This coming spring, the good folks from the American Distilling Institute will hold their 2018 Annual Convention in the exciting city of Portland, Oregon. Portland is an amazing city. Portland is the Zaphod Beeblebrox of cities. It is so cool you could keep a side of meat in it for a month, and if it were any more hip it would have difficulty seeing over its pelvis. Portland is a short 40 minute flight from Seattle; I plan to be at the conference.
It is fitting that Portland should be the site for ADI next year – since it means one of the most exciting and vibrant cities on the West Coast will be the setting for a recognition of what is probably the most exciting and vibrant new trend in hooch here in the states – American Single Malt Whiskey.
As I described previously, many innovative distilleries around the country have signed on to the effort to develop American Single Malt as a new and recognized category of spirits. They are self-policing, having established by agreement the basic framework for the production of the spirit. And they are pushing hard to get the TTB to recognize American Single Malt as a distinct category of whiskey in the agency’s Standards of Identity.
Those efforts are ongoing. But starting this spring, American Single Malt will be a separate category of spirits as part of the American Distilling Institute’s Annual Judging of Craft Spirits. So will the separate inclusion of American Single Malt cause the TTB to establish a separate category? In my opinion, probably not.
But if producers are to have any likelihood of success in getting this established as a separate category, they really need to achieve two things. First, they need to get the industry aligned (or at least reasonably so) with respect to the nature of the category and how it is produced. Put another way, if members of the industry are seen by the TTB as squabbling over the definition of a category, then TTB is highly unlikely to step in and resolve the dispute. That is why the efforts of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission is so important.
Second, the industry needs to begin to educate consumers on the nature of the category. Some may say that in order to achieve this objective the industry needs to get the TTB to make the first move – as the standards of identity control what you can say on your label. I disagree. Many excellent producers today are already making and selling American Single Malt – with TTB-compliant labels – and effectively telling the story of their hooch. Having the TTB establish the category today would help the effort – but forward-thinking producers can go ahead and find ways to tell the tale of their whiskey without waiting for the TTB.
Having ADI move forward with American Single Malt as a separate judging category will help that effort. As someone who advises a few distilleries making American Single Malt, I applaud this development.
And as someone who enjoys sampling American Single Malt, I’m looking forward to Portland.