I have to tell you a secret: I am a masochist. Sometimes I just can’t resist the urge to read whisky regulations.
In the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau belonging to the US treasury I found this interesting passage:
§ 5.21 Application of standards.
[...] (1)(i) ‘‘Bourbon whisky’’, ‘‘rye whisky’’, ‘‘wheat whisky’’, ‘‘malt whisky’’, or ‘‘rye malt whisky’’ is whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type.
Apart from the fact that this document uses the British “Whisky” spelling instead of the American “Whiskey”, this passage has a pretty devious implication.
In the US you can call malt whisky what would have to be called grain whisky in the UK if the malt content is above 51%, or paraphrased: A US single malt does not have to be made from 100% malted barley!
By the way, the term “single” relating to the production in a single distillery is not covered by the US whisky regulations. It is just a word that you may or may not put on your whisky bottle.
Why am I telling you this? With the current wave of American craft distillers, there are a lot of single malts produced now in the United States. I am convinced that all of them distill Scotch-like single malts. But I fear that sooner or later someone will start to replace part of the malted barley by cheaper grains to increase profitability. And because they don’t have to tell us it will still be perfectly legal US single malt whisky.
This sounds quite spooky, so perhaps the honest US single malt producers should team up and try to work towards a change of legislation. Because the term “Single Malt” has been defined very restrictivley in the Scotch Whisky regulations and most single malt is from Scotland, international customers will expect it to be made from 100% malted barley.