Single malt whisky is associated with the Scottish tradition, although there are also Irish and other single malts. Penderyn, the only whisky commercially produced in Wales, is also a single malt.
From the 15th century onwards, whisky was heavily taxed in Scotland, to the point that most of the spirit was produced illegally. However, in 1823, Parliamet passed an act making commercial distillation much more profitable, while imposing punishments on landowners when unlicensed distilleries were found on their properties. George Smith was the first person to take out a licence for a distillery under the new law, founding the Glenlivet Distillery in 1824.
In the 1830s, Aeneas Coffey refined a design originally created by Robert Stein for continuous stills which produced whisky much more efficiently than the traditional pot stills. Quickly, merchants began blending the malt whisky with the grain whisky distilled in the continuous stills, making the first blended Scotch whisky. The blended whisky proved quite successful, less expensive to produce than malt with more flavour and character than grain. The combination allowed the single malt producers to expand their operations as the blended whisky was more popular on the international market.
Single malt distilleries also exist in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Japan, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA and Wales.
Single malts are typically associated with single malt Scotch, though they are also produced in various other countries. Under Scotch Whisky Regulations, a "Single Malt Scotch Whisky" must be made exclusively from malted barley (although the addition of E150A caramel colouring is allowed), must be distilled using pot stills at a single distillery, and must be aged for at least three years in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres (150 imperial gallons; 180 US gallons).
While the Scotch model is usually copied internationally, these constraints may not apply to whisky marketed as single malt that is produced elsewhere. For example, there is no definition of the term single with relation to whisky in the law of the United States, and some American whiskey advertised as single malt whisky is produced from malted rye rather than malted barley.