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8 Whiskies From Unexpected Places Around the World

AFAR logo AFAR 6/16/2021 Devorah Lev-Tov

8 Whiskies From Unexpected Places Around the World © Courtesy of Abasolo 8 Whiskies From Unexpected Places Around the World

Most people, when they hear the word “whisky,” think of Scotch, the vaunted brown spirit from the misty isles of Scotland that’s been around for centuries. Ireland might enter your brain too, or perhaps bourbon from Kentucky, which is a type of whiskey made mostly from corn. But what began in Scotland has since become a global spirit in demand. Japan and Taiwan have put Asian whiskies on the map, and for those willing to go even farther afield, there are award-winning single malts made in Australia and Sweden, heritage nixtamalized corn whisky out of Mexico, and an all-female distillery team in Wales making stand-out bottles aged in former bourbon and madeira casks.

If you’re a whiskey connoisseur—or need a last-minute Father’s Day gift idea—consider one of these bottles from surprising countries across the world. (And if you’re wondering: In the USA and Ireland, it’s spelled “whiskey”; elsewhere, it’s no e: “whisky”.)

1. Abasolo El Whisky De Mexico

Mexico

Buy Now: $46, totalwine.com

Mexico isn’t just for tequila anymore. Launched in 2020 by Casa Lumbre (which also make Montelobos mezcal), Abasolo honors the importance of heritage corn in Mexico. Slightly sweet and extremely smooth (this is not a corn-based moonshine!), Abasolo is made from an ancestral corn called cacahuazintle that has fat white kernels and is grown in the mountains of Mexico.

To get even more flavor depth, the corn is first nixtamalized—a 4,000-year-old process where corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution before it is dried, roasted, and then ground. Nixtamalized corn is used to make authentic corn tortillas and has never been used to make whiskey before. In the case of Abasolo, the nixtamalized corn is combined with a little bit of malted corn, slowly fermented before it is double distilled in copper stills, and then aged in oak barrels at the distillery in Jilotepec at an altitude of 7,800 feet, making it one of the highest distilleries in the world. The result is a smooth sip with notes of vanilla, honey, black tea, and roasted corn.

diagram: Rampur has been making whisky in India since 1943, but it’s only recently been released in the U.S. © Courtesy of Rampur Rampur has been making whisky in India since 1943, but it’s only recently been released in the U.S.

2. Rampur Double Cask Single Malt Indian Whisky

India

Buy Now: $71, thewhiskyexchange.com

In the foothills of the Himalayas, the Rampur distillery was established in India back in 1943, making it the oldest distillery in the country although today it’s owned by Radico Khaitan, India’s largest spirits producer. But it wasn’t until recently that Rampur released this robust single malt—made from North Indian six-row barley—in the United States. For the first two-thirds of its aging process, it’s kept in American ex-bourbon barrels, before spending the last third in European oak casks that once held sherry oloroso.

The result is a delicate blend of balsamic vanilla and tropical fruit notes on the nose—somewhat unique to Indian whiskies—and the American white oak is complimented by hints of rich caramel, dried and stewed dark fruits, and spices like pepper and clove from the European oak. Due to the climate in the Himalayas (the temperature ranges from 30 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is typically between 70 and 80 percent), this whisky matures much faster than most, lending it a smooth, mellow taste with a long-lasting finish.

3. Sullivans Cove Double Cask Single Malt Whisky

Tasmania, Australia

Buy Now: $265, caskers.com

With a climate to rival the isles of Scotland, Tasmania is producing some of the best whisky in the world. There are at least 22 distilleries on the small island just below the Australian mainland, but its best is Sullivans Cove. Founded in 1996, Sullivans Cove put Australian whisky on the map in 2014, when it released a French oak cask single malt that garnered several awards and much acclaim.

Today, Sullivans Cove bottles easily command a price upward of $200 and are considered rare since only around 70 casks are filled each year. Distilled in Tasmania’s capital of Hobart, which was once a penal colony where British convicts were sent (its motto is “Distilled with Conviction”), Sullivans Cove uses only Tasmanian-grown barley and pure Tasmanian water. Its small-batch whiskies are aged in either American oak ex-bourbon barrels or French oak ex-tawny barrels (or both) anywhere between 9 and 18 years.

This gift set comes with a bottle and a set of hand-blown glasses from Vermont glassblower Simon Pearce. © Courtesy of WhistlePig This gift set comes with a bottle and a set of hand-blown glasses from Vermont glassblower Simon Pearce.

4. WhistlePig 18-Year-Old Double Malt Rye Whiskey

Vermont, U.S.

Buy Now: $499, shop.whistlepigwhiskey.com

Vermont probably isn’t what comes to mind when someone mentions American whiskey. But ever since WhistlePig launched on an old dairy farm in the tiny town of Shoreham (about 40 miles south of Burlington), it’s been gaining attention for its rye. Master distiller Dave Pickerell launched WhistlePig in 2007 with old Canadian rye barrels he discovered, and the distillery opened in 2015.

