If you are headed home for the holidays, you might be expecting to see your uncle who tells you every year that good whiskey only comes from Scotland. At your office Christmas party, maybe there's one co-worker who won't stop talking about how she can't possibly drink anything but peated single malts from Islay. Or when you're out with your friends at the bar, inevitably someone might go on and on about how they don't like bourbon because it's too sweet.
This can start to get annoying rather quickly, especially if you love American whiskey. The major distillers in Kentucky have long favored bourbon and rye, but craft whiskey has started to embrace the new category of American single malt. Like the Scottish, they're making whiskey from 100 percent barley, with not a single kernel of corn or grain of rye in the mix.
If you're looking for a holiday gift that might change minds (and change the conversation), here are five American whiskeys under $100 that rival their counterparts from Scotland.
Balcones Texas Single Malt
You know cowboys drink whiskey, but did you know they make it as well? Balcones won first place at Best in Glass in 2012, a prestigious blind taste test in London. This single malt from Waco, Texas, beat every scotch — including a few names you might recognize, such as Macallan, Balvenie and Glenmorangie — for that honor. If you're looking to impress your uncle, pick up this single malt from the Lone Star State.
Stranahan's Diamond Peak
Located in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, this Denver distillery makes several different single malts. You may have seen Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey with its yellow label and tin cup atop the bottle. But Diamond Peak, its 4-year-old whiskey with a black label, is where it starts to get interesting. More elegant and refined than the flagship bottle, the Diamond Peak looks awfully nice poured neat into a Glencairn glass.
Westland American Single Malt
Like Stranahan's, Westland exclusively makes single malt whiskey, with no plans for a bourbon or rye. The Seattle-based distillery is particularly concerned with the idea of terroir and makes whiskey specific to the Pacific Northwest. (Its Garryana whiskey, for examples, ages in barrels made from local Garry oak.) If you're looking for the American answer to a Speyside scotch, Westland's standard single malt is a perfect choice.
Westward American Single Malt
Not to be confused with Westland, Westward is from nearby House Spirits in Portland, Oregon. Its whiskey has the round, almost oily softness you might associate with an Irish pot still. A former brewer, master distiller Christian Krogstad uses ale yeast during fermentation to give the whiskey an earthy spice. If you want to impress the guys at the bar, be sure to mention that NFL legend Joe Montana is an investor.
Lost Spirits Abomination: Sayers of the Law
If you like a heavily peated Islay Scotch, look no further than L.A.'s own Lost Spirits, easily the strangest distillery on this list. Founder Bryan Davies created technology that ages alcohol in a reactor to make a “20-year-old” whiskey in six days. If you're skeptical, know that whiskey critic Jim Murray gave it a rating of 94 out of 100 in his 2018 Whisky Bible. Take the distillery tour to find out why Davies is considered the Willy Wonka of whiskey.
Matt Carlson is the whiskey sommelier and manager of Vestry, a speakeasy and whiskey lounge on the second floor of Tom Bergin's. Vestry is open to the public on New Year's Eve for events all night with Dave Pickerell, the master distiller of WhistlePig Rye. For more information, follow them on Instagram and Twitter at vestryla or find them on Facebook.