World whiskies are running on a high right now – the ‘trend’ isn’t as great as gin – but it could be something that follows. There are lots of reasons for that, firstly international demand for whisky is huge at the moment – that means that particularly Scotch is getting more and more expensive – that opens the gates for small batch distillers from other places to enter the market in a competitive fashion. The increase in the market also means that these distillers have a product that they can actually expect to sell profitably (albeit sometime down the road in the future).
We are also at a time when whisky has established itself, and particularly Scottish Single Malt whisky has established itself as an in demand, profitable business – this is relatively new and this means that there is an increase in consumers drinking the established whiskies. But there comes a point in any timeline when a product moves from rapid growth, to established market when it is able to then move into an experimental phase – and this is where whisky seems to be right now. Following on from consumers experimenting with different cask expressions, finishes and so on for Scottish whisky they are now happy and prepared to move into the international market in search of new favourites and expressions – and for international producers it appears from the outside at least that their marketing, technical know how, product development and increases in product quality have happily coincided with the whisky industry making it to this stage in maturity. I don’t think for one minute that half of the micro distilleries producing whisky would have survived had they been going hard at it 20 years ago – I just don’t think consumers were ready for it. Now we have whisky being produced almost anywhere – (I don’t think there is a legal still in Antartica but apart from that there is probably something on every continent.)
Here are my top ten international whiskies.
1. Amrut Fusion – a fusion of Scottish and Indian malted barley, this is a seriously good whisky by any measure. Amrut was founded in 1948 initially to produce a spirit called ‘whisky’ in India but that was made with molasses and other ingredients that made it fall outside most tight definitions of what whisky should be. Quality is now here and as such Amrut is a name to watch. India
2. Glann Ar Mor Kornog ‘Taouarc’h’ – the distillery was founded as recently as 2004 so we’re only talking about a distillery with ten years history so the quality of this whisky is something of a revelation. This is the youngest of the Breton whisky distilleries and to my mind the best. It’s not easy to get hold of mind you – but worth seeking out. This is peated to around 35/40 ppm and matured in Bourbon casks. It is also not exactly one whisky – there are a number of different Kornog whiskies made and within that a number of Taouarc’h look out for Pempved or Trived. This is a distillery doing some really exciting things and one to look out for in the future. France
3. Penderyn Port Wood – finished in Port wood having been matured in Bourbon casks, Penderyn are even managing to get the Scotch whisky fraternity onside with their whiskies which are individual in style and not attempting to ape Scotch in the slightest. Wales
4. Nikka Yoichi 12yo – No other country has made such an impact on world whiskies as Japan – led by Nikka who make a number of different styles of whisky (as many distilleries in Japan do). Under the Nikka name they make not only this fabulous Yoichi range which is lightly peated but also the lovely Nikka Miyagikyo that is more akin to a rich Spey malt (it isn’t but I hope you get what I mean!). This was the whisky that started a lot of interest in Japanese malt beyond Suntory when it did very well in the Whisky Bible a few years ago. Japan
5. Yamazaki 18yo – Since the 1 year old disappeared the 12 year old has been appearing on supermarket shelves and has rightly so developed a decent following. The 18 year old though is something altogether more complete. It seems as if the Japanese malt just needs a bit longer before it really hits its stride – and what a stride this hits! Japan
6. Stranahan’s Colorado Whisky – if any distillery represents the craft distillation revolution that is happening in the US then Stranahan’s is it. Whisky made where there is no history of whisky. It’s hand crafted but sadly almost non existent in the UK. USA
7. Eagle Rare 10 year old – produced by the Buffalo Trace distillery who also produce other such brilliant Bourbons such as Elmer T Lee, William Larue Weller and George T Stagg – I could have picked any one of a number of but have chosen this because in pure value terms it hits a high note giving you a lot of flavour and quality for your buck. USA
8. Bernheim Original Kentucky Wheat Whiskey – from the Heaven Hill Distillery comes something a little different. The wheat used in this whiskey gives the spirit some extra soft creamy edges yet at it’s core it’s surprisingly complex and full flavoured. It’s definitely one to try if you haven’t got this far yet and has decent distribution in the UK. USA
9. Lark Single Malt Whisky – from Hobart Tasmania comes this enticing dram that hits you big up front but on second taste you realise it is more refined that you might at first have thought. Craig Johnstone whose previously worked at Bruichladdich and in the Gulf promoting whisky has recently joined the team with his brilliant tasting skills expect the quality to continue on an upward curve. Australia
10. Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky – a country with a long tradition in making Cape Brandy and all other manner of distilled products (as in many parts of the world some legal some less so) it should come as no suprise that whisky is being made in South Africa – although it is a Brit who is doing the work. Whilst the distillery (James Sedgwick) make a single malt it is this grain whisky that captures the imagination. Lots of lovely sweet caramel and fruit notes, honey vanilla and some spice this could be mistaken for an American whisky though it does have a pleasant twist.