For decades, most discerning Americans got their beloved whisky from a smattering of trusted brands located in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ireland, and Scotland. When it comes to hooch, we're drinkers, not travelers. But in the past few years, expert tasters (perhaps exhausted by the endless supply and dizzying array of artisanal, small-batch varieties on store shelves) have embraced a whole new breed of spirits hailing from places more often lauded for their exotic cuisine—and beer—than for their spirits. You could spend a lifetime exploring the whiskies of the world; we'll save you the trips. Below are the top nine whiskies to try from places other than the U.S. and Scotland.
Whisky: Sullivans Cove Small Batch French Oak Cask Single Malt
High Praise: With its devilishly good whiskies, Tasmania has become known as Australia's top spirits producer, and this one packs a big bite of dark oak to match its lightly honeyed and mossy flavors. It favors the brandy side of whisky, which American distillers often ignore. No wonder it picked up the award for World's Best Single Malt at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards.
Whisky: Amrut Cask Strength Single Malt
High Praise: Hot, dusty, and as crowded as a Boston happy hour, southern India, where Amrut is headquartered, is about as far from the misty lochs or emerald pastures of Kentucky as you could imagine. Yet this is a seriously good whisky that has medaled often in competitions—silky smooth with complex flavors of grains, dried flowers, mint, dark oak, and fresh honey.
Whisky: Stalk & Barrel Cask 5 Single Malt
High Praise: Until recently, our neighbor to the north was best known for supplying Americans with bootleg hooch during Prohibition and for rye blends that had all the impact of a whiffed slap shot. Now the Canucks have upped their game with more assertive artisanal offerings, including this single-malt with a great floral nose, grain-driven flavors, and grappa-like finish.
Whisky: Kavalan "King Car Conductor"
High Praise: King Kar Conductor has everything going against it except its taste: Great whisky is made in cold climates, not the subtropics, and is crafted by small-batch artisans, not by food conglomerates. Yet this underdog from the far end of the earth won a gold medal in the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition thanks to its sweet floral aromas, great texture, and sharp bite at the end.
Whisky: Brenne Estate Cask Single Malt
High Praise: This is a whisky made in the Cognac region that has all the aspirations of a fine wine. Hold your nose when you open the bottle to let the chemical aromas blow off and wait till Brenne settles down into a highly floral brew that sips more like a French wine-based liqueur than a manly whisky. It's a fine glass for those who want a little more punch to their afternoon than a snifter of brandy.
Whisky: English Whisky Company Peated Single Malt
High Praise: Brits are better known more for writing about spirits than they are for actually making any, but this sooty entry from Norfolk can go toe-to-toe with the smokiest of Islay's fabled repeated scotches. Like many such single-malts, it lacks subtlety but certainly offers oomph.
Whisky: Penderyn Madeira Finish Single Malt
High Praise: A lovely drop with notes of dried heather, a smooth texture, hints of aged Madeira, and a nice bite at the finish, Penderyn is not just the best whisky in Wales—it's the only one. And it has been since the company launched in the early 2000s.
Whisky No.1: Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 15-Year-Old
High Praise: We'd be remiss to omit Japan, which has a thriving whisky scene, and each of its biggest producers make many different styles, so it can be a challenge to single one out. We chose this whisky because it's complex, with notes of cracked grain, vanilla, and caramel, and has a light but concentrated smokiness at the end that extends the taste for a long time.
|Whisky No.2: Suntory the Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Single Malt|
High Praise: The other natural pick in Japan comes from the venerable Suntory. The Yamazaki has lots of sweet floral and herbal notes, some light, creamy caramel flavors, and a smooth finish—a very harmonious whisky that should appeal to bourbon lovers.