No longer does Scotch rule the whisky world (although it always holds a special place in our hearts!). There is now a plethora of fantastic whisky distilleries and producers all over the world. In fact, nearly every year so far we've put out a whisky tasting box celebrating the best drams from far-flung corners of the world. We've also discussed why we were excited to feature some these whiskies in past boxes. In this post, we're going to talk about countries that you didn't know made whisky.
Not too long ago, the term “world whisky” was used to refer to whisky from anywhere other than Scotland, but in the advent of whiskies from places like Japan and Australia taking out prestigious awards, we are seeing fantastic whisky popping up in more and more exotic corners of the world.
Some of these whisky distilleries take a lot of inspiration from the traditional scottish method, but more still are carving their own path in the whisky industry and trying to imbue their own sense of place and identity into their spirits. Here are seven countries you might not have known made whiskey, and some of their best examples.
South AfricaThe James Sedgwick distillery in Wellington, not far from Cape Town
Most people would probably do a double take if you told them that South Africa made whisky, as its hot climate isn’t normally associated with whisky production. In fact, while South Africa is more known for producing world class wines and brandies, it has a history of whisky production dating back to the late 1800s. The James Sedgwick distillery in Wellington, not far from Cape Town, has produced the lion’s share of the country’s whisky for over 40 years. Their Three Ships single malt and Bain’s Cape Mountain single grain brands have both won international awards. We particularly like this independent bottling of the Three Ships 6yo Single Malt from That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Like most of their whiskies, this is reminiscent of a much older scotch whisky, thanks to the warm climate and quicker maturation.
We Brits owe a lot to the Netherlands when it comes to spirits, as they were the first to produce genever, the forerunner to that spirit-of-the-moment: gin. Some types of genever can be closer to whisky in style, being distilled from malted grain and often aged, but it’s only since the likes of Zuidam Distillers came on the scene that the world began taking them seriously as a whisky-making country too. Millstone is their whisky brand, and has won many awards since its launch back in 2007. They mostly make single malt, aged in a variety of casks including French oak, American oak, and sherry casks, plus a 100% rye whisky distilled in copper pot stills.
DenmarkStauning, on the western coast of central Denmark
Leaving the Netherlands and hopping north to Denmark, we find another distillery placing European whisky firmly on the map. Stauning, on the western coast of central Denmark, has gone from strength to strength since starting out as a hobby by 9 friends. Their first peated whiskies received glowing reviews from the likes of Jim Murray among others, and in 2015 they were backed with a large investment from Distill Ventures, the entrepreneurial arm of whisky giant Diageo. Smokeheads should try their Kaos Release, a unique blend of their rye, peated, and unpeated malts, for a wonderfully complex, spicy, smoky and sweet experience.
We discussed Amrut, a hot-climate Indian whisky in our previous post, but much like a smoky Islay whisky can differ massively in flavour to a fruity Speyside, India is a large country with a diverse climate and so their whisky can differ wildly too. Rampur is a single malt distilled and aged in the foothills of the Himalayas, which as an area can experience extremes of weather and temperatures. Rampur says that this unique ageing climate produces whisky like no other. Their Double cask release is a great place to start with Indian whisky. Having spent time in both ex-bourbon barrels and European oak sherry casks, it’s got a luxuriously tropical nose, with more sweet fruit, vanilla and baking spice on the palate.
IsraelIsrael’s Milk & Honey Distillery in Tel Aviv
Quite a few newer distilleries around the world have one man to thank for their ability to age whisky quickly and efficiently. The late Dr Jim Swan, renowned whisky consultant, pioneered the use of STR casks - standing for shave, toast, rechar - which enables the barrel to impart flavours quickly into the spirit. It’s also good for hot climate ageing, as the whisky will experience far higher angel’s share loss and therefore spend much less time in the barrel, so it’s important to have as much interaction with the wood before that happens. Israel’s Milk & Honey Distillery in Tel Aviv is one such distillery using these casks. At the moment, we only have the Young Single Malt available in the UK, which according to EU rules cannot be called a whisky yet as it’s under 3 years, but don’t let that fool you. This is a punchy and bold spirit, full of spice and fruit and, well, honey, with a subtle smoke character underneath. Since Milk & Honey have just released their 3yo single malt whisky we should see it arriving on our shores very soon.
New Zealand has always seemed like an obvious choice for a place to make whisky. It shares a similar climate to the UK, and many have commented how similar some of its landscapes are to Scotland. It even has peat, although it’s not widely used in whisky (yet). However, only a handful of distilleries have operated in this far-flung nation. In fact, distilling was illegal for quite a while there - read this fascinating story of Scottish import Mary McRae’s moonshine operation. Thankfully now legal again, new distilleries have begun to flourish, including South Island-based Cardrona Distillery. Nestled amongst picturesque ski fields just outside of Queenstown, this single malt distillery has recently released their first whisky, aptly labelled “Just Hatched” as it’s only three years old. It’s not cheap, coming in at £74.95 for a 35cl bottle, but it’s given to us at a generous 64.2% cask strength. It’s a delicately balanced and refined dram, with a creamy texture and flavours of almond, buttery shortbread, ginger and oak spice.
Try Some Great World Whisky
We love world whisky, not only because each one offers a unique flavour profile, but it also tells a story about the place it came from. So many of these distilleries have huge passion and pride for their surroundings, and a commitment to quality that shines through. It’s almost like travelling there inside the glass!
We hope we can feature even more of these outstanding world whiskies in our tasting boxes soon, so do make sure you’ve joined our subscription club. We curate out-of-the-ordinary whisky tastings and deliver them right to your door. Be sure to sign up to our newsletter too, so you don’t miss out!
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This post was first published in July 2020, and all prices were correct at time of writing.