When most people think of whiskey, the usual locations that come to mind are Scotland, Ireland and the USA—usually Kentucky, although whiskey is distilled in nearly every state. Japan has joined them in the past few years, with its lengthy whisky-making tradition vaulting into the spotlight and the country’s age-statement bottles becoming scarce and expensive due to a much-hyped shortage of product.
There’s a reason these countries are the first you’re likely to think of, as they’re home to many of the oldest distilleries producing exceptional whiskeys. But it’s now a global spirit, with lesser-known distilleries in Central America, Europe and Asia releasing high-quality bottles. These are eight whiskeys from around the world that will expand your drinking horizons.
Paul John single malt whisky is distilled in the Indian state of Goa, where the hot and humid climate allows for faster maturation than in cooler countries like Scotland or Ireland. Rapid aging isn’t always a good thing, but in the case of Paul John, the resulting spirit proves that these barrels are being carefully monitored. Nirvana, with notes of vanilla and honeycomb on the palate, is an NAS expression that’s new to the U.S. market. It was matured in ex-bourbon barrels, it’s non-chill-filtered and bottled at 40% ABV rather than 46% like the other expressions in Paul John’s core range.
Mexican whiskey is an extremely small category that’s starting to get more recognition, mostly thanks to the efforts of Sierra Norte. Each release is made from a mash bill that uses a unique variety of Oaxacan corn (along with 15% malted barley) and is aged for about 10 months in French oak barrels. So far, there have been yellow, white, black and purple corn whiskeys, with green and red expressions due out in the coming year. Distiller Doug French got his start in mezcal but switched to making whiskey with the idea that unique heirloom corn varieties would bring different flavors to the spirit, pointing to the flavors found in tamales or tortillas made from specific types of corn as proof. These young whiskeys are a bit hot and unrefined, the result of their limited maturation period. But the concept is intriguing, and those interested in terroir and grain sourcing should try a few to see for themselves the effect on flavor of using different types of corn.
Starward has been getting a lot of attention for its impressive Australian whiskey over the past year or two, but Sullivans Cove has been around for much longer. This Tasmanian distillery started out in the early ’90s and moved to its current location in 2004. It produces a wide range of single-cask single malt whiskeys, many of which are finished in different types of casks. A new Special Cask release will launch soon, a limited release that’s part of a series focusing on different barrel finishes. The most recent releases in the U.S. were the 10 Year American Oak Single Cask and the extremely limited and expensive 21-year-old 25th Anniversary Special Edition.
Traditionally, vodka has been the spirit of choice for most people in Finland. But small distilleries like Teerenpeli, which opened in 2002, are aiming to change this. The distillery makes single malt whiskey using Finnish barley in pot stills and ages all of the liquid for at least three years in a variety of casks from Scotland and Spain including bourbon, sherry and port. It has released many expressions over the years bottled at various ages. The single malts currently available in the U.S. are Portti, aged for three to four years in bourbon casks and finished for a year and a half in port wood, and Kaski, matured in sherry casks.