American single malt whisky is the next big thing… and always will be.
A few years back, I considered the single malt from Iowa’s Cedar Ridge. It was my first run-in with American single malt whisky, a category which (until then) was mostly dominated by the likes of Westland and Balcones. To say the category has “exploded” since would be an overstatement. We’ve certainly seen more American single malt whisky from the likes of Westward and others. 2022 saw the proposed addition of American Single Malt Whisky to the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits from the TTB.
However, those with more lofty aspirations for American single malt whisky may have been disappointed by the evolution of the market. American single malts don’t compete meaningfully versus their domestic competition (bourbon and rye whiskey), nor against imported malt whisky from Scotland (or Ireland, or Japan).
I think American single malt whisky might end up being like Ska music: steadily beloved by a small cadre of devoted fans, with occasional waves of wider enthusiasm, but never fully capturing the popular consciousness (and thank God for that… re: Ska, not American single malts). That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I have respect for niche dominance. But I feel that judging the success – or lack thereof – of American single malt whisky on whether it eventually outsells Scotch or bourbon sets an unfairly high bar for this nascent style.
With that as a backdrop, today I’ll be considering the Little Rest single malt whisky from Wassaic, NY’s Tenmile Distillery. This name was new to me until a PR intermediary reached out to offer a bottle of their single malt whisky to sample. Even before my first sniff or sip, my background research got me excited for the potential of this whisky.
Let’s go down the craft distilling checklist, shall we? Starting with the raw ingredients, Tenmile has this to say:
“Little Rest American Single Malt Whisky is made from 100% New York State grown barley. Although the farmers sometimes must change due to crop rotations, farm scheduling and the weather, we are dedicated to purchasing as much as possible from the Hudson Valley with Ken Migliorelli from Tivoli and the Kukon Brothers in Germantown being two of our favorites.”
So far, so good. How about the fermentation time? Tenmile’s own site informs us that the fermentation is a more-than-respectable seven days in length, using yeast selected for slow action and flavor maximization. Moving along to distillation, some more pertinent information is provided:
“Gentle operation of Tenmile Distillery’s custom designed stills… is geared towards the production of a lighter, fruitier spirit. Tenmile’s upward-tilting Lyne Arms, observed in only a small fraction of distilleries, operate to increase reflux and copper contact. A single batch per day allows for air rests between distillations, encouraging more effective copper contact.”
I was curious about this yeast, so I reached out to GM and co owner, Joel LeVangia (via the PR person) for comment:
Malt: Tenmile’s website mentions “a specialized yeast known for producing good flavors.” Can you provide any more detail about which yeast is specifically used, and any characteristic aromatic or flavor aspects associated with this?
Joel: We use a dried yeast from Lallemand that is specifically designed for malt whiskies and is used by several of your better-known whisky distilleries in Scotland. Using that yeast as a starting point, everything about our malting, mashing and fermentation process is designed to provide a comfortable environment in which the yeast can flourish at low temperatures and with plenty of nutrient. Happy, comfortable yeast make excellent and pleasing flavors.
As for the folks doing the distilling: Master Distiller Sean Fraser was previously M.D. at Wolfburn Distillery. He is said (by Tenmile) to be making whisky “in the Scottish style.” Distillery owner John Dyson is a local, with a background in wine both in the area (the Millbrook Winery) as well as elsewhere. In 1998, John purchased the well-regarded Sonoma winery Williams Selyem from its eponymous founders (full disclosure: I was on the Williams Selyem list for many years, and actually visited the winery on my honeymoon. They make very nice Pinot Noir).
I was also curious about the cooperage, which is not discussed much on the website.
Malt: I see that Tenmile has both bourbon and Pinot Noir cask bottlings. Can you provide any detail about the makeup of cask types that goes into the “Classic” expression of Little Rest?
Joel: The reason we released the Pinot Noir and Bourbon Cask expressions is because the Classic is a 50/50 mix of those two cask types. By providing our list members with their own “ingredients” they can be a master blender at home and judge what proportions suit them best. Hopefully we will all learn how to make the distillery better together.
Local ingredients, long fermentation with an emphasis on flavor rather than efficiency, and a thoughtful approach to distilling. Someone experienced tending the stills, and an owner who has a long history of starting and growing businesses. Perhaps equally importantly, there’s upfront disclosure about all of this. I’d be lying if I said that I’m not hoping that the resultant whisky is very good, though I won’t let any of the above color my objective evaluation of it.
