey brewed at the same facility that is distilling the whiskey; which are two things that the Scottish definition has in place.” 

Designated Scotch whiskey is aged for a minimum of three years. “That’s why our Single Malt Whiskey is aged a minimum of three years,” Goldberg adds. “We’ve taken that approach from the get go, whereas our Malt Whiskey doesn’t meet that age requirement.” 

Oak & Grist’s American Single Malt batches have all been expressions of single origin, custom pale malt varieties grown in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. We’ll get into the nuance that these barley varieties made in each Single Malt in a future post, but for now we’ll say that berry is a core note across batches, complemented by long maturation in used bourbon barrels. The resulting whiskey is smooth and balanced. American Craft Spirits Magazine put it well when this spirit first debuted in 2020: “Goldberg left this custom-abiding single malt alone for three years to draw complexities that only come with age. The drinker’s reward is a rich mouthfeel and delicate, grassy flavor brimming with chocolate, dried berries and a smoky seaside finish.” 

Spirits like Goldberg’s contribute to a diversity of flavors in the marketplace. Each region of North America supports the growth of different barley varieties which maltsters utilize to create distinctive, fresh flavors for their distillery partners. Accordingly, craft maltsters are uniquely positioned to make positive contributions to this new category. 

As the name suggests, this category is driven by malt, marking a notable departure from bourbon which is comprised of a majority of unmalted corn. This departure frees the maltster from the responsibility of delivering a high enzyme, low color malt to his or her customer. Warmer kilning temperatures that are responsible for the lush, sweet aromatics found in Munich-style products are created in an environment that often results in lower enzymatic levels than bourbon distilleries can accept. American Single Malt producers do not require these high enzyme levels because they don’t have to convert the large starch reserves present in raw corn. The end result is a much higher concentration and diversity of flavors ranging from fresh baked bread to ripe fruit that carry over from the malt to the finished distillate.

That’s our two cents. What’s yours? 

The TTB invites public comment on this proposal, due September 27, 2022, and on the specific questions listed in Notice No. 213

”Any single malt whiskey producers make sure to give support to this if you believe in it,” says Goldberg.

We couldn’t agree more.