The U.S. market is patiently waiting for an official classification for exactly what is an American Single Malt Whiskey. In the meantime, crafty distillers across the country have been laying down their own interpretation of what a single malt whiskey is.
New Riff Distilling in Newport, Kentucky has quietly been developing multiple varieties of their own take on an American single malt since 2014. And exactly as their name says, they are putting their own riff on the single malt category with a whiskey that weaves malty flavors with oaken age.
“On one hand, it is entirely different from everything else we’ve ever made,” said New Riff Distilling Co. Co-Founder Jay Erisman. “But on the other, it is entirely faithful to our mission to be a ‘new riff on an old tradition,’ using the sour mash regimen to explore another classic whiskey tradition.”
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The earliest distillations of the guarded internal project started in the first few months of the distillery’s existence. Over the years, they’ve explored additional mash bills and barrels, filling barrels at 110 proof and letting them age quietly in Northern Kentucky.
Anticipated to be released annually, the exact blend of New Riff Sour Mash Single Malt will change slightly from year to year. The 2023 release, comprised of five of the six recipes, consists of whiskey distilled from 2014-2016, ranging from 7 to 8 years old.
Multiple Barley Varietals
New Riff’s Sour Mash Single Malt Whiskey is a provocative new riff on the hallowed traditions of malted barley. Comprised of up to six different mashbills, and slowly matured in a variety of cask types, which are vatted together into one harmonious expression. Distilled in the distillery’s column beer still and doubler, it weaves a wealth of malty flavors into oaken age: a bold new concept in the time-honored Kentucky whiskey regimen.
The mash bills include four whiskeys made with 100% barley varietals—Golden Promise, Maris Otter, Chevallier heirloom barley, and Scottish peated barley malt—as well as two beer-inspired mash bills based on classic Barleywine and Belgian Quadrupel recipes. Each offers a distinct flavor profile.
The six mashbills include:
- 100% Maris Otter, a classic British ale malt
- 100% Golden Promise, a classic Scotch whisky malt
- Barleywine-style, after high gravity, heavy bodied barleywine ales
- Belgian quadrupel-style, in the fashion of rich, mellow Trappist ales
- 100% Scottish peated barley malt, heavily smoked and pungent
- 100% Chevallier Heirloom malted barley, an 1820s-vintage English variety
Multiple Barrels Range from New to Used Brandy and Sherry
The malt whiskeys have matured in a variety of barrels, ranging from new charred oak, de-charred toasted oak, red wine casks, Portuguese brandy casks, classic sherried oak casks, and more.
“American Single Malt is a growing category in the whiskey industry and pending legislation will give it a firm identity — but even within that, we believe New Riff Sour Mash Single Malt is a complex and provocative malt whiskey enterprise,” Erisman said.
New Riff Single Malt Tasting Notes
Expect a “kaleidoscopic malt whiskey experience,” Erisman said. “Most of all, it is huge in body and mouthfeel due to the Kentucky regimen of sour mashing and column still distillation in a way that malt whiskeys from other regions rarely develop.”
New Riff’s first Sour Mash Single Malt is bottled at cask strength without chill filtration at 113.8 proof (56.9% ABV) and is aged at least 7-years.
Nose: Broad, deep and heady, with many barrel notes (oaky, sherried oak, toasty); with time, it develops rich malty fruity grains; a splash of water advances complicated grainy detail, showing grassy-mineral malt, dark fruit cacao nibs, orange-lemon citrus, and a wisp of smoke and ozone.
Palate: Straight-up, the oak is forward and layered (oloroso sherry, red wine, brandy, new oak), chewy texture, and drying but not tannic; with water, a strikingly juicy entry, bright fruit and citrus peel; it is dryish and tinged with sweetening fruits; a BIG Kentucky-style body, savory-soft thick-cut texture with red and dark fruit, cocoa powder, grassy-nutty malt, a shading of sherry oak and a suggestion of smoke.
Finish: Exceptionally zesty, even delicate, the fruited (raspberry, tangerine rind, bergamont-orange) components lifted up in a whiskey-ozone-air and framed with the sherry-branded oak, late lemon curd and a vanishing air-kiss of peat smoke.
New Riff Sour Mash Kentucky Single Malt is 100% malted barley and is offered with a suggested retail price of $69.99 for a 750mL. It will be available at New Riff’s distillery gift shop in Newport, Kentucky., and at select retailers across New Riff’s national distribution network beginning in early October.
Kentucky born and urban bred, New Riff is an independently-owned distillery in Northern Kentucky. In 2014, founder Ken Lewis, a visionary Kentucky liquor retailer and entrepreneur, saw a need for a new riff on an old tradition when it came to Kentucky bourbon. The distillery produces bourbon, rye and Kentucky Wild Gin. Bourbon and rye are made with traditional sour mash methods and bottled-in-bond without chill filtration. Bourbon and rye are also available in single barrel selections, and the distillery boasts a popular private barrel selection program. New Riff sources its water from an aquifer under the distillery, accessed via a 100’ deep private well and providing water with four times as much dissolved minerals than found in other water supplies. New Riff believes in transparency, so all products feature an age statement and the mashbills are public.