The Best Whisky From Not-Scotland, Ireland or Japan
Distillation is divine in many parts of the world
BY Aaron Goldfarb | Jul 11, 2017 | Reviews
It makes sense that if whiskey is no longer just a Kentucky and Tennessee thing in America, that it would no longer be just a Scottish and Irish thing abroad. In fact, whisky (we should probably spell it without the "e" now, lest pedants yell at us) has truly become a global phenomenon, with countries from nearly every continent offering at least one competent local product.
How did this occur?
The vast spread of high-end cocktail culture could be the main culprit, with a dash of loosening local laws and a desire to create locally recognizable products to rival the Scots and Kentuckians alike. Then again, it could just be that people in places like Stockholm, Oaxaca, and Wellington are sick and tired of trying to pronounce "Laphroaig."
Below, some of the best whiskies distilled in countries you probably didn't even know made whisky.
The Best of Europe
While Scotland and Ireland boast all the history and accolades, most countries across the pond also have a whisky distillery. These are three of Europe's best.
France — Brenne
Distribution: France and the U.S.
Whisky marketing is mainly about telling great stories (if not fanciful tall tales), and this French whisky company surely has one of the best: It was started by a New York-based ballerina, Allison Parc, who wanted to create a terroir-influenced French single malt. Brenne uses local grains, and it is aged in Cognac casks. Products like the fruity and oaky Brenne Estate Cask ($60) intentionally target the U.S. market, a bold strategy in a country already awash with quality hooch. But it's actually France—yes, France—that drinks the world's most whisky per capita.
SHOP NOW: Brenne Estate Cask
Sweden — Mackmyra
Distribution: Scandinavia and 19 other countries (though not the U.S.)
Scandinavia is known more for vodka, aquavit, and whatever the heck "punsch" is, but Sweden's top whisky distillery is actually a pretty great one. Opening just before Y2K as the country's first-ever whisky producer, Mackmyra has definitely honed its skills over the last two decades. It produces uniquely local single malts, like the smoky and herbal Svensk Rök ($51), made from all Swedish ingredients, including a juniper-smoked malt. It even collaborated with Motörhead for "the world's loudest whisky" (RIP Lemmy). Today, Mackmyra is publicly traded—because who doesn't need a Swedish whisky in their retirement portfolio?
SHOP NOW: Svensk Rök
Spain — Nomad Outland Whisky
Spaniards love to wet their whistles with wine and sidra and cava and cerveza and sangria and, well, pretty much anything but whisky. Still, Spain does have a unique relationship with the brown spirit, as many great Scotches are aged in Spanish sherry barrels. Nomad Outland figured, why not keep the sherry barrels in their homeland instead of sending them to Scotland? Set in the plains of Jerez, a humid city in the southwestern part of the country between the Atlantic and Cádiz Mountains, the distillery uses this unique micro-climate to produce some truly world-class stuff. Its namesake product, Nomad Outland ($45), is a blend of thirty different malt and grain whiskies, aged in Gonzalez-Byass Fino, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximénez sherry barrels, and said to also pick up wild yeast present in the Andalusian atmosphere. Luxurious and rich, it is truly a hybrid, toeing the line between sherry and whisky.
SHOP NOW: Nomad Outland
The Best of Africa
Long a major consumer of Scotch, Africa is starting to emerge as a reputable whisky producer itself.
South Africa — James Sedgwick Distillery
Distribution: Africa and the U.S.
The only commercial distillery in Africa is as old as many of the great Scotch brands, though it remains mostly off-the-radar the world over. This Western Cape outfit, located at the foot of the Groenberg Mountains on the banks of the Kromme River, is in a region much more acclaimed for its wine. Three Ships 10 Year Old ($50), the continent's first single malt, is light and tropical, and as easy-drinking as whisky can get.
SHOP NOW: Three Ships 10 Year Old
The Best of the Americas
The cockeyed jingoist knows America makes the best damn whiskey on the planet, but other countries in the New World have started to distill the good stuff as well.
Mexico — Pierde Almas
City: Oaxaca City
Distribution: Mexico and the U.S.
