There was a time, not so long ago, when pretty much everybody associated single malt whisky with Scotland. No longer. In America specifically, single malt whisky production is among the fastest growing spirit categories today.
This fast growth comes at a price, however. Any product that grows so rapidly and is being produced by so many companies with little agreement regarding standardization runs the risk of fracturing in one way or another. Back in 2016, a group of single malt distilleries such as Westland (Seattle), Balcones (Waco, TX) and FEW (Evanston, IL) were concerned by the lack of transparency and standards in their fast-growing category and wanted to do something about it. The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) was born.
The ASMWC has two major mandates. The first is to act as a lobby group that is trying to get an official Standard of Identity, like bourbon and rye, written into law that establishes a specific category of American Single Malt Whiskey. Given how government works, this will be no easy task.
In the meantime, the ASMWC’s second major mandate is to establish an interim set of standards for American single malt. These include the stipulation that the whisky is made from 100% malted barley which is distilled at one distillery. In addition, the whisky must be mashed, distilled and matured in the United States with a barrel entry proof of no more than 160 in oak casks not exceeding 700 litres. Finally, the minimum bottling strength must be the usual 80 proof.
This is definitely a very basic set of standards, but over the years, the eight founding members of the ASMWC have been joined by over 100 other distilleries who have agreed to abide by them and to help lobby for the Standard of Identity.
Amongst the ASMWC members, the biggest variation in their production revolves around the casks that they use to mature their whisky. Boulder Spirits, who is a member of the ASMWC and whose single malt is in the glass today, have chosen to mature their whisky in virgin American oak casks treated with a #3 char. This introduces notes that will be familiar to bourbon and rye drinkers, but with a single malt twist.
Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey is matured for at least three years in these virgin oak casks before being bottled at 46%.
Nose: Most of the notes that I am picking up in the foreground are associated with the virgin oak this was matured in. Sponge toffee, rich vanilla, a hint of cherry bubblegum and cinnamon. I’ve got my spice bottles out for this one as there’s some other stuff in here I want to identify. It’s not earthy like nutmeg or clove or citrusy like ground coriander. I’ve settled on allspice and just a touch of ginger. Yes, I’m talking to myself. Over time, I notice a brown sugar note. As for the actual single malt, I’m getting malted cereal and some barley sugar (aside: if you haven’t had barley sugar before, go to your local English sweet shop and discover what you have been missing!). Just before I take a sip, I get a little bit of fresh cut grass and wintergreen. As I said earlier, this is very virgin oak forward, but there are enough notes to remind you that there is, in fact, single malt in here!
Pallet: On the entry, I’m getting a very strong spice cake vibe that carries all the way through the rest of the experience. This has opened up hugely since I popped the cork a few months back. Back then it smelled and tasted young. Now it’s a different and tastier animal all together. Let this be a lesson to never do an in-depth review until your bottle has been drained past the shoulder. OK, back to the matter at hand! The entry is creamy and has a bit of a malted cereal note to it as well. That spice cake is now more a ginger cake (like, heavy on the ginger) on the development the longer I sip this. The youthful malted cereal note rears it’s head up here, but, rather than detract from the experience, it adds to it as it gets mixed into the ginger cake notes and the oak spice. When I smack my lips to let in air, I get a little bit of citrus and some walnuts.
Finish: Pretty darn long. Ginger cake and ginger snap cookies carry right on through. The bitterness from the oak was there on the first couple of sips, but is barely detectable now. There is enough of it along with some sponge toffee on the edge of burning to counterbalance the sweetness though.
With water added…
How interesting. On the nose I’m getting a bit of a rich, sweet BBQ sauce note. The sort of sauce that you would cook up at home. As I give this more time in the glass, that fades and I get more cinnamon and more fresh cherries than cherry bubblegum. The spicing gets a little earthier so I’m leaning more towards clove than allspice now. Over time, the baking spices increase on the nose. That ginger cake note is tamped down on the entry and finish and the oak becomes more prominent, but it’s not over oaked like the peated malt was. If anything, I like this balance with water better. Towards the end of the development into the finish, I get a definite dark liquorice note. Not the cheap Twizzlers candy. I’m talking the real stuff now. I don’t like liquorice, but here, it just adds on to everything I am liking about this experience. Over time, the development is more spicy ginger snaps cookie than ginger cake.
I’ll be very honest with you. I came into this review expecting to not like this whisky and was thinking of ways to word this in a diplomatic way that I didn’t like it. From my first few drams, I just thought it tasted too young. What a difference time has done to this bottle. I actually see my Boulder Spirits Sherry Cask bourbon shaking in the corner of my cabinet, afraid that I had found a new distillery favourite.
It’s strange how their straight up single malt didn’t collapse with water added in the way that their peated malt did. Having not tried this with water, I was really expecting the same to happen here. Once again, thankfully, I was wrong.
I would love to try their bottled in bond and, if available, cask strength expressions sometime just to see what time and a bit more (or a lot more!) abv does to the signature of this whisky. I bet I won’t be disappointed!