Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey Review [In Depth]

Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey

Alex author
Founder, writer
Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey hEADER-3

Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey Details

Distillery: Shelter Distilling

Type & Region: Single Malt, California, USA

Alcohol: 45%

Composition: 100% malted barley

Aged: At least 6 months

Color: 1.5/2.0 on the color scale (auburn, polished mahogany)

Price: $50

From the company website:

Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey is a double pot distilled whiskey, rested on Hungarian Oak, then aged in American Oak barrels. The Oak aging imparts notes of vanilla, stone fruit, and spice. This is the American Spirit.

Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey overview

I’m going to rip the band aid off and get straight to it. I’ve put myself in the possibly unenviable position of reviewing a 6-12 month old American single malt whiskey. No…not 6 years…6 months. Whiskey this young usually isn’t ready for primetime. It’s drinkable, but it doesn’t mean it’s good.
Maybe there’s an acceptable reason that they chose to release something so young, or maybe they have no idea what they’re doing. I’m going to find out either way and be honest about it.
Shelter Distilling, founded in 2017, is located in Mammoth Lakes, California. If you don’t know where that is, it’s northwest of Fresno by Yosemite National Park, and not too far from the California-Nevada border. It’s out there off the beaten path.
American Single Malt is the category of American whiskey that is most similar to single malt Scotch. At least as of this review, I don’t think that rules have been passed (yet), but it’s in progress.
I’m guessing that Shelter follows the proposed guidelines so that they are still compliant after the rules are finalized. If that’s the case, then Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey is made from 100% malted barley, distilled to no higher than 80% ABV (160 proof), and aged in < 700L barrels. Plus, it has to be mashed, distilled, and aged in the United States, although the barley doesn’t have to come from the United States.
Unlike their Shelter Yolo Agave Spirit, where Shelter Distilling provides extensive details from the agave source, cooking, cutting, fermentation, and distillation, they strangely don’t provide much detail on this single malt.
I was able to get some clarification from the distillery, so I’ll pass that along to you. After distillation, the whiskey is slow-proofed to 93 proof for a 24-hour soak with Hungarian Oak chips. The Hungarian Oak is then removed and the whiskey is barreled in a #3 char American Oak barrel for at least 6 months.
There are a few interesting details here. First, the new make is proofed down to 93 proof (46.5%) prior to barrel entry. That is a crazy low entry proof. The 24 hour “soak” in Hungarian oak chips is intriguing as well. I don’t know much about Hungarian oak or why Shelter does it for only 24 hours, but I guess we’ll see what happens. Maybe it’s pointless, maybe it’s a game changer. Either way, it likely adds a little something something to the whiskey.
Let’s find out if this very young whiskey is any good in this Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey review.
Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey front
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey smell

The scents are surprisingly cola-forward with this dark sweetness (that isn’t quite caramel, honey, or maple syrup), lime peel, baked red apple coated in cinnamon, roasted oak, cherry, more cinnamon, and hints of nutmeg and dark chocolate. Shelter American Single Malt is quite citrusy and fruity within the dark sweetness, like a craft cola.
Honestly, Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey smells nice. This is already in a decent place with nice fruitiness and range (albeit surface level), yet still has a ways to go to fill-out its frame. It’s clear that there’s not much low-end density or heft.
With swirling and rest, I smell dark cola and cherry, baked red apples with cinnamon, toasted oak, lemon zest as if there’s sprite in it, and dark chocolate. It’s hard to imagine for me, but Shelter American Single Malt continues to be surprisingly pleasant. The dark sweetness and supporting fruitiness is nice, and there’s no unpleasant funk, weirdness, or youthful notes. The problem, as I already mentioned, is the not so great density.
It’s not at all thin and bland, it just doesn’t have enough body or fullness…yet. A higher ABV would help a little, but it needs more aging, likely years, to become fully formed. Taking exactly this and filling it out would probably give it “Top Shelf” level scents.
I really like where this is going, but it’s not there yet.
Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey back

Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey taste and aftertaste

The flavors start with cola, red apple peel, lemon peel, roasted oak, dried cherry, cinnamon, and a little roasted coffee and dark chocolate. The dark cola sweetness carries through to the flavors, as does some of the fruitiness, so Shelter Single Malt Whiskey has a nice contrast between the darkness and brightness.
This has the underpinnings of what feels like a sherry-aged scotch (minus the sherry) that’s pleasant to drink for sure, drinking way older than 6 months. You could fool me into thinking it was a lot older.
That said, the flavors lack density. It just needs more time in oak to fill-out, but it clearly tastes like it’s getting there. And whatever Hungarian oak infuses into whiskey, it’s working and doing something good here.
After “chewing”, I taste dark cola, cherry, lemon zest, red apples and cinnamon, toasted oak, cinnamon, oak, mint, and a little chocolate fudge. “Chewing” doesn’t really help with the fullness, but it does bring out a bit more sweetness, fruitiness, and nuance.
Shelter American Single Malt also has this great vibrance and effervescence that layers on a little more complexity. It’s dark, fruity, sweet, vibrant, and a little oaky too. The crazy thing is that the flavors show no signs of youth. I can’t believe it. Again, the depth and heft aren’t there yet, but everything more or less feels like it’s already there.
The finish starts with cola, cherry, red apples, lemon peel, toasted oak, cinnamon, and dark chocolate. With hard “chewing”, Shelter Single Malt Whiskey leaves dark cola, cherry, red apple, toasted oak, cinnamon, fudge, and mint. It’s fairly consistent both times, and also consistently pretty good. It’s not amazing and all that noteworthy, but it’s also not bad at all.
I don’t know what Shelter Distilling is doing, but this super young single malt is way ahead of where it should be. I suspect that the Hungarian oak makes a world of difference too, and Shelter Distilling is onto something.

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I’ve unfortunately lost some Glencairn’s while in transit, and that made me very sad. So, I wised up and bought this Glencairn Travel Case that comes also comes with 2 glasses so I don’t need to worry so much about them breaking. I think it’s great, and I think you’ll love it too.

Seriously, if you already have glasses, protect them.

Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey Rating

Mid shelf+
Well this is very interesting…and very confusing. My brain knows that this is 6-12 months old (so it shouldn’t be good at all), but my nose and taste buds are saying that it’s actually tasty, albeit a bit thin. Honestly, I can’t help but keep thinking “yeah, I like this”. I don’t know how. I wouldn’t believe me if I were you, but I believe me only because I smelled and tasted it. I believe now.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that is a spectacular “Top Shelf” whiskey right now, but this could have easily been a “bottom shelf” disaster too. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that, because I don’t particularly like giving bad ratings. Of course I will if it’s warranted, but I don’t enjoy doing that. I mean…I still have to drink these for these reviews so of course I want to enjoy it.
The Hungarian Oak has to be a big part of this…right? Here’s the thing, those dark cola and fruit notes don’t seem like they come from 6-12 months of aging in American white oak. If that’s a correct statement (and I very easily could be wrong given my inexperience with Hungarian oak), then those seem like notes that come from Hungarian oak. In white oak, those notes don’t start to appear for 6+ years…or at least that’s how bourbon works. I have no idea what’s happening, but it’s working.
Now I’m going to write something a little bad – Shelter American Single Malt Whiskey would probably be amazing mixed with coke. I don’t write that because it deserves to be drowned in coke to make it remotely drinkable. I think that the cola-like sweetness and fruitiness from the whiskey would actually complement and accentuate the cola very well. I’m just throwing that out there.
As tasty as Shelter Distilling American Single Malt truly is, getting people to pay $50 for sub-1 year old whiskey is a really hard sell. Who the hell knows, maybe this is selling really well and I have no idea what I’m doing. My brain screams “terrible value”, but if you can somehow ignore the age (which is likely difficult even for me), the actual drinking experience is surprisingly mature.
It’s imperative that Shelter Distilling lets this whiskey age for a few years, even 3 to 4 more years. At that point, I think that it’s going to be something special.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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Shattered glass really sucks, so if you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)