Corn is such an integral part of Mexican cuisine, it stands to reason someone in Mexico would be distilling it by now. Pierde Almas hasn't turned its back on its country's native spirits—mezcal is still its actual cash cow—but it recently began exploring corn whisky production. While unaged whisky (i.e. moonshine or white dog) is generally considered pretty gross in the States (typical tasting note: nail polish remover), Pierde Almas's Ancestral Corn Whiskey from Oaxaca ($49) is anything but. Made from red- and purple-colored corns, it exhibits a real depth of smoky character and cornbread-like complexity.
SHOP NOW: Ancestral Corn Whiskey
The Caribbean — Cadushy
When you think of drinking in the Caribbean, you imagine rum, rum, and more rum. But one whisky has surfaced in the land of swim-up bars. Cadushy, creator of the world's only cactus liqueur, now also distills the Caribbean's only whisky. The Dutch-owned island of Bonaire is outside the hurricane belt that affects others in the region, giving it an arid climate great for aging spirits. Named after a legendary Bonaire scuba diver and whisky lover, Captain Don's ($25) is distilled from corn, sorghum, and maishi chicitu (a locally-grown rye), then aged in French oak barrels with Cuban tobacco leaves inside. The super small-batch product is smoky, but thanks to sorghum, it comes off quite sweet.
SHOP NOW: Captain Don's
The Best of Oceania
Many of America and Scotland's most lackluster whiskies sell quite well in Oceania for some reason (OK, binge drinking). But as of late, local distilleries are releasing their own top-notch products.
New Zealand — New Zealand Whisky Collection
Distribution: worldwide, including the U.S.
The New Zealand Whisky Collection began at an auction, where the founders acquired a grouping of whisky barrels that had been quietly sitting in an airplane hangar since the Willowbank distillery (once owned by the Foster's brewery no less!) shuttered in 1997. With a passel of well-aged, cask-strength stock, they immediately began releasing these rare whiskies one small batch at a time—and they were an immediate hit. Whiskies aged at one of the most southern spots on the globe produce some of the more unique drams you'll ever taste, like the sweet and fruity, red wine-finished Dunedin DoubleWood 16 Year Old ($80).
SHOP NOW: Dunedin DoubleWood 16 Year Old
Tasmania — Lark
At one time, Australia was one of the world's foremost whisky-producing nations, but by the 1980s no whiskies were left; the island state of Tasmania hadn't had one since 1839. This was tragic, as Tasmania has terrific water access and superior conditions for growing both peat and barley. Bill Lark opened his eponymous distillery after getting some antiquated laws changed, and today Australia and Tasmania are becoming overrun with homegrown whisky. The Lark Single Malt ($130) is aged in smaller-than-usual Australian apera and port casks for a woody, syrupy dram.
SHOP NOW: Lark Single Malt
The Best of Asia
Japan will forever be the 500-pound whisky-sluggin' gorilla of the continent, but a "relaxing time" need not mean "Suntory time" any more.
Taiwan — Kavalan
Distribution: worldwide (24 countries including U.S.)
While Japanese distilleries get all the attention in the Asian market, some connoisseurs actually think the region's best whisky comes out of a little island to the southwest. We have seen many U.S. craft distilleries emerge from a bootstrapped budget, but Kavalan hit the ground running with serious funds courtesy of a canned coffee magnate with billions to spend on out-performing the big boys. A gorgeous distillery located in the subtropical Yilan region on the northeastern part of the island, humid conditions mean the whisky can age in about half the time it takes to age Scotch. Naturally, that comes at a cost: You won't find bottles like Kavalan Classical in America for much less than $100. Meanwhile, Kavalan's top products, like the the recent trifecta of sherry cask releases—Amontillado, Manzanilla, and Moscatel—touch the $600 range.
SHOP NOW: Kavalan Classical
India — Amrut
Distribution: worldwide (23 countries including U.S.)
With a population of 1.3 billion, India consumes more total whisky than any other country on Earth. Most of the local stuff is junk: cheap, lightly-aged blends distilled from molasses—products that wouldn't even be considered "whisky" in America or Europe. At least one Indian distillery makes genuine juice, though, and it is quite stellar. Amrut ("nectar of the gods" in Sanskrit) opened right after the country gained independence from British rule, but it wasn't until 1982 that it produced India's first single malt. Today, bottlings like the luscious, dessert-like Amrut Spectrum ($150)—aged in a barrel reassembled with staves from, ahem, a spectrum of casks including American, Spanish, and French oak, and oloroso and PX sherry—win major awards.
SHOP NOW: Amrut Spectrum
Source: Esquire US