American Single Malts are making some noise in the marketplace. (photo by Somchaij)

Whether or not you can call something “scotch” is something of an academic argument. Well-made single-malt all-barley whiskies are crafted the world over. Japan has been doing it for 80 years, India is coming on strong, and the U.S.’s nascent single-malt scene has been picking up steam for a decade or so.

You can’t call it scotch since it not made in Scotland, and it is fun and interesting to split hairs, but the stuff acts, tastes, and works like single-malt scotch. A new collective of independent American single-malt producers has recently formed to promote locally-made barley-based whiskey and petition the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to recognize, establish, and protect the product. And we salute them.

The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission has well over 150 member distilleries and breweries all over the country:  From the Amalga Distillery in Juneau, AK, to Manifest Spirits  in Jacksonville, FL and from the Maui Brewing Company in Kihei, Hawaii, to Liquid Riot in Portland, Maine—and all points in between. The collective has established guidelines to aid American single-malt obtaining its own official category of spirits. Per the ASMWC, American single-malt whiskey must be:

* Made from 100% malted barley

* Produced in a single distillery

* Mashed, distilled, and matured in the U.S.

* Matured in oak casks (not to exceed 700 liters)

* Distilled to no more than 80% ABV

* Bottled at 40% ABV or more

Well, that certainly sounds like scotch, yes? Here are couple of member distilleries that illustrate the magic of the burgeoning American movement.

Western Winds

The organization was started by two of the founders of Seattle’s Westland Distillery. Westland makes some terrific whiskies from locally-grown barley, are aging some expressions in a variety of rare American oak, and also doing some sherry-cask finishing. They are even employing Washington State peat as a heat source for malting some barley, a la single-malt scotch distillers in Islay, Scotland and other heavily-peated single malt makers. Still, the end results carry a distinct sense of place. Think about the Pacific Northwest’s perfect climate for barley cultivation. Imagine crisp clear water from the Cascade Mountains.

The Westland American Oak expression is distilled from a mashbill of 5 strains of local malted barley, is aged a minimum of 3 years (just like Scottish-made single-malt) and bottled at 46% ABV. It is fully aligned with Speyside Scottish malts in terms of flavor and delivery. The distillery’s Westland Peated uses the same 5-barley mashbill, but adds a sixth dose of barley that has been malted with burning peat, to deliver an Islay-style smokiness. Take that same 5-grain mashbill, and finish the aging in oloroso sherry casks, and you have the Westland Sherry Wood expression, which ably competes toe-to-toe with Scottish sherry-finished single malts.

Upstate Upstarts

Ralph Erenzo was a skilled rock climber who decided it might be safer to distill fine whiskey and other spirits in upstate New York and leave the rocks for someone else. Along with partner Brian Lee, he formed Tuthilltown Spirits in 2003 (releasing its first unaged vodkas in 2005) at the foot of the Hudson Valley’s Shawangunk Mountains rock formations. Tuthilltown’s line of bourbon, rye, and multi-grain style whiskies is pretty storied (its “Hudson Baby Bourbon” was particularly lauded, and is relatively easy to get your hands on), and while still independent in nature, the operation is now owned by Scotland’s William Grant & Sons. So you can only imagine that their 100% malted barley Hudson Single Malt Whiskey has some insider edge to it. It is bottled at 46% ABV and aged in new American oak casks, delivering a strong woody essence to the final product.

Not Scotch. No. And turnabout is fair play. But a brave new world category on the rise.