Standout Single-Malt Whiskies

By Mattie John Bamman | Photo © Shelter Point Distillery

WITH WINTER RAPIDLY APPROACHING, it’s time to take stock of your options for fending off the cold: well-insulated windows and doors, a flannel-lined hat with fluffy earflaps and Pacific Northwest single-malt whiskies. But choosing the right single-malt whiskey in America isn’t so straightforward. To date, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has yet to make a definitive category for American-made single-malt whiskey, and while some distillers rally for a definition, consumers are left wondering just what’s inside an American whiskey labeled “single-malt.”

Many American distillers believe an American single-malt whiskey should be made the way it is in Scotland and Ireland. In those countries, to receive the single-malt label, a whiskey must feature 100 percent malted barley, be produced entirely at one distillery and be aged at least three years.

For those who want to sip a fine single-malt whiskey made locally in the styles of Ireland and Scotland, here’s a selection of the Pacific Northwest’s very best. These whiskies display malted barley flavors distinct from bourbons, ryes and most American whiskeys.

Rogue, the Oregon-based craft beer icon, has been quietly making spirits for years, but its current single malt, bolstered with 100 percent barley grown on Rogue’s own farm, is perhaps its best effort to date. Rogue malts its barley using the floor malting method, a rare and laborious process, and ages the whiskey for two years in new American oak barrels. All the hands-on work results in a robust, concentrated flavor, with honey, butterscotch and earth on the nose, a light but creamy mouthfeel and a wallop of grain on the tongue.

SHELTER POINT DISTILLERY ARTISANAL SINGLE-MALT WHISKY. Hailing from Vancouver Island, Shelter Point Distillery makes its single malt according to Canadian law, which includes aging it three years, and it released its first single malt in 2016. Founder Patrick Evans says his whiskey benefits from “the sea-breeze salt air” of the Salish Sea, and the idea that a distillery’s location can greatly impact flavor is common among distillers. Shelter Point grows much of the barley it uses on site, too. The result is a light and sharp single-malt with straw, smoke, pear, grape skin and vanilla on the nose and the palate.

HOUSE SPIRITS DISTILLERY’S WESTWARD STRAIGHT MALT WHISKEY. Based in Portland, House Spirits is best known for its Aviation Gin, but for whiskey lovers, it should be known for its Westward. “We love Scottish single malt whisky,” says master distiller Christian Krogstad, “but here in the U.S., and especially in the Pacific Northwest, brewing techniques are divergent from Scottish techniques. Most importantly, Westward is crafted for the American palate.”

Westward is made with 100% Pacific Northwest-grown barley, fermented using ale yeasts and aged in new American oak barrels two-plus years. The result is bright and fruity aromas, a satisfyingly thick texture and a richness and sweetness on the tongue. It’s complex, with a finish that goes and goes.

WESTLAND DISTILLERY AMERICAN SINGLE MALT WHISKEY. This Seattle distillery makes multiple single malts. Start with the flagship Westland, which is made using 100 percent Washington barley and aged in mostly new American oak barrels.

“What we’re trying to do is make a whiskey that has a true sense of place,” says distiller Matt Hofmann. Westland Distillery also makes Westland Peated, Westland Sherry Wood and Garryana, a single-malt aged in barrels made from Garry oak, native to the Pacific Northwest. Some will find each of these whiskies shows a remarkable improvement over the regular Westland, remarkable because the flagship is already so impressive. You could do worse than working your way through them all winter.