The Best American Single Malt Whiskeys Of 2023
American single malts are among the whiskey world’s hottest categories.
For the second chapter in the 2023 edition of our annual guide to the Best in New American Whiskey—see our focus on ryes—we shine a light on American single malts (ASMs). It’s hard to imagine a category in all spirits more energized at the moment. Finally “recognized” (although not yet officially certified) by the TTB last year, unofficial ASMs have been defining some of the most interesting whiskeys bubbling from America for a couple decades now. While places like Texas and the Pacific Northwest lead the category, ASMs from across this great nation of ours are releasing innovative, terroir-rich expressions boasting a wide spectrum of flavors. Here are seven favorites for 2023.
Best American Single Malt of 2023: Westland ‘Solum Edition 1’ American Single Malt Whiskey
Since its inception in 2010 Westland has been among the top handful of distilleries writing and re-writing what is possible in the robust American Single Malt category. The Seattle whiskey maker has long focused on what they dub a “sense of place”—aka terroir, specifically ingredients that are indigenous to their beloved Pacific Northwest.
This year the third and final expression in their innovative Outpost Range took abstractions in terroir to the terminal point. Following experiments in northwest oak (Garryana, its seventh edition released in February) and barley (Colere, the second edition released in May 2022), their new Solum label becomes the first nationally released whiskey peated entirely with American peat.
“These elements [oak, barley, peat] define whiskey fundamentally, and are the lens through which we showcase Westland’s unique sense of place,” Westland Distillery Blender Shane Armstrong told us.
So after experimentations in homegrown barley and oak, the focus on local peat seemed preordained.
“Peated whiskey often pairs wonderfully with the brooding climate of the Pacific Northwest; the rich layers of smoke provide a great sense of warmth on those cold and drizzly days,” explained Westland Distillery Manager Tyler Pederson. “Our local peat bogs, from which we source the peat used in the creation of Solum, have a different composition than anywhere else in the world. The end result is a very distinct American peated single malt.”
After harvesting, the local barley is smoked by longtime collaborators Skagit Valley Malting, then fermented at Westland with Belgian Saison brewer’s yeast, distilled and aged for three to five years. The resulting peated experiment features notes of biscuits, cereals, nuts, caramel and chocolate. The limited run Westland Solum Edition 1 American single Malt whiskey comes bottled at 50% ABV, with an SRP of $150.
Wolves Whiskey ‘Lot Two’ Malted Barley Series
Wolves Whiskey entered its next major phase this year with its Malted Barley Series banner. Since 2011 Marko Karakasevic, Wolves’ 13th-generation Master Distiller, has been secretly crafting a series of American single malts (ASM) in small eight to 12 barrel lots—with the Croatian distiller apparently sleeping in four hour shifts so he could personally make each cut, selecting only “the heart of hearts” for double distillation.
Wolves bought the entire collection of barrels, and will be releasing them in quick-strike batches. For the second ASM release the founders selected barrels from 2012 for “Lot Two.” Like most of Wolves’ releases this ASM boasts a creamy mouthfeel, with strong notes of candied apple, toasted oat, dried fig and black pepper. $305
Tattersall ‘Interstate Whiskey’ American Single Malt
River Falls, Wisconsin’s Tattersall Distilling announced its first foray into the electric American single malt category with Interstate Whiskey. The aptly named ASM is a nod to America’s first interstate park located on the Minnesota and Wisconsin border, as Interstate Whiskey itself bridges the twin states that make up the rich terroir of Tattersall.
How, you may ask? Well 100% of its grains are grown in Wisconsin—malted barley smoked and dark roasted with Wisconsin cherrywood. The juice is then distilled in Tattersall’s Minnesota distillery, and then aged in both states for five years in virgin oak. Like its origins, Tattersall “Interstate Whiskey” was initially only sold in Minnesota and Wisconsin, bottled at 45% ABV (90 proof) with a $45 SRP.
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Batch #2: Extra Añejo Cask American Single Malt
Every year Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey makes waves by releasing annual one-offs, each slightly different from the year before, like their eagerly awaited Snowflake collection. Last year the Denver distillery—Colorado’s first legally built since Prohibition—debuted a new line, Diamond Peak, and this year released the follow-up: Batch #2: Extra Añejo Cask. They source these tequila casks from the Jose Cuervo family’s former private reserve and now their most luxurious and well-crafted tequilas: the small-batch Reserva de la Familia.
As one of the OGs of the ASM movement you can trust Stranahan’s foundational juice—in this case their single malt aged in virgin American oak barrels with No. 3 char for between five and eight years. Once ready, the ASM is then poured into the Reserva de Familia Extra Añejo casks, where the whiskey ages a little over two more years. Here the single malt picks up some grassy notes to complement Stranahan’s signature salted caramel and butterscotch layers, and finishes with a singular wisp of sweet agave. It is then cut to 90 proof (45% ABV) with pure Rocky Mountain water sourced from nearby Eldorado Springs. Find Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Diamond Peak Batch #2: Extra Añejo Cask for around $85.