Pickerell sources casks from around the globe as well as from the oak trees on its own property, which he imbues with his own chars and toasts. In March, WhistlePig teamed up with glassblower Simon Pearce of Windsor, Vermont, to create the custom hand-blown curved Shoreham whiskey glass, which can be bought as part of a gorgeous set with certain bottles, exclusively on the distillery’s own website.

a close up of a bottle: M&H Apex Pomegranate is the first and only single malt whisky to be aged in a pomegranate wine cask. © Courtesy of M&H M&H Apex Pomegranate is the first and only single malt whisky to be aged in a pomegranate wine cask.

5. M&H Apex Pomegranate

Israel

Buy Now: $95, whiskyshopusa.com

Israel’s first whisky distillery, M&H is in the heart of Tel Aviv—and the heat. When it launched in 2012, M&H consulted with the late master distiller Dr. Jim Swan from Scotland because he was an expert in warm climate distilling (which takes much less time). In 2021, after years of experimentation, the distillery has released its Apex series, with whiskies aged in casks like ex-chardonnay from Israel’s Castel Winery, ex-cognac from French Limousin oak, and our favorite, an ex-pomegranate wine.

M&H Apex Pomegranate is the first and only single malt whisky to be aged in a pomegranate wine cask. (The fruit is a symbol of Israel and an integral part of its cuisine and culture.) In addition to juicy pomegranate, this exceptional bottle also features notes of dried figs, butterscotch, and other red fruits.

a close up of a bottle: This Mackmyra single malt is aged partly in Swedish oak casks that give it a sweet and light taste. © Courtesy of Mackmyra This Mackmyra single malt is aged partly in Swedish oak casks that give it a sweet and light taste.

6. Mackmyra Svensk Ek Swedish Single Malt Whisky

Sweden

Buy Now: $60, thewhiskyexchange.com

Sweden is getting in on the whisky-making action with this superb bottle from Mackmyra, a distillery just outside Gävle’s city center, about 110 miles north of Stockholm. It was founded in 1999, by eight friends on a ski trip, and they released their first single malt in 2006. Since then, the team has continually improved its offerings, culminating in this single malt that’s aged partly in casks made from Swedish oak trees (Svensk Ek means Swedish Oak) grown on the island of Visingsö. The Swedish casks impart spicy, herbal flavors, while former bourbon casks add notes of vanilla and toffee.

“Nothing speaks ‘terroir’ like a cask sourced from locally grown wood,” says Sam Laing, a whisky writer and TV host for Cask 88, a company that helps customers find rare casks of Scottish whisky. “Mackmyra Svensk Ek is an absolutely delicious example: sweet and light, and prepared to dance on the tongue for ages. Scandi whisky is a force to be reckoned with.”

a close up of a bottle: Penderyn is produced by an all-female distilling and blending team. © Courtesy of Penderyn Penderyn is produced by an all-female distilling and blending team.

7. Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky Madeira Finish

Wales

Buy Now: $42, thewhiskyexchange.com

While Scotland and Ireland are obvious producers in the U.K., Wales is a bit more surprising because the country hadn’t commercially produced whisky for 100 years when Penderyn launched its sales in 2004. Making it even more distinctive in the whisky world is its all-female distilling and blending team, led by distillery manager Laura Davies, who was mentored by Dr. Jim Swan. Penderyn, which opened a new flagship distillery on June 1, uses water from the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales, distills in a Faraday copper still, and matures the “Welsh gold” in former bourbon and madeira casks. Sweet and smooth, there are notes of toffee, raisins, and vanilla.

Of the two whiskies Alfred Giraud produces, Heritage is less peaty and more approachable. © Courtesy of Alfred Giraud Of the two whiskies Alfred Giraud produces, Heritage is less peaty and more approachable.

8. Alfred Giraud French Malt Whisky Heritage

France

Buy Now: $155, reservebar.com

Derek Correia, president of booze-buying website ReserveBar, is a fan of the classy French malt whisky brand Alfred Giraud. After four generations of making cognac, the fifth generation began making whisky with master blender Georges Clot.

“Both of their expressions, Harmonie and Heritage, are award-winning blended malt whiskies aged in ex-cognac casks—a distinctly French twist—as well as American and French oak,” says Correia. “While I like them both, I prefer the less peaty and more approachable Heritage, which is also slightly easier to find, with an annual release of 23 casks versus 7 casks of Harmonie. It’s proofed at 90 and is surprisingly subtle and delicate for a whisky of that strength, while evolving across the palette from front to back with an elegant mix of malt, wood, and a bit of vanilla, baking spices, and fruit from the cognac barrel.”

>> Next: The 7 Best Global Gifts for Whiskey Lovers

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