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Hello everyone, and welcome to the second installment on American Single Malts.  Part 1 of this entry gave some background on the American Single Malt category and the Proper Pour Whisk(e) Club’s (PPWC) recent tasting of nine American Single Malts from eight different distilleries.  If you’d like to catch up on Part 1 before reading the results – go back to American Single Malts – Part 1 linked here: https://modernthirst.com/2018/04/17/american-single-malts-part-1/


Below I touch on a little background on the American Single Malts tasted and hit the highlights on the nose, taste, and finish from the PPWC group discussion/notes.  The descriptions are a synthesis of the group comments.

Balcones Texas Single Malt:  Balcones Distilling in Waco, TX
ABV: 53.0%     Cost: $70-75

Background:  aged 14 months in 5-gallon barrels before marrying in larger tuns, non-chilled filtered, natural color.
Nose – very sweet on the nose – butterscotch, bread crust, oak, bourbony for a malt, fruit syrup, slight leather, vanilla, buttered toast
Taste – caramel, burnt toffee, stone fruit, mango-esque fruit, blood orange
Finish – medium-long, banana peel, good viscosity, char at the end

Deerhammer Single Malt:  Deerhammer Distilling in Buena Vista, CO
ABV: 46.0%     Cost: $45-50

Background: aged at least 2 years in #2 char barrels 25 to 53-gallon barrels, porter-style 100% malted barley distilled using direct-fire copper pot still.
Nose – grandparents barn, nuts – ground (Texas Roadhouse floor), musty, wet hay – damp barn, earthy – dirt, leather, anise, chocolate, cherry-cola
Taste – floral note, light fruit skins, strawberry, chewy caramel, pepper spice, coffee
Finish – fell off quickly – short to medium, oak – astringent 

A.D. Laws Hordeum:  Laws Whiskey House in Denver, CO
ABV: 42.5%     Cost: $70-75

Background: aged 3 years in 53-gallon barrels, distilled using Vendome 4-plate pot/column still, uses Colorado grown barely – 99% malted barley and 1% rye.
Nose – chocolate – powdered cocoa, grainy, grass, cereal sweetness, rye bread
Taste – cinnamon, slight pepper, thin mouthfeel, sweet and then bitter
Finish – rough and short, a quick peak and rapid drop-off 

Westland Garryana (2016 edition 1/1):  Westland Distillery in Seattle, WA
ABV: 56.2%     Cost: $120-125

Background: aged 2 years in 53-gallon barrels; barley 21% pale malt aged in new Garryana oak, 26% peated malt aged in new Alba oak, 10% pale malt aged in used Alba oak, 43% five malt aged in new Alba oak, utilizes Belgian brewer’s yeast (more fruity profile).
Nose – maple, caramel, dark chocolate, white pepper, tart/sour, pie crust, BBQ sauce, brown sugar, coffee – a lot going on here
Taste – some kick – spice and pepper, ginger, chocolate, coffee, burnt nuttiness, too hot, a study in contrasts – aggressive
Finish – medium – brown sugar again

McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt:  Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, OR
ABV: 42.5%     Cost: $50-55

Background: aged 3 years in air dried Oregon oak barrels (some note they may use multiple sizes); distilled using a small German Holstein eau-de-vie copper still with peated Scottish barley, non-chill filtered.
Nose – brown sugar – oatmeal, mesquite smoke, tropical fruit, more smoke – bacon, smoky rubber, tobacco
Taste – smoky ginger candy, sweet smoke, too young
Finish – lingering pleasant finish, some tobacco, touch of alcohol taste; this was the most scotch-like of the single malts tasted in this lineup

Spirit Hound Straight Malt:  Spirit Hound Distillery in Lyons, CO
ABV: 45.0%     Cost: $50-55

Background: aged 2 years in #4 char 53-gallon barrels, uses Colorado grown peat-smoked barley.
Nose – young, green grass, tart, peachy, caramel, pepper
Taste – caramel, butterscotch, peach skin, pepper, easy drinking
Finish – some bitterness, not very long

Westland Sherry Wood:  Westland Distillery in Seattle, WA
ABV: 46.0%     Cost: $70-75

Background: aged 2 years in ex-Oloroso and ex-Pedro Ximenez hogsheads and butts, and new American Oak; five different barleys used – Washington Select pale malt, Munich malt, Extra Special malt, pale chocolate malt, brown malt; non-chilled filtered, natural color; utilizes Belgian brewer’s yeast (more fruity profile).
Nose – sweet, dried fruit, chocolate, vanilla bean, cherries, chocolate covered raisins, cane syrup, honey graham cracker, oak
Taste – chocolate coffee beans, dark fruit, baking spices, maple syrup, acidic coffee
Finish – some bitterness and astringency, oak, touch of maple again

Hillrock Single Malt Sherry Finished (OPX-10): Hillrock Estate Distillery in Ancram, NY
ABV: 43.0%     $85-90

Background:  aged in American oak for less than 4 years – finished in sherry casks; distilled using a 250-gallon pot still.
Nose – menthol, pine, rye bread, mossy, damp, hay/grass, green apple tartness, apricot
Taste – toffee/caramel, apricot, brown sugar, bold with a funkiness
Finish – thin, hard caramel candy, short to medium

