Whiskey’s always been a bit of a troublemaker. From the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s to the freak-out over the whiskey made with antifreeze (Fireball), it’s the spirit that’s kept us on our toes the most (or at least with our heads in the toilet).
In recent years, whiskey’s been stirring up another controversy: What do you call American Scotch? Of course, those who know whiskey know there is no such thing. Scotch whisky is made in Scotland. It’s right there in the name. It’s as descriptive as it gets.
But we’re talking about those whiskeys that are made the exact same way as Scotch—the same recipe, the same process—but on American soil. At its essence, Scotch is single malt whiskey, which means the whiskey is made from malt and comes from a single distillery (again, whiskey wins at descriptive naming). So what do you call American single malt whiskey?
A lot of American distillers just call it “single malt” or “American single malt.” Never mind that when whiskey drinkers think of “single malt,” they usually think of Scotch. American single malt whiskey is in a golden era. Micro-distilleries are popping up all over the United States and thriving. In 2012, a single malt produced by Balcones—its distillery was located under a bridge in Texas at the time—beat out revered Scotch brands like Macallan and Balvenie to win the Best in Glass competition. American “Scotch” is going global. So isn’t it time we settle the controversy once and for all and give American distillers a handle to call their own single malt whiskey? Here are a few ways we can do that:
Own the descriptor
We can think of this naming exercise as creating a new category and introducing a descriptor that tells consumers what the product is in a straightforward way. If we go in this direction, we could stay the course and continue to use “single malt” and “American single malt.” Through consistent use and reinforcement, the descriptor will come to be shorthand for any product of its kind—the way Coke is shorthand for soda, or Kleenex for tissue. And over time, “Scotch” will refer to Scotch from Scotland, and “single malt” will refer to “Scotch” from America.
Every brand for itself
In this scenario, each American distiller would have its own proprietary brand name for its single malt whiskey. Single malt would then become a product offering instead of a category. But this would bring a lack of consistency in how we refer to “single malt,” especially with distillers competing to get the most recognition for their own brand’s name (we wouldn’t recommend this approach).
Or, we can take a cue from Scotch itself. “Scotch” as a name speaks to national ownership, to place of birth. If we take the same approach—use a name that speaks to where the product comes from, that evokes a culture—what would we call our single malt from the good old U.S. of A.? It could be a name like “Eagler.” It’s a coined name, because no one wants to drink an eagle, and it slightly plays off of a whiskey tumbler. It firmly places the product in the United States, and inspires images of the bald eagle—our living symbol soaring through our spacious skies—and of our flag, of Lady Liberty and Fourth of July parades. It’s one name to unite a category, and it’s a name that inspires pride.
So how about it? Pour yourself a nice glass of Eagler, sit by the fire, and have a drink and a think.
Related content: 5 Naming Pitfalls To Avoid