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Single Malts Aren’t Just For Scotch

While many still equate single malt with Scotch, increasingly spirits-lovers have come to embrace that striking single malts—whiskey made from malted barley, originating from a single distillery—are made in all corners of the world.

American single malts have roared ahead over the past decade or so, with the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission now counting 170 distillers as part of the trade group, up from 70 members just two years ago.

However, U.S. made bottlings are just a fraction of the globe-spanning offerings, which this month included single malts from England, France, India, Ireland, Japan and Sweden. In previous years, we’ve also reviewed single malts from New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia; the latter includes Starward Nova, founded by David Vitale.

“The root of all good whiskies, from wherever they are made round the world, is that they celebrate the culture and the place they are made, as well as the ingredients,” said Vitale, speaking on a Distill Ventures-hosted panel last September about New World whisky.

This is certainly true of global single malts. Consider, for example, the Fall 2020 Distiller’s Cut bottling from Arizona’s Whiskey Del Bac. The distillery celebrates Southwest flavors by malting its own grain, which is then “mesquite’d,” meaning it’s flavored with smoke from mesquite wood for a barbecue-like effect, instead of “peated,” as Scotch whisky might be.

Of note, Virginia Distillery’s second Courage & Conviction bottling, as well as the Founder’s Choice Single Malt from England’s Cotswolds Distillery, paid homage to the late Dr. Jim Swan, who died in 2017 and was known to some as “the Einstein of whisky.” Over the course of a four-decades-long career, he consulted with numerous distilleries in his native Scotland and far beyond. These far-flung bottlings seem an appropriate way to honor a giant in the world of global single malts. 

Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whiskey; $75, 96 points. The second edition of Courage & Conviction is dedicated to Dr. Jim Swan, who passed away in 2017 following a 40-year career supporting the science of distilling. It’s a fitting tribute, redolent of grilled pineapple, citrus and coconut on nose and palate, finishing with warming gingery tingle and a hint of rancio-like funk.

High Coast Älv Single Malt Whisky; $55, 95 points. Look for a pale straw hue and fresh flower and citrus aromas. The palate opens fruity and mild, with a light, faintly effervescent texture. Lemon mousse and pineapple sweetness are layered with hints of chestnut and vanilla.

The Akkeshi Single Malt Whisky; $75, 95 points. From Hokkaido’s Akkeshi Distillery, this lightly peated whiskey has a golden hue and mild, toasty aromas of almond and vanilla. The fiery palate opens with citrusy zing and a puff of smoke, fading into a long espresso and vanilla fade. Adding water coaxes more smoke and vanilla forward, and softens the alcohol heat.

Rampur Double Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky; $90, 94 points. This single-malt whisky is matured in former Bourbon and Sherry casks, hence the double cask name. Look for a tawny hue and a bold orange-peel fragrance. The palate is soft and smoky, leading into candied orange peel, vanilla and spice box, winding into a smoky finish.

The Whistler P.X. I Love You Single Malt Irish Whiskey; $45, 94 points. This is a bold, distinctly sweet sipper. As the name suggests, this is five-year-old single malt finished an additional year in PX Sherry casks, and that year has added plenty of sticky-sweet raisin characters. Each robust sip opens with maple, toffee and toasted grains, trailing off into salted caramel, cocoa and raisin, brightened by grapefruit. Consider as a dessert pairing. Best Buy.

Kanosuke New Born 2019 Whisky; $75, 93 points. It’s hard to believe this single-malt whisky is aged a mere 16 months. The flavor is light and bright in citrus, pineapple and tropical fruit that mingle with mellow hints of smoke and spice. The finish is drying and brisk, with mouthwatering citrus, oak and spice.

Westland American Oak Single Malt Whiskey; $70, 93 points. Westland’s flagship single malt opens with oak tones on the nose and palate. With time and maybe a splash of water, vanilla and cocoa come forward, finishing drying with lemon-pepper heat.

Bastille 1789 Single Malt Whisky; $64, 91 points. This golden single malt was finished in French oak barrels that previously held Sauternes, red Burgundy and Sherry. The aroma evokes honey and light smoke. The palate opens with lemon and grapefruit peel zing, evolving into honey and smoke. A long and mouthwatering pepper note marks the finish.

Cotswolds Founder’s Choice Single Malt Whiskey; $80, 90 points. Aged in an ex-red wine barrique and bottled at cask strength, this single-malt whiskey is topaz in the glass, with a faintly ruddy hue. The enticing aroma leads with dried cherry and raspberry layered with caramel. The palate opens bold and nutty, with fleeting glimpses of stewed fruit and sarsaparilla. This finish is spicy.

Whiskey Del Bac Distiller’s Cut American Single Malt; $80, 90 points. This American single malt begins with malted barley flavored with mesquite smoke, then matured in new American oak and finished in barrels that previously held Bourbon and extra añejo Tequila, and bottled at cask strength. It’s an unusual and heady combination, yielding a bold, smoky-sweet aroma that hints at charred bacon drizzled with maple syrup. The lively palate offers cocoa and dried fig, with a hint of grapefruit on the midpalate and a brisk finish laced with clove, cayenne and a trace of barbecue smoke.