Although the Scottish may have long wielded the biggest stick when it comes to high quality whisky, single malt fever has been spreading. Global interest in producing a quality dram has lead to new and interesting players entering the arena. Here are four examples of international wonders looking to knock the Scots off their throne and win the hearts of whisky drinkers far and wide.
Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky (Wales) – Madeira Cask Finish
Penderyn distillery was started by a group of friends who claim to be the first Welsh distillers in more than a century. Their flagship bottling is aged in Bourbon barrels purchased from Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky and then finished at the end of its life in Madeira barrels from Portugal.
Bottled at 46% alcohol, the Penderyn Madeira finish has a medium honey hue and leaps from the glass with aromas of toffee apple, golden raisins and citrus. On the palate the alcohol is a tad obtrusive at first, but quickly mellows leaving bright flavours of ripe apple, mandarin orange, brown sugar and spiced pear.
All in all a lovely, easy drinking drop of Whisky! Check out their website here
Roughstock Montana Whiskey (Montana, USA)
Although the USA is no stranger to the production of good whisky, the best known of this comes in the form of Bourbon (made from a minimum of 51% corn). Enter this rough and rugged “single malt” whisky hailing from the beautiful state of Montana and made from 100% locally grown malted barley. The name and packaging might be a tad cliché, but this small distillery delivers the goods producing outstanding, handcrafted whisky in small batches.
As I mentioned this spirit is as rough and rugged as the label, with an intense nose that comes across as a combination in style between an un-peated Scotch, a good bourbon and a high-end rye whisky. The highly charred American white oak barrels impart aggressive flavours of vanilla and freshly cut wood. There is distinct cereal note, like freshly toasted grains and a wild side that reminds me of rising bread dough. A touch of water definitely helps to soften this out and brings the sweet vanilla notes and bread dough to the forefront.
If you’re looking for an easy sipping, “sexy” whisky this may not be your cup of tea. If however, you are looking for something rugged and unique, then this may be right up your alley!
Visit their website here
Nikka Taketsuru 21 Year Old Pure Malt Whisky (Japan)
Masataka Taketsuru’s family has been making sake since 1733. In 1918 Masataka traveled to Scotland and fell in love with whisky. He enrolled at the University of Glasgow and studied chemistry while also apprenticing at several distilleries. Masataka returned to Japan in 1920 and in 1934 he established a distillery and began making Nikka whisky.
Today Nikka is produced out of two distilleries (and as such is not a “single malt”) in Northern Japan. In 2011 Nikka 21 Year Old was awarded the title of “World’s Best Blended Whisky” at the World Whisky Awards. The 21 year old is simply delicious; perhaps dangerously so! The whisky has a rich copper colour and a tantalizing nose of honey, chocolate and a touch of exotic spice. The palate is seamless with a soft mouth-feel and a sweet finish.
Although this isn’t cheap ($139 retail here in Calgary) it delivers excellent relative value when compared to Scotch whiskies of the same age. This would be the perfect digestif after a big Christmas dinner!
Visit Nikka’s website here
Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky (India)
We round off our exotic tour of the world of Whisky with a highly acclaimed single malt from India. This particular bottling rocketed onto the radars of whisky connoisseurs around the world after being named the “3rd Finest Whisky in the World” in the 2010 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
Although the majority of Amrut’s bottlings are made exclusively with home-grown barley, the Fusion is produced from a blend of Indian barley and peated barley from Scotland. The whisky is distilled in the city of Bangalore and is aged in American oak barrels. This is beautifully crafted whisky, rich and buttery with complex notes of tropical fruit, buttered toast and freshly roasted coffee. The peat is so well-integrated you could easily miss it; a gentle smoke that rolls across the palate like a ripple softly crossing a pond.
While I am pretty excited about this whisky, it’s clear that Jim Murray likely felt a shift in his pants upon tasting this delicious dram. Here’s what he had to say:“It is one of those which command a big mouthful, a chair with a headrest … and silence. You will chew for seemingly hours and never quite get to the bottom of its mystical complexity. It is massive whisky, but its genius is that you get the feeling that there is some almost invisible element keeping the malt together so the proportions are never less than perfect.”
Visit Amrut’s website here
So there you have it, a quick tour of the world of whisky that demonstrates that single malt Scotch isn’t the only kid on the block. The majority of these whiskies can be found here in Calgary at fine shops such as Kensington Wine Market, Bin 905 Wine and Spirits and Calgary Co-op Liquor Stores.