American Single Malts
This week I've got write-ups of four single malts from the US (additional text at www.recenteats.blogspot.com :
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
St George Single Malt
St. James' Peregrine Rock
McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt
It was interesting to try a range of US single malts, none of which taste anything like scotch single malts. All in all, I'd say they show potential but have a ways to go. I think Stranahan's was the strongest of the four. St. George was interesting but quirky. I didn't care for Peregrine Rock or McCarthy's. Here are the tasting notes:
St. George Single Malt Whiskey
St. George Spirits, Alameda, California
It is hard to imagine that one of the effects of the massive closure of military bases in the San Francisco bay area would be the manufacture of fine spirits, but so it is. St. George Spirits operates out of an old military hanger in Alameda (near Oakland), making vodka, liqueurs and brandy as well as its St. George Single Malt.
Speaking of brandy, St. George tastes like fruit brandy. I don't mean it's whiskey that tastes slightly of brandy, I mean it tastes like someone tapped the wrong cask! Sniff this stuff and you get a strong whiff of fruit, I'd say pear, like a fruit brandy or a sweet dessert Riesling. When you take a sip, you expect sweetness, but instead get an immediate jolt of spice which drives the fruit to the background. Then, when you swallow, you get that fruit back in the aftertaste (oh, sorry, I mean the finish). The mouthfeel is syrupy, which detracts some from the whole experience, leaving a coating on the tongue.
Ignore the anglophilia of this bottle's name and label, complete with dragon and coat of arms. Don't compare this to a scotch...it ain't that and it really shouldn't be trying to be that. What is it? A pleasant though curious whiskey full of fruit and spice. A good one for the brandy drinker or the curious wine buff, but not necessarily one that will please the typical whiskey aficionado.
To sum up: I Can't Believe it's not Pear Brandy.
Peregrine Rock California Pure Single Malt Whisky
St. James Spirits, Irwindale, California
A hometown single malt, St. James Spirits makes fruit brandies, rum, vodka, tequila and other spirits in Irwindale, just east of Los Angeles. Their single malt is made from peated Highland Scottish barley aged in oak bourbon casks. Oh, and a portion of the proceeds go save the endangered Peregrine Falcon. Whiskey with a conscience...only in Los Angeles.
Peregrine Rock is a sort of hybrid. The aroma is floral, a bit Irish, a bit bourbon, though with some fruit. The taste is like a cross between Irish and bourbon, smooth but sweet, with light fruit tastes and vanilla; I don't taste any real smoke. Nothing about this whiskey really speaks to me. The flavor is pretty unexceptional, missing the complexity of a good whiskey.
To sum up: Needs work.
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
Aged 2 years, 47% alcohol
Stranahan's doesn't use the term single malt, but it is a barley-based whiskey. Unlike the other distilleries listed here, Stranahan's only makes whiskey, and their whiskey is all-Colorado, using only local water and local barley. It's even tough to find a bottle outside of the state (I was lucky enough to snag some on a trip to Denver).
It's Bourbony but light. It has some strong banana flavor and some vanilla. I would guess that this does well over ice on a hot summer's day on the Front Range. Overall, a nice whiskey, and again, nothing like scotch. Lots of potential here and I'll be watching their future bottlings.
There is some weirdness going on with these Colorado folks. The bottle is capped with a flimsy metal shot glass, presumably so one can leave the store and get right to drinkin'. The label on my bottle notes that while it was being distilled the distiller was "listening to Bjork." Well, this may be good whiskey, but that's just creepy.
To sum up: I like it.
McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt
Clear Creek Distillery, Portland, Oregon
Aged 3 years, 40% alcohol
Clear Creek Distillery's McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt is one of the better known American single malts, having won some praise from critics. Along with whiskey, the distillery makes a wide variety of fruit brandies. Their single malt is made from peat-malted Scottish barley.
There is smoke there, but it doesn't taste like a peated scotch, where you inhale the strong smoke of a campfire or the char of the grill. It's more like the carbony smoke of "Oh shit, something's burning!" Maybe burnt barley stuck to the bottom of the pot. Smoke and burnt are different flavors...smoke is good, burnt is bad. In addition, there's not much under the smoke flavor-wise, none of the other tastes you would need to put the smoke in its place.
To sum up: Smoke but no fire.
Perhaps I'm being a bit obnoxious, but what about the most widely distributed single malts in the US, Kentucky bourbon? From the way I understand it single malt is, "the whisky was made in only one distillery and has not been blended with any other whisky from another distillery. It may contain whisky from several batches, and some could be two or three years older than the age on the bottle."
I realize that, as a Kentuckian, I could simply be exhibiting zenophobic behaviour, but I feel obliged to point out the obvious.
Single Malt means not only a whiskey made at a single distillery but, generally and as used with these whiskies, refers to a whiskey made from 100% malted barley. Bourbon is another animal altogether, made from a mash of at least 51% corn.
I'm a big bourbon fan though, and have done some bourbon write ups as well: recenteats.blogspot.com/2007/05/recent-drinks-buffalo-trace-bourbons.html
Yes, bourbons cannot be classified as "Single Malts" for several reasons:
1. They traditionally use a multiple-grain mashbill (corn, wheat, rye...), and are thus not distilled from a "single" grain.
2. There is no barley used, but more importantly, none of the grains used are malted (so even if the concept of single malt is extended beyond just barley-based products, the term still has no relevance to bourbons... traditional ryes either, for that matter).
3. Bourbon is its own legal category of whiskey, and most bourbon distillers/enthusiasts would be opposed to their product being called anything but bourbon.
4. 100% corn bourbons do exist (eg, Tuthilltown's Baby Bourbon), but these, too, do not come from malted grain. Old Potrero makes a "Single Malt Whiskey" distilled from 100% malted rye (whereas traditional US rye whiskey comes from 51-100% unmalted rye).
I would also like to point out, to preempt another bourbon-related question, that bourbons do have to be made in the US, but they do not have to be made in Kentucky. There are plenty of excellent bourbons made outside of Kentucky.
I don't believe a single-malt bourbon is possible. Anyone know if it could happen or be allowed?
There is a great single-malt rye you should try from Anchor Distillery called Old Potrero. Domaine Charbay also produces a single-malt hopped(!) whisky that is bizarre and kind of tasty but ridiculously expensive ($300+).
Good tasting notes, what should be noted is that most of these whiskies are not fully mature and most of the people making them are very talented distillers but new to the single-malt thing and still in the experimental phase.
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There's a winery in Massachusetts called Nashoba and they just produced their first 5 year whisky. It's aged in the old wine casks so it has a distinctly fruity characteristic. Not bad stuff but also not worth the $50 a bottle they charge.