As many of you know, I’m a huge proponent of American single malt whiskies. They combine the flavors and traditions of the world’s oldest whiskies with an entrepreneurial spirit and American ingenuity. 10th Street Distillery, created by a pair of Silicon Valley tech wizards, has applied a kind of cutting-edge approach to malt whiskies, and the results are impressive.
The key to understanding American Single Malt whiskies is that, despite production that’s nearly identical to Scotch and Irish Whiskey, they are unique beasts. The terroir and climate in the USA, combined with unique aging and blending techniques, makes the resultant whiskies different from their across-the-pond cousins. According to CEO Virag Saksena, 10th Street’s intention was never to make a Scotch clone, but to make great whisky, and the results are self-evident.
STR Single Malt (Shaved, Toasted, Recharred)
Sourced from 100% American barley, STR is a non-peated whisky that pours a pale gold. Despite alcohol at 46% ABV, it expresses as a “light” whisky. Soft, lightly spiced aromas lead, followed by notes of “sticky candies”: toffee, caramel, nougat, and marshmallow. There is a sense of both toasted and new oak, with hints of baker’s yeast, young stone fruits, mown wheat fields, and wildflowers. Although a little hot on the tongue, a few drops of quality water tame the fire and release a semi-sweet sensation, followed by honey, vanilla, white pepper, and hints of winter spices. The swallow provides notes of green peaches, dried apricots, plus hints of savory spices, toasted cloves, and a sweetness leading to a short, drying black pepper overtone. It’s very reminiscent of a “lowlands” Scotch, with subtlety as its most forward feature.
Peated Single Malt
At the opposite end of the barley spectrum, but also bottled at 46% ABV, this classically-styled whisky uses 100% peated barley from Scotland to yield a more traditional expression. Darker gold in color, the initially moderate smoke aromas (not so much peat) give way to notes of orange zest and fruit, followed by hints of burnt chocolate, poultry seasoning, and dried fruit. It has a full mouthfeel, warming but not hot, leading to hints of vanilla, baked apple pie, marzipan, and white pepper. Swallowing brings a juicy, peaty maltiness with the smoke, baked apples, and savory spices all battling to a long, warming finish.
Distiller’s Cut Single Malt
This is my favorite of the three. Also made from 100% peated barley, it’s produced by blending multiple cuts taken at different points in the distilling process. This whisky is significantly more complex and refined but with the youthful exuberance typical of the best American single malts. Its dark amber color, combined with a sinewy smokiness, results in an enticing presentation. Behind the initial smoke aroma lies cooked fruit mixed with freshly cut oranges, creamy vanilla beans, and a hint of mulled wine. It’s full-bodied mouthfeel brims with mesquite-like smoke and hints of sweetness, cooked cereal and light molasses on the tongue. The swallow explodes with more fruit flavors, green tea, roasted chocolate, hazelnuts, and honey. The finish is long and luxurious with a slightly drying sense and final hints of poultry spice and lemon zest.
If you’re a Scotch purist, it may take effort to acquire the taste for American single malts. They are like, yet not like their British cousins, and unique and spectacular in their own ways. If you keep an open mind and a sense of adventure, you’ll appreciate what 10th Street Distillery is doing. Their freshman offerings are well worth the price of admission.