Cedar Ridge Single Malt finished in a Port Cask:  Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher, IA
ABV: 40.0%     Cost: $55-60

Background: NAS – finished in Port cask; two row pale malt barley.
Nose – winery notes, dark fruit, red vines/red licorice, jolly rancher candy – sour green apple
Taste – sweet at first then downhill, tannins, astringency, burnt note – over charred, sharp parmesan cheese, fungal
Finish – not memorable – not good – a bit offensive and imbalanced


As I have mentioned in previous articles, the PPWC uses a 100-point scale just slightly different than the breakout used on ModernThirst.  Out of 198 whiskies tasted as of this month we have given only three “A+” ratings and twelve “A” ratings overall.  Of all the whiskies rated 50 of 198 have received an “A-“ or higher – or right at 25% of what we have tasted as a group.

For this installment on ModernThirst I’m going to include our letter grade designations for the whiskies tasted and a rounded to the half-point numerical average for the group.  But first, I need to provide our scale – which was developed as we got further into our process, as we saw how the whiskies were sorting themselves out on the numerical scale.

            A+ = > 94%                 A = 92.0-93.9%           A- = 90.0-91.9%
            B+ = 88.0-89.9%         B = 83.0-87.9%           B- = 80.0-82.9%
            C+ = 78.0-79.9%         C = 73.0-77.9%           C- = 70.0-72.9%
            D+ = 68.0-69.9%         D = 63.0-67.9%           D- = 60.0-62.9%


And the winner was:

1st        Balcones Texas Single Malt                                        B+       88.5
2nd       McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt                                  B         86.5 
3rd        Westland Sherry Wood                                                B         86.0
4th        Spirit Hound Straight Malt                                           B         85.5
5th        Westland Garryana (2016 edition 1/1)                        B         83.5    
6th        Deerhammer Single Malt                                             B-        80.0    
7th        A.D. Laws Hordeum                                                     C+       79.0    
8th        Hillrock Single Malt Sherry Finished (OPX-10)         C         77.5    
9th        Cedar Ridge Single Malt finished in a Port Cask      D         66.0    


A quick post-whiskey club tasting update:  After the initial nine whiskey tasting, the next month I hosted a cookout that had several club members present (including some of those not in the original group).  I made blind samples of the top 4 whiskies from the previous month and asked the members to simply order the whiskies #1 to #4 during the evening.  The lineup included only Balcones, McCarthy’s, Westland Sherry and Spirit Hound.  No points were assigned but the rankings for the evening were based upon the average #1 to #4 placement.  The results for the most part mimicked the previous month with Spirit Hound coming in at #4 and Westland Sherry at #3. The top two, however, flipped positions with McCarthy’s slightly edging out Balcones for the evening.

Additionally, since the original tasting, five of the nine listed whiskies have come up in blind tastings.  McCarthy’s scored blind had its average remain within ½ point of the original tasting – solidifying itself as a high B whiskey.  Westland Garryana after the blind averaged slightly lower (1-point decrease) putting it at the B/B- borderline rating overall.  A.D. Laws did not fare as well in the blind tasting – pushing its average down into the solid C range.  Hillrock made it through the blinds almost exactly the same with a slight boost putting it on the C/C+ borderline.  Finally, Cedar Ridge, after having time to get some air, made the biggest jump from the original tasting, boosting its average from the D to the C range overall – a full letter grade jump.  It is always nice to be able to balance the scores of the whiskies tasted, both known and blind, to eliminate any preconceived perceptions one may have had about the dram they were tasting.  After the known tasting, the cookout top 4 follow-up, and the blind tastings of 5 of the 9 whiskies I feel pretty good about where the nine whiskies sorted themselves out – the groupings it appears, from our palates, would tend to fall into the same relative placement should we revisit them again.  Now that sounds like an interesting future possibility . . . but, alas, some of the bottles are already finished.

Thanks for reading this the longest single entry I’ve written for ModernThirst.  I hope you enjoyed learning a little about some American Single Malts – and maybe peeked your interest in giving one a try yourself.  I’d definitely recommend giving any of the top four above a try if you get the chance or our group’s top American Single Malt – Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.  If you like the descriptions of our whiskey club method and would like to know more specifics about how the club operates send me an e-mail (wes@modernthirst.com).  Or if you’d like to see future write-ups on topics such as the club’s top-ten overall whiskies or our monthly winners make a comment on this write-up or send me an individual e-mail.  Thanks all – we appreciate you reading ModernThirst and enjoying the amazing world of whiskey with us.

Until next time – cheers!

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About Author

Senior Staff Writer, Wes, was born and raised in Darlington, South Carolina and attended college at the United States Air Force Academy. After flying helicopters for the Air Force and teaching at the Air Force Academy, he retired in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado, after twenty years of military service. He now works in public school education, is married with three children, and leads the monthly Proper Pour Whisk(e)y Club. You can follow him on Twitter @WesModernThirst and e-mail him at Wes@ModernThirst.com.

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