The ‘World’ category is currently one of the fastest expanding areas of whisky both in terms of production, popularity and now quality. Countries you wouldn’t normally associate with its production are now not just producing whisky, but fantastic ones at that! Take for example the Tasmanian whisky, Sullivan’s Cove, whose French Oak cask was just named the best single malt in the world.
Proponents such as Dominic Roskrow have dubbed these 'New World whiskies’ in a nod to the new/old world wine tradition. But unlike wine, these whiskies should be treated almost as a different spirit. In the same way that you wouldn’t compare Scotch to Bourbon, you should treat these whiskies as their own unique drink. To paraphrase Dom at a tasting of his I once attended: “You can make whisky in one of two ways; you can try and do it like the Scots… and you will probably fail because you can’t do it as well as them, or you can make it your own way, using local production methods and ingredients to create a unique but authentic whisky.”
This pretty much sums up the idea of world whisky as we know it today, just as Islay is known for it’s use of abundant peat, or the lowlands were known for triple distilled, delicate malts, hopefully these countries will one day be known for their idiosyncrasies in the same way.
Here are five of my personal favourites from around the world:
Bain’s Cape - South Africa - 43%
Distilled at the James Sedgwick distillery in Wellington, South Africa, this is a single grain whisky named after the man who built the first road there. Full of that fresh character that grain whisky gives, but surprisingly robust given that it’s a no age statement grain whisky. This deservingly picked up the best grain whisky prize at last year’s world whisky awards.
Nose: Full of fresh grains, toffee and Madagascan vanilla pods with subtle oak and nutty notes to boot.
Taste: Huge bourbon influence, continuing from the nose with toffee, vanilla and sugar-coated almonds. In addition, there’s new flavours of citrus zest and candied peels with just a hint of coconut.
Finish: Surprisingly long and a little fruity, dries out after a while leaving behind peppery oak and spices.
Filliers’ Goldlys 12 year old Amontillado finish - Belgium - 43%
From the Filliers’ distillery in Belgium, best known for their fantastic gins, this is labelled by them as a “double still whisky”, as it’s a mixture of grain and malt whisky from both pot and column stills. Similar in style to Irish blends, but utilising a wider range of grains; a particularly prominent rye spice character and the amontillado finish gives this a full and rounded flavour.
Nose: Spicy rye jumps out of the glass, carrying with it toasted oak notes of caramel and vanilla with subtle hints of sherry and dark fruits.
Taste: Sweet and richly sherried palate, full of wintery spices and dark fruits. Toffee apples and fizzy cola bottles bringing just enough sweetness to offset the slightly herbal flavour.
Finish: Medium length, but quite full. A little bit spicy and slightly sweet. Almost like brown sauce.
Discovery Road Smile - Dutch Rye - 46%
From world whisky writer Dominic Roskrow’s Discover y Road range, showcasing what he’s categorised “new world whisky”, from countries you wouldn’t normally associate with single malts. This rye whisky from Zuidam distillery in the Netherlands is a superb and really interesting whisky, my personal favourite from the Discovery Road range.
Nose: Reminiscent of Irish pot still whiskey as much as rye at first, a gristy, cereal body to the nose with vanilla toffee and pine sap. After a moment the rye makes itself known in the form of dried apricots and nutmeg.
Taste: Creamy and well rounded mouthfeel, peach melba, toasted oak and spicy rye all play a part backed by a subtle liquorice note.
Finish: Medium long, and proving its rye spice credentials throughout. Dusty mulled wine spices and toasted oak linger.
Amrut Fusion - India - 50%
So named as it is produced using a combination of Indian and Scottish malted barley – a fusion of countries as it were. Jim Murray named it his 3rd best whisky in the world in 2010, and it’s easy to see why. Between its Indian climate maturation and 50% ABV, it’s a hugely powerful and rich whisky which boasts great value for its modest price tag.
Nose: Big, heavy and creamy nose full of barley sugar, rich oak spices and a gentle peat and citrus note.
Taste: Lovely and full palate, rich oak spices and ripe fruits dominate initially, followed by the peat which brings with it bitter cocoa powder and a slightly herbal flavour as well.
Finish: Very long, hot finish with big spice notes and a lingering citrus sweetness.
Spirit of Hven - Sweden - 45%
Named Dubhe, after the second brightest star in the Big Dipper constellation, this is the first even Island single malt from Sweden, Hven is just off the coast, between Sweden and Denmark. Matured in a combination of American, Spanish and French Oak this is a rich, deeply complex and totally unique whisky not to be missed!
Nose: Syrupy and yet dry and spicy at the same time. Bursting with vanilla, red apples, cherries and oak notes. After a moment or two in the glass a soft smoke aroma develops, with a hint of liquorice.
Taste: More of the vanilla and orchard fruit notes from the nose, alongside more subdued and gentle spices. The smoke flavour is a little drier and grassy now, offsetting a creamy milk chocolate and raisin sweetness.
Finish: Long and peppery finish, still some sweet and brown sugar lingers, but dried out by spices and oaky tannins.
All in all, I’m completely sold on the idea of 'New World’ whisky. Each of these is just one of many fine examples of the spirits coming from countries like these and more. Whilst I’m not going to say they’re better than Scotch whisky… that’s precisely the point. They’re not better, they’re not worse, they’re differently delicious!