Speaking of the whisky: a few more particulars, before I dive in. A reader who saw the picture of this joked, “Is ‘Little Rest’ the age statement?” In fact, the label informs us that this is three years old. However, there is a story (of course!) behind the name. To summarize: it’s the name of a nearby road, where a neighboring farmer would provide a “little rest” to the horses and farmers who had just climbed a proximal hill. That’s not to say my interlocutor’s interjection was errant; this is aged just three years, my lone misgiving among everything I have learned so far. Once again soliciting Tenmile’s thoughts:
Malt: The whisky carries an age statement of three years. Is the distillery’s ambition to release older whisky as time goes on? What does Tenmile target as an age for its core expressions?
Joel: We have used approximately 20% of our production from 2020. This year’s releases will be older than last year’s (for the most part) and it is definitely the distillery’s ambition to release older whisky as time goes on. A single malt made according to traditional methods is said to be perfect somewhere between 8 and 12 years old. Based on Little Rest’s current quality, we are guessing we might be towards the earlier end of that window, but we look forward to building a consensus with our friends and customers as time goes by.
Per the label, this is batch No. 002. This comes to us at 46% ABV; no notes are made about chill filtration, or lack thereof. Retail price at Tenmile’s online store is $100. Insert my usual disclaimers about the diseconomies of scale associated with craft distilling, and also the higher costs (in this case) of local grain and a longer, less efficient fermentation. Letting Tenmile weigh in:
Malt: Is the $100/bottle price for the Classic expression on the Tenmile website the suggested retail price?
Joel: Yes. Members of our list and retail partners (who are also members of our list that happen to re-sell the whisky) are offered a slightly lower price at stated times of the year, but otherwise, something in the $100 to $115 price range seems likely to allow us to continue making super-premium whisky the way it ought to be done and our retail partners some wiggle room to cover their overhead and keep us in stock.
That said, there are hundreds of competing single malt whisky options from Scotland, America, and elsewhere at (or below) this price, some of them quite excellent. I’ll keep an open mind, but the young age and the high price might end up being strikes one and two. Only one way to find out…
Tenmile Distillery Little Rest Single Malt – Review
Color: Medium-pale yellow-orange.
On the nose: Super ripe stone fruit (think of a pear that is ripe to the point of liquefying) and a pert note of peppermint are the highlights. There’s a savory and meaty note of chicken soup in here as well, as an accent of key lime that emerges with time. Unfortunately, the overall impression is marred by a gawky, juvenile woodiness, of the type I typically associate with immature craft whisky. This awkwardness distracts from – but does not completely overwhelm – the nose’s better aspects. Still, I start to sip this with trepidation.
In the mouth: This meets the lips and the tip of the tongue in sedate fashion, with a dilute woodiness as the main identifiable flavor in the front of the mouth. The whisky builds a little momentum as it moves toward midpalate, rounding out a bit with some flavors of nutmeg and malt, but also features an unfortunate reprise of the ungainly woody aspects that marred the nose. These reach a crescendo at the crest of the tongue, where this also takes on a prickly texture with some tannic astringency, before fading quickly into the finish. There, I’m left with a soft echo of the preceding notes before this disappears wispily, leaving more young malt and wood as a bad aftertaste.
There are some appealing elements here – I love the ripe fruitiness of the nose – but the overall presentation feels rushed. This needs more time in the barrel for the process of subtractive maturation to work its magic, allowing the potential of the marriage of malt and cask to be fully expressed.
On its own merits, this probably deserves a score of 4/10, corresponding to “reasonable” on our scale. However, given the punchy price (even by craft distilling standards), I feel compelled to dock an additional point, leaving us with…
The last thing America (or American malt whisky) needs right now is another immature whisky that has been hastily bottled and hurried to market. It’s a pity, really; based on everything I learned during my research (and recounted above), Tenmile has assembled the building blocks to produce some great whisky. The missing element is patience. I get that craft distilling economics suck, compared to those of the mega-distilleries. I get that few distilleries have the capital to devote to distilling today and bottling in a decade or more. I get that there’s probably a fair bit of excitement once you’ve produced a whisky that has (after what must seem an interminably long three years) become drinkable, if not quite enjoyable. Still, with a triple-digit price tag, Tenmile will need to do a lot better to justify a positive score and a recommendation to purchase their whisky.
Whisky provided courtesy of Tenmile which – per Malt editorial policy – does not affect our notes and scores (this should hopefully be obvious in this case).