On Oct. 3 the U.S. announced it will impose tariffs on European Union goods, including hefty 25% duties on single malt Irish and Scotch whiskies. Although blended varieties from both countries, such as segment leader Jameson, will remain unscathed, fans of single malt Scotch—meaning whisky made at a single distillery in Scotland—can expect to see substantial price hikes passed along.

The lengthy list of targeted products also includes Parmesan, pecorino, and Swiss cheeses, among many others; wines from certain EU countries produced with less than 14% alcohol by volume, such as Sancerre or Muscadet; liqueurs and cordials from Germany, Italy, Spain, or Britain, such as Aperol, Campari, or amaretto; and olives from a wide range of countries, including France’s Picholine and Spain’s Castelvetrano varieties.

While blended Scotch outsells single malts in the U.S. by a wide margin, prestigious single malts sell for higher prices: In 2018 single malt exports to the U.S. accounted for 33% of sales by value, representing $463 million, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, a trade group representing Scotland’s whisky distilleries. “The tariff will undoubtedly damage the Scotch Whisky sector,” Karen Betts, chief executive officer of the SWA, said in a statement on the group’s website. “The U.S. is our largest and most valuable single market, and over £1 billion [$1.2 billion] of Scotch Whisky was exported there last year.”

How might this play out on the shelf? Consider, for example, Glenfiddich 12-year-old, imported by Pernod Ricard SA, with a suggested retail price of $40. Assuming all costs are passed to the consumer, a 25% tariff would push that to $50—and some retailers might jack it up even higher if single malt Scotch is perceived as scarce. Many single malts, particularly older and rare bottlings, sell for much more than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

Luckily, plenty of American-made whiskeys can help scratch that itch for single malt Scotch.

Single Malt Characteristics
The first thing is to look for a whiskey made primarily, if not exclusively, from malted barley (as opposed to corn, rye, or other grains) and aged in a cask that formerly held bourbon.

“Single malt whisky out of Scotland fundamentally is made out of barley, by law,” says Matt Hofmann, co-founder and managing director of Westland Distillery, a Seattle-based single malt producer that takes some cues from Scottish whisky-making traditions. Barley yields a spirit that’s “lighter and more delicate compared to bourbon,” he says. “It’s a little more refined.”

Next, the spirit should be distilled using a pot still, “so they retain some flavor,” Hofmann says. And finally, the barrel: As Scottish distillers do, the whiskey should be aged in an ex-bourbon cask, not a new barrel, lending subtle vanilla tones from the wood and gentle tannins. (A fresh barrel would double down on both vanilla and puckery tannins.)

“If you could try to sum up a general Scottish single malt, there’s always a nice background of cereal note, then you’ve also got some caramel-vanilla notes that come from the use of old bourbon casks, and usually also some dried fruit,” he says. In addition, a number of Scottish single malts also rely on ex-sherry casks, which add notes of darker dried fruit such as figs or dates. And of course, some producers smoke the barley over peat, which provides distinctive smoky tones.

Is it possible to find a homegrown bottle that incorporates these characteristics? Absolutely—though Hofmann also counsels Scotch lovers to take this opportunity to try something new.

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