About 15 years ago, the notion of an American version of single malt whiskey was more of a wild concept than a category.

The oddball whiskey had no government recognition nor a set of standards to define it. Since then, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has agreed to consider making American Single Malt legit. And a band of producers has taken matters into their own hands by organizing and assigning a quality rubric to American single malt called ‘standards of identity.’ According to the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, the whiskey is defined as 100% barley whiskey made in the United States at a single distillery. In addition, the malt must be aged in wooden barrels (new or used), distilled below 161 proof, and barreled at a maximum of 62.5% ABV.

Outside of those specifications, distillers have plenty of room for creativity. As the unofficial category has evolved over the years, so have the techniques used to make American single malt in just about every stage of production. Some distilleries faithfully honor traditions that traveled across the pond from the UK. Others strive to define specificities of local terroir, sometimes partnering with community businesses like local breweries and wineries for casks and other resources. American single malt is not just a cute experiment anymore; it’s become enough of a coveted distillation art form to win over critics and attract passionate cult followings. Here are some of must-try bottles.

Photo Courtesy of Virginia Distilling Co.

Virginia Distillery Co. Courage & Conviction

Lovingston, Virginia
Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV); $75

Inspired by their mentor Dr. Jim Swan, who designed the facility, Virginia Distillery Co. creates single malt in the Scotch tradition all the way down to the dropped ‘e” in their whisky. The flagship Courage & Conviction line deftly blends parcels from casks matured in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and Cuvée Casks (ex-wine). Virginia Distillery Co. also recently released separate bottlings of each of the three cask finishes, the first of which is dedicated to master blender Nancy Fraley.

Photo Courtesy of Westward Whiskey

Westward Whiskey American Single Malt

Portland, Oregon
Vitals: 90 Proof (45% ABV); $70

At Westward Whiskey in Portland, Oregon, former brewer Christian Krogstad demonstrates how beer grows up to be a whiskey. Despite being traditionally malted and cooked in a pot still, Krogstad’s distinctly malty-tasting expressions veer far from traditional Scotch single malts. But this is entirely the point. Fittingly, Westward recently released its Pinot Noir Cask from nearby Williamette Valley, a true Oregon-style sipper.

Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Spirits

Santa Fe Spirits Colkegan Single Malt

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV); $70

Smoking barley over a peat fire is the traditional Scottish way to dry malt in regions like Islay, but it’s not the only way. So why not try it with local New Mexico mesquite? That’s the question Santa Fe spirits’ Colin Keegan asked and decided to answer. After years of perfecting his technique, Keegan has created a beautiful whiskey steeped in innovation and authentic flavors native to New Mexico.


Stranahan’s Colorado Single Malt Whiskey

Denver, Colorado
Vitals: 94 Proof (47% ABV); $55

In its 15th year, this Denver based distillery helped define the American single malt category. Recently, Stranny’s re-released its original Colorado whiskey using extra-aged malts, as well as Blue Peak, a cocktail friendly expression, and Mountain Angel 10-Year. But the whiskey it’s best known for is also its rarest. One of the most sought-after whiskies globally (never mind the U.S.) is their annual Stranahan’s Snowflake bottling. This one-and-done expression varies each year and is only available the first Saturday in December at the distillery—causing friendly competition amongst fans who camp out to score a bottle it days in advance.

Photo by Cullen Dalheim

Westland Distillery American Oak Single Malt

Seattle, Washington
Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV); $70

Despite training in Scotland, master distiller Matt Hofmann relies on terroir-specific techniques to craft the Washington State distillery’s flagship American Oak Single Malt. But Hofmann’s obsession with local terroir goes far deeper. Example A is Westland’s coveted Garryana Native Oak Series. Hofmann finishes this classic single malt with casks fashioned from the fallen limbs of endangered ‘Garry’ oak trees to showcase PDX influenced flavors. Example B is Westland’s Colere, a grain-focused series that demonstrates the intricate flavors of the Pacific Northwest’s local barleys.

Photo by John McCarthy

Hillrock Estate Single Malt Whiskey

Ancram, New York
Vitals: 96.4 Proof (48.2% ABV); $115

Originally under the direction of the late, great David Pickerell, Hillrock Estate Distillery in New York’s Hudson Valley was among the original grain-to-glass distilleries of the new millennium. This instant classic is also the first to grow and floor malt its own barley on-site since prohibition, some of which are smoked with imported peat from Scotland’s Speyside region.


Amanda Schuster is a freelance writer with over 15 years’ industry experience covering wine, spirits, cocktails and occasionally things you eat with those things. She is a freelance writer, beverage consultant, and the author of New York Cocktails from Cider Mill Press. With advanced training in both wine and spirits, Amanda likes to think of herself as bi-spiritual.