Since Independence Day was this week here is the USA, it seems appropriate to taste and review an American single malt whiskey. Many casual whiskey fans might be surprised to learn that there are American distilleries who produce single malt whiskey. Although bourbon is certainly king of American whiskey (with rye its queen), there are a handful of American distilleries who produce single malts, including Stranahan’s out of Colorado. So let’s take a look at one of the more readily available and affordable American single malts—Stranahan’s Diamond Peak.
As a quick refresher (or as education if you are not familiar with the different types of whiskey), let’s do a quick rundown of the differences between bourbon and single malt scotch. The main differences lie in the grains used in the mash bill and how the spirit is aged.
- Distilled from a mash bill that contains at least 51% corn (with malted barley and either rye or wheat usually making up the rest of the mash bill)
- Aged in new, charred oak containers (for at least two years—if it’s labeled as “straight” bourbon)
- Produced in the USA
Single malt scotch is:
- Distilled from 100% malted barley in a pot still
- Produced by a single distillery (which is what the “single” in single malt whisky means)
- Aged in oak for a minimum of three years (usually in previously used casks, although that is not a requirement)
- Produced in Scotland
There are other rules that must be met as well, but those are the most important points, particularly for the purposes of this review.
Stranahan’s is neither bourbon nor single malt scotch (it is a single malt whiskey, but not single malt scotch). It’s labeled simply as Colorado Whiskey. Like bourbon, it was aged in new, charred oak barrels. Like single malt scotch, it was made from a mash bill of 100% malted barley and distilled using a pot still.
Stranahan’s has three single malt whiskeys in their standard lineup—the original yellow label (readily available across the USA), Diamond Peak (a little more limited, but still pretty easy to find), and Snowflake (very limited and difficult to obtain). The Diamond Peak is hand selected by Stranahan’s Master Distiller from some of their best casks and produced in small batches. Each bottle is labeled with its specific batch and bottle number. My bottle is number 1770 from batch number 10.
So what happens when you take a scotch-like distillate and age it like you would bourbon? Let’s find out.
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak
Type: Single Malt
Region: Colorado, USA
Nose: Lots of typical bourbon notes. Oak. Freshly cut wood. Vanilla. Caramel. Buttered toast. Barley sugar. Malt. A hint of milk chocolate. Ethanol.
Palate: Vanilla. Oak. Malted milk chocolate. Stone fruits, especially apricot. Butterscotch. Barley sugar. Fruit syrup. Full and fairly creamy mouthfeel.
Finish: Somewhat short. Light fruits. Barley sugar. Malt. Milk chocolate.
Overall: Educational. The overall flavor profile falls somewhere in between bourbon and single malt scotch, which isn’t surprising. The new, charred oak casks clearly influence this whiskey in a way that is not seen in most scotch whiskies (particularly in the nose), but the 100% malted barley mash bill lends a light fruit profile not found in most bourbon (bourbons tend to have more of a dark fruit profile). As a fun tasting experiment, I decided to pour myself a glass of this alongside a bourbon (in this case Weller Special Reserve) and a single malt scotch (I chose anCnoc Peter Arkle). The nose of the Stranahan’s was much closer to the nose of the bourbon, but the palate was closer to the scotch (although still somewhere in the middle). It takes some of the best of both spirits and ends up somewhere unique.
This is pretty enjoyable, especially the malted milk chocolate notes on the palate. Unfortunately the finish is rather short and uneventful. But even if the finish were better… I’m not sure this is really my cup of tea. I like the nose, but if I want this nose I’d just drink bourbon—and there are many bourbons with a better nose than this. And although the palate is nice, I can find similar palates with more complexity in many single malt scotches. There’s a reason why bourbon makers use heartier grains like corn and rye to produce a distillate that holds up to new, charred oak, and there’s a reason why Scotch producers age their malt in refill casks instead of brand new barrels.
Nonetheless, this is a good, well-made product, and I am enjoying it as a change of pace dram every now and then. If you love both bourbon and scotch, I absolutely recommend giving this a try. It’s an education in where the flavors that we love in whisky originate. Is it the barrel? The mash bill? The locale? The type of still? Well it’s all of the those things and more.
Buy again? I’m glad I bought this, but I probably won’t be buying another bottle anytime soon.
Questions about my scoring system? Refer to the Review Method & Scoring Scale page.