Whiskey fans have been anticipating the arrival of a legal definition of American single malt, something we covered when the news was announced almost two years ago. That still hasn’t happened, but in the meantime both legacy and upstart distilleries have been releasing new expressions in this burgeoning category, and the latest from Kentucky’s New Riff Distillery is one of the most interesting yet.
New Riff is a Kentucky distillery that has been around for a decade, which is just a blink of an eye compared to others in the state like Jim Beam and Wild Turkey. While it’s much better known for its bottled-in-bond bourbon and rye, the New Riff team has also been distilling malt whiskey since the early days. The new Sour Mash Single Malt is the first single malt release, and the name refers to the fact that the whiskey is made using the sour mash process—a practice used by most distilleries where some of the mash from a previous fermentation is used to kickstart a new one.
Sour Mash Single Malt was aged for seven to eight years, and made from a mashbill of five of the six different malted barley recipes the distillery created. Four of these mashbills were 100 percent barley varietals—Golden Promise, Maris Otter, Chevallier heirloom, and Scottish peated—and two were based on beer-inspired barleywine and Belgian Quadrupel recipes. The whiskeys were aged in six different types of barrels: new charred oak, used de-charred toasted oak, used de-charred and re-charred oak, red wine, Portuguese brandy, and Oloroso sherry. Lastly, the whiskeys were vatted together and bottled at cask strength of 113.8 proof with no chill filtration. If you want to dive much deeper into the details, the New Riff blog has all the information you could ask for.
This is an intriguing and, most importantly, delicious new American single malt whiskey, and it is truly unlike others I’ve tried. It does not fall into a few different flavor profiles that seem to dominate the field: hoppy beer-style, bourbon-esque, chocolate-forward, or sherry bomb. The palate ranges all over the place but somehow feels cohesive, with notes of sour cherry, dark chocolate, grape, vanilla, leather, and sweet pipe tobacco. That is followed by caramel, Granny Smith apple, wood chips, and a hint of lemon curd on the finish.
All credit due to the distilleries that have been making American single malt for many years now, including Stranahan’s, Westland, Westward, and the cream of the crop, Triple Eight’s the Notch. Overall, New Riff is one of the best new-school distilleries in the country with a lineup of some fantastic American whiskeys and a few experimental offerings, so it’s no surprise that this new single malt hits all the marks while still standing out from the pack.
- 100: Worth trading your first born for
- 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
- 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
- 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
- 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
- Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this