Bartenders Tell Us Their Favorite Whiskeys Made Outside Of The US

If you didn’t realize it already, whiskey is a global spirit. Sure, plenty of go-to brands are all crowded into the same corner of Kentucky, but high-quality whiskeys are also made in Japan, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, France, and even Taiwan (as well as dozens of other countries around the globe). While there are plenty of highly-acclaimed distilleries here in the US, to truly enjoy this aged spirit we need to get out of our comfort zones and see what’s really out there.

“The snarky answer is to tell people, ‘go to Scotland, slowly rotate yourself 360 degrees, and pick the distillery that looks most exciting,’” says Trevor Alderson, bartender at Blue Smoke in New York City when posed with the question, “who makes the best whiskey outside of the US?” Alderson’s answer reveals a truism: The whole conundrum comes down to your interpretations and particular tastes. You are the curator of your own “best list.”

Still, a little help couldn’t hurt, so we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their favorite non-US whiskeys. Their answers ranged from Japan, to Scotland to Ireland and beyond. Check them out and travel your palate with the next bottle you buy!

Yamazaki 18yr Mizunara Japanese Whisky

Justin Campbell, beverage director for The h.wood Group in Los Angeles

Yamazaki 18yr Mizunara is the best non-American whisky on the market. If you ever see this bottle, take out a second mortgage on the house and thank me later… after the divorce.

Craigellachie 17 Scotch Whisky

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(64) Craigellachie 17 🥃 I bought the Craigellachie 13 in the spring of 2017 and was so impressed. I feel I’ve been on a soap box recently about sherried and/or Speyside whiskies, but when I find one that’s NOT super sherried and really stands out, I get excited. Craigellachie is one of those distilleries. It is so not a classic Speyside profile, as most of their bottlings carry a meaty, thick, oily smoke undercurrent to compliment the oaky, vanilla, apple goodness that is your Speyside ex-bourbon profile. So when the chance to get the 17 at a good price arose, I took it. Purchased November 2018. 🥃 And I was shocked. The 17, unlike the 13, 23, and 31 is heavily sherried. It’s kind of like they realized they were a Speysider and figured they needed a sherried expression in the lineup. The smoky, oily profile remains beneath, but the sherry is clearly meant to be the most prominent feature of this bottle. For me, it was somewhat a letdown for what I expect of Craigellachie, but not because of quality. It’s delicious, just not what I expected. With that being said, it is still a fantastic whisky. It’s just more sherry-forward than what I had come to know from Craigellachie. 🥃 What’re some oddball releases that’ve caught you off-guard from familiar distilleries? 🥃 #scotch #whisky #scotch #scotland #craigellachie #craigellachie17 #speyside #singlemalt #scotchforeveryone #sfejourney #bottle

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Mark Tubridy, mixologist at 21 Club in New York City

I’ve been learning a lot recently about some of the amazing single malt scotches that are blended together to create Dewar’s. One of those single malts, which is especially unique, is Craigellachie from Speyside. Craigellachie became available for purchase in 2014 with four age statements, but my personal favorite is their 17-year-old. It is a beautifully hearty whiskey with soft smokiness and tons of exotic fruit notes. This expression captures all of the meatiness and complexity of the spirit and it is absolutely worth seeking out if you’re a fan of single malts.

Compass Box The Circle Scotch Whisky

Miles Macquarrie, co-owner & beverage director at Kimball House in Atlanta

In my opinion, the best non-US whiskey) to drink right now is Compass Box The Circle Whisky. All of Compass Box’s whiskies are unbelievable, but The Circle was made with whiskies from all over Scotland, resulting in great combination of all the country has to offer.

Hibiki Harmony Japanese Whisky

Trevor Alderson, bartender at Blue Smoke in New York City

Japanese whiskey is still relatively new to Western drinkers, but wonderfully reflects the Japanese obsession with craft. Hibiki Harmony is complex, easy to drink, and won’t break the bank.

If you like peated whiskeys, the Yamazaki 12 year Single Malt is fabulous as well. Both are under the Suntory umbrella.

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Scotch Whisky

Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego

Bunnahabhain 12 Year. This is the entry-level whiskey for the Bunnahabhain distillery. It’s a very lighted peated whiskey, especially coming from the Islay region. Great way to convince a bourbon drinker they like scotch. Going up the Bunnahabhain line, these whiskeys get even more delicious, but this is a great option for the common consumer.

Red Spot 15 Year Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey

Jon