Bottles Of Whisk(e)y We Love, From Places You Wouldn’t Expect

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Whiskey and whisky are having a moment that doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. Bars zero in on them, media outlets gleefully spill ink (or pixels) over them, and passionate drinkers upload 10-minute videos reviewing them. The thing is, we still mostly only credit a few corners of the planet with producing of the good stuff. Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Japan dominate mainstream whisk(e)y conversations.

That hasn’t stopped other states and countries from trying to get in the mix, though. And considering how often the best distillers use grains and barrels from outside of their respective regions, there’s really not as much tying the spirit to particular locales as it might seem at first glance. Parts of the world with distinct distilling traditions like Sweden, Germany, Taiwan, the Caribbean, Australia, and beyond may be known more for vodkas or brandies or rums, but if they’re able to make those spirits, they just might be able to make great whisk(e)y, too.

With all of this in mind, we thought we’d cobble together a list of nine great bottles of whisk(e)y from places you might never expect. Of course, this list isn’t nearly complete (we see you, whiskey-outrage Twitter!) and what you’d “expect” will vary depending on your knowledge level. Ultimately, this is a gateway to a wider world of whiskey and whisky that you can use to begin a broader exploration of the spirit.

Slyrs 3-Year-Old Single Malt Bavarian Whisky

This is the first single malt to be distilled and bottled in Germany, Bavaria specifically. The barley whisky has a distinctly German vibe and edges away from more classic scotch notes. The whisky is barreled for a relatively short three years and has still managed to stand out.

TASTING NOTES: Burnt cream and vanilla greet you on this one. Sweet plums and baked apples with plenty of spice are present. Next, you get notes of barley malt sitting next to lemongrass citrus and more creamy burnt sugars. Finally, a nice peppery and cinnamon essence comes into play as the whisky warms up toward the finish. –Zach Johnston

Kavalan Concertmaster

A few years ago, the world learned about a surprising whisky destination: Taiwan. The island nation is home to Kavalan. The distillery arrived on the international stage when its Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique was named the “World’s Best Single Malt Whiskey” at the World Whiskies Awards in 2016. While the Solist Vinho Barrique might be a little pricy for most whisky drinkers, the brand also makes a variety of more affordable whiskies. One of its best is Kavalan Concertmaster.

TASTING NOTES: This unique whisky is matured in American oak barrels before being finished in port wine casks. The result is a very rich, subtly sweet whisky with hints of honey, vanilla, and ripe tropical flavors. –Christopher Osburn

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

Hailing from South Africa, this single grain whisky wins a lot of awards for very good reason. It’s well crafted at the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington from yellow corn grown in the surrounding countryside. The distillate is then twice distilled. First, the booze goes into first-fill bourbon barrels for three years before going into new first-fill bourbon barrels for another two years to finish the whisky off.

TASTING NOTES: This is a floral and citrus-forward sip. Grapefruit leads the way towards a cream soda vanilla sweetness. Notes of nutmeg and cardamon add an earthy edge alongside clear oakiness and a banana presence that’s reminiscent of Tennessee whiskey. –Zach Johnston

Box American Oak

If you just read the word’s “Box American Oak”, you might assume this is an American whiskey. Actually. it’s from the land of the Skarsgård family, Abba, and the setting for Midsommar: Sweden. Sweden is usually associated with vodka, but trust us — they’re also making some solid whisky. It’s so good, it’s even available for first-class passengers on United flights to Stockholm and Copenhagen.

TASTING NOTES: Fans of Islay whiskies will love this smoky, Swedish juice. Matured for four or more years in ex-bourbon American oak casks, Box American Oak is finished for a final eight months in new American oak barrels. The result is a smoky, subtly spicy, luxuriously creamy whisky that will make feel like you’re sipping it on an island off the coast of Scotland. –Christopher Osburn

Penderyn Portwood

When we think the British Isles and whisk(e)y, Ireland and Scotland dominate the conversation. Protip, though: don’t sleep on Wales. The small British region makes some damn fine whiskies that, sadly, don’t get the love they deserve in the shadow of their world-renowned whisk(e)y cousins. Penderyn Portwood is a Welsh single malt that spends years in ex-bourbon barrels before finishing it’s slow sleep in port casks.