Del Bac ‘Ode to Islay’ American Single Malt Whiskey
Del Bac Head Distiller Mark A. Vierthaler explains how the Arizona concern holds true to certain Scottish traditions of whiskey crafting, such as using only 100% malted barley mash bills, off-grain fermentations and double-copper-pot distillations. However the Tucson distillery pivots from Scotch with their use of (mostly) virgin toasted and charred American white oak quarter casks. The smaller, fresher wood lends Del Bac “bolder, punchier flavor that’s more akin to American whiskey styles,” Vierthaler says.
Del Bac boasts several interesting entries, including their flagship “mesquited-not-peated” single malt dubbed Dorado. But the annual Ode to Islay that drops every December (formerly known as “Winter Release”) takes the smoke bomb cake. Inspired by famously heavily-peated Islay single malts like Ardbeg and Laphroaig, Ode to Islay makes a concerted desert spin by mesquite-smoking their barley.
Using only 100% malted barley, Ode to Islay blends a trio of whiskeys: 100% mesquited malt mash bill, a 60% unsmoked/40% mesquited mash bill and lastly a 100% unsmoked mash bill. All are aged using Del Bac’s signature virgin toasted and charred American white oak quarter casks, but each are finished in different casks: bourbon, tequila and second-use Whiskey Del Bac Dorado barrels. After blending the ASM marries for over three months and is then slow-proofed down to 55% ABV. The final result is an aromatic potion of cocoa nibs, caramel-dipped apples and charred mesquite. Only 900 bottles were produced. $90
Virginia Distillery Company ‘Double Cask Reserve’ American Single Malt Whiskey
Founded in 2011 by the late Dr. George Moore, Virginia Distillery Company has from inception focused on crafting exceptional American single malt whiskeys. The Irish immigrant built his distillery deep in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and poured the first white dog from his copper pot stills—hammered by hand in Scotland—in the autumn of 2015. More than anything, VDC Lead Blender Amanda Beckwith credits the “dynamic Virginia climate” for its massive impact on VDC’s delicious whisky. She goes on to list locally grown two-row spring barley, blessed by Blue Ridge Mountain soil rich in nitrogen, and fresh soft water sourced from springs under the distillery as influences.
This autumn the VDC team released a Double Cask Reserve bottle which for the first time blended only two of their trio of cask types—bourbon and red wine cuvee—to create a subtle new flavor profile from the VDC cupboard. While some ASM makers really aim to craft something categorically different from their Scottish cousins, VDC embraces the tradition to make an ASM about as close to a Scotch single malt as we’ve tasted from anywhere.
“As a blender I’m always excited to create new flavor profiles that tell a story, demonstrate complexity, and pair well with food,” Beckwith explained. “Double Cask Reserve is what one of our distillers termed his milk and cookies whisky.” $84.99
Balcones Cataleja Texas Single Malt Whiskey
Deep in the heart of Texas, Waco to be precise, Balcones Distilling has been distilling some of the most innovative American single malts for 15 years. Launching with their Baby Blue bottle (made with New Mexico–grown Hopi Blue corn) in 2009, Balcones has ever since put out some terrific and highly creative LTOs.
To celebrate their 15 years in existence, the Waco crew is releasing Cataleja: a Texas single malt made with 100% Golden Promise malted barley put through a litany of barrels to fine-tune the flavor profile: three years in Kentucky bourbon barrels, then ex-Sherry Solera casks that once held Moscatel, Amontillado Dulce, Oloroso and Palo Cortado fortified wines, then back into neutral barrels and finally finished with two more rounds of refill single malts through the decommissioned casks.
While the 100% malted barley mashbill gives Cataleja a definite scotch leaning flavor, the Golden Promise barley and Balcones process of twin copper pot-still distilling lend it a very unique profile rich in burnt brown sugar, maple pecans and sherry—with a distinct chocolate chip cookie finish. Balcones “Cataleja” comes barreled at 53% ABV for $125.
Old Line Cask Strength American Single Malt Whiskey
Baltimore’s Old Line Spirits launched in 2017 by former Navy pilots Mark McLaughlin and Arch Watkins with a focus on the ASM space. Now as the category starts congealing (thanks largely to a new Standard of Identity approved by the TTB), Old Line is upping the ABV of their flagship ASM to 95 proof (from 86 proof) and offering a new Navy Strength ASM at a frisky 114 proof. The Navy Strength is only slightly lower ABV than their Cask Strength ASM at 62.4% (124.9 proof), which we feel is the best of the bunch—you can figure out how much ice or water you like add yourself. The blend of four- and six-year-old barrels of 100% malted barley spirit will be missed, but we look forward to trying their new ASM lineup soon (which should include a single barrel as well). Prices vary.