The whisky world is expanding and it’s now possible to find a decent dram produced in all corners of the globe. Encouraged by the success of the Japanese – who challenged the old world order to become a respected whisky producing nation in its own right – whiskies produced outside the spirit’s traditional heartlands of Scotland, Ireland and North America are no longer seen as mere novelties.
Freed from the shackles of tradition, and able to make up their own rules, New World whisky makers have embraced experimentation in the way they distill, mature and blend their products. And besides opening up new production methods, the natural environment also plays its part. For example, whisky matured in hot and humid conditions will suck flavour from the oak and lose alcohol at a faster rate than whisky aged in cooler climates, meaning the ageing effect is accelerated.
Whereas once distilleries might have been tempted to make whisky that aped those produced in Scotland, Ireland or America, you’ll now find producers celebrating their local produce and environment to produce distinctively local whisky. Among the places discovering a new found zeal for whisky production are Asian countries taking full advantage of those ageing effects of their humid climate; Australia, where they produce some of the finest whisky ingredients (including their own peat); and Scandinavian countries, where some of the most extreme experimentation takes place. And as for the next big thing? Many experts are predicting that England is the one to watch.
In this list we’ve picked out whiskies from ten new world countries (for the best English and Japanese whisky check out our separate pieces), with enough choice to cater for staunch traditionalists, avid experimentalists and anyone in between.
Best Indian Whisky
Tasting notes: Tropical fruit, figs, polished leather
No country makes, or consumes, more whisky than India – which is in part due to their rules of what can be called a whisky being a touch more flexible than most other nations. But they still have a number of quality producers that make whisky that is acceptable to those with stricter rules.
One of these is the Rampur Distillery in the north of the country, where they’ve triumphed despite a climate that veers from very cold winters to scorchingly hot summers and high humidity.
Such conditions can lead to an excessively woody taste, but Rampur have managed the process perfectly to tease only the most desirable flavours from the bourbon and sherry casks used to make this whisky. It has aromas of tropical fruit and figgy, chocolatey flavours, with some polished leather notes giving it a touch of sophistication. This is one of those rare whiskies that feels like a genuine treat whenever you pour yourself a glass.
BUY HERE Rampur Double Cask Single Malt Whisky, 45%
Best New Zealand whisky
Tasting notes: Cake mix, nuts and grains
In New Zealand’s Southern Alps, the Cardrona Distillery has been crafting fine spirits since 2015. Gins, vodkas and liqueurs have all been mastered, but founder Desiree Reid-Whitaker’s ultimate goal was to produce a top quality New Zealand single malt whisky.
After three years of maturing in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks that whisky was recently launched and bottled at cask strength. It has the hallmarks of a winter warmer, perfect for a nip after a trip to the snowy Alps, with lots of toasty flavours and a lusciously oily body. It possesses the kind of sweetness that brings to mind mixing sugar with butter to start making a cake, along with some dried fruit, nuts and grains along the lines of muesli. It’s a very decent young whisky that suits serving at a high strength, so just a few drops of water are all that’s needed to bring it alive.
BUY HERE The Cardrona Single Malt Whisky, 64.4%
Best French whisky
Tasting notes: Oily texture, sticky fruits, smoke and a medicinal tang
The Celtic Whisky Distillerie is a small operation located on France’s Breton coast and, like many things in that region, there are similarities between its whisky and that produced within the UK. Its core range includes Glann Ar Mor, a delicious sweet and spicy single malt that has similarities with some coastal whiskies of Scotland, and Kornog, an outstanding peated whisky that wouldn’t seem out of place in an Islay tasting session.
Kornog has a good dose of peaty flavours to it, from the obvious smoke to the kind of medicinal tang that is present in many peated whiskies. With a slightly oily texture and flavours of sweet, sticky fruits and peppery, ginger spice it’s a very sippable dram. Although this whisky will appeal to fans of Scottish peated whisky it’s not simply a tribute act – using distilling know-how honed in the making of Cognac, and its unique equipment and location, this is very much a Breton whisky.
BUY HERE Celtic Whisky Distillerie, Kornog Peated SIngle Malt Whisky, 46%
Best Swedish whisky
Tasting notes: Ginger, pepper, chilli spice, bitter herbs and lemon
If you want to try out some experimental whisky flavours then Sweden is your country. Spirit of Hven, High Coast and Mackmyra are just three of the country’s distilleries who are redefining flavours for their whiskies. The oldest of these, Mackmyra, does things as locally as possible, which includes using juniper twigs for the smoking process and ageing their spirits in casks that have previously included drinks such as raspberry wine and birch sap wine.
Svensk Ek is a showcase for ancient Swedish Oak, with the whisky matured in barrels made from trees grown on the island of Visingsö. It has an enticing aroma of sweet sponge cake with a hint of spice, but give it a sip and those spice flavours spring into life. Ginger, pepper and a bit of chilli heat give way to bitter herbs and lemon, and some fragrant oak lingers at the end. This is a whisky that’s easy to drink while being fun to explore its many flavours.