TASTING NOTES: Cacao, spice, and buttery toffee lead the way here. Next, rich fruits and jams come into play with a very stewed plum essence — plus more Christmas spices and a subtle creaminess thanks to the port. Finally, the oak takes hold as rich caramel leads to a mild warming finish. –Zach Johnston

Captain Don’s Whiskey

For most, there’s only one brown spirit that comes to mind when thinking about the Caribbean and that’s rum. There are a few reasons that whiskey production in the region is uncommon, a big one its inhospitable climate and positioning along the hurricane belt. But the island of Bonaire isn’t affected by these hindrances as dramatically, allowing The Cadushy Distillery to create a completely unique and impressive whiskey without Mother Nature messing everything up.

This elixir is named after the legendary diver, Captain Don Stewart, and, despite is being fairly off the grid, they’ve won several serious awards for their elevated offering.

TASTING NOTES: The whiskey is made in extremely small batches, and stashed in French oak barrels. Their product is distilled from corn, sorghum, and locally-grown rye. For a special effect, it’s flavored with Cuban Tabasco leaves during the aging process. The result is a particularly smoky-meets-sweet taste. Almost edging toward smoked rum. – Charles Thorp

Zuidam Millstone 100 Rye Whisky

Holland’s Zuidam is world-renowned for making great genever, gin, and rum. Their whisky selection is no different. One of their premiere expressions is their delightful rye. It’s 100-percent rye mash, aged in 100-percent American oak, and aged for 100 months — hence the “100 Rye” moniker.

TASTING NOTES: Dried summer fruits are up-front on this sip. Dried stone fruits like apricots and plums dominate. A wonderful spiciness comes into play that’s very clove and cinnamon-centric with nice flourishes of a prune sweetness next to a hint of rye pepper. The oak and vanilla make a light appearance near the end as all that sweet and spice lead to a mild warming finish. –Zach Johnston

Old Pali Road Whiskey

On the windward section of Hawaii’s Oahu, you can find lush rainforest, rolling mountains, white-sand beaches, and the Ko’olau Distillery. In this idyllic spot, they produce the island’s first American-style whiskey with mash from locally-sourced corn and water filtered through volcanic rock in the nearby Ko’olau Range. The distillery was founded by two former Marines who had been stationed on the island with the hope of creating jobs and a unique whiskey at the same time.

[Editor’s note: Yes, we know Hawai’i isn’t international, but this whiskey feels new and far away enough that it demands a mention.]

TASTING NOTES: The local sweet corn mash is blended with five-year-old American whiskey, giving it a familiar edge. The island ingredients give the product additional soul above and beyond standard-issue bourbon flavors and the aging process in second-fill oak barrels makes it an easier sip. Think volcanoes and vanilla. – Charles Thorp

EDITOR’S PICK: Starward Nova

Mainland Australia is so big and varied that we often forget its variety of landscapes. Sure, northern Queensland feels like rum territory, and the Outback seems only suitable for bathtub gins, but the state of Victoria has a climate and landscape similar to Scotland. Surely they can produce a special spirit, right?

Yes. In particular, the Starward Nova — which uses un-charred, un-altered second-fill red wine barrels to capture the vinous flavors that the region has grown famous for while never losing the essence of single malt.

TASTING NOTES: This bottle combines wine and oak, spice and sweetness, with a delicate touch. While other distillers have chosen to use sherry casks to give their bottles a distinct vine fruit note, that move often leaves bottles tasting a little too syrupy. Nova goes a different direction. The grapes are there, you catch them (even as a novice), but it’s far more balanced than one might expect.

Oaky spice, especially at the finish, keeps this bottle tasting like whiskey rather than a dessert spirit and will certainly expand your idea of how refined Aussie whiskey can be. –Steve Bramucci