BUY HERE Mackmyra Svensk Ek, 46.1%
Best Australian whisky
It comes as a surprise to many people that Australia is home to over 100 distilleries currently producing whisky, but that’s partly because we see very few of them in the UK. Tasmania has the largest concentration, but we’ve headed to wine territory in Rutherglen, Victoria and the Morris distillery.
Founded on a winery, the distillery has taken advantage of its wine expertise to select Muscat barrels to finish the whisky, having previously rested in French and American oak casks. It has a lovely dark amber colour and instantly smells of the kind of deep, rich fruits that make you want to pull up a comfy leather armchair and settle in for the evening.
The flavour is full of dried fruit, figs, creamy vanilla and dark, syrupy sugar. It tastes as if it has all been slowly baked in the Australian sun, with a sprinkling of spice for good measure, and is certainly one to savour.
BUY HERE Morris Single Malt Whisky Muscat Barrel Finish, 46%
Best Danish whisky
Tasting notes: Baked rye bread and tingling spice
Danish distillery Stauning has got a taste for rye, ageing it in various casks including rum and vermouth. And just as rye is the loud, shouty spirit of the whiskey world, then Stauning come across as an equally in-yer-face distillery, with releases given shouty names such as ‘KAOS’ and ‘Bastard.’
The more soberly labelled ‘Stauning Rye’ is a superb, lively spirit that explodes with spicy flavour as soon as it hits your mouth. The aroma is innocent enough, reminiscent of freshly baked rye bread and creamy vanilla, but it quickly heats up on sipping with black pepper, sharp stone fruit and a tingling spice that’s like sucking on a minty or menthol sweet. The first shock of spice fades to more familiar toasty oak and, if you were unsure of it at first, a few more sips will soon win you over. Wonderful stuff.
BUY HERE Stauning Rye Whisky, 48%
Best for a Taiwanese whisky
Tasting notes: Tropical fruit freshness, honey and creamy, juicy oak
Taiwan’s subtropical climate of high heat and humidity make it hard to produce whisky, with alcohol evaporating much quicker than in most parts of the world. But the King Car distillery has harnessed these climatic conditions to create a whisky that is deeper in colour and richer in flavour than would be the case in cooler locations.
It tastes as the oak is actually a fruit, with the usually tannic spicy flavours the casks produce having a juicy quality to them. There’s a tropical freshness to the flavour and an oozing of honey to sweeten it up, all within the kind of lusciously creamy texture that usually takes an age to achieve. Delicious.
BUY HERE Kavalan Classic Single Malt Whisky, 40%
Best Israeli whisky
Tasting notes: Dry pepper and oak with ripe citrus and honey
M&H is another distillery that has harnessed nature’s heat to good effect with their whisky. Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, the distillery also has an experimental streak to further add a unique touch to their products (such as finishing whisky in pomegranate wine casks or ageing it in the 50 degree heat of the Dead Sea).
This whisky has a more familiar cask treatment, although the red wine seasoned STR casks (shaved, toasted and re-charred) they have used aren’t as common as we would like them to be. Everything about this whisky is sunny, from its Mediterranean location to the bright yellow label and the whisky itself. It has a sun-parched dryness to it, with black pepper and charred, bitter oak, that is balanced by ripe citrus and a drizzle of honey. This is a bright, light, cheerful drop of liquid sunshine.
BUY HERE M&H Classic Single Malt, 46%
Best for a Welsh whisky
Tasting notes: Plummy Port and a lingering dry finish
It may not be widely known, but Wales does have a whisky making history. The Penderyn Distillery is a revival of The Welsh Distilling Company that ceased production way back in 1910 and their whisky has a vintage quality to it that makes it seem as if they’ve been around for much longer than 2004.
With a penchant for Sherried whisky, this bottling offers something a little different – it has been aged in Port casks. The first clue to this is in the pinkish hue of the liquid, with confirmation coming in the sweet, plummy, unmistakably Port fragrance it exudes. Besides the obvious Port similarities you’ll also get dried berries, peppery oak and a lingering dry finish. Welsh whisky wizardry.
BUY HERE Penderyn Port Wood, 46%
Best Mexican whisky
Tasting notes: Sweet vanilla, green pepper and chilli heat
Mexicans know how to extract fine flavoured booze from sugary substances, as their tequilas and mezcals attest, so it should be know surprise to know that the country is home to one of the best corn whiskies around.
This Abosolo whisky is distilled from 100% Mexican Cacahuazintle corn and has been matured in virgin oak casks. This makes its character lean towards a bourbon, with lots of sweet vanilla on the nose and palate. You can taste roasted corn on sipping and there are notes of fruity green peppers and honey too. It has a creamy texture with a gentle prickle of chilli heat to it, and is good enough to give some of Mexico’s fine tequilas a run for their money.
BUY HERE Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky, 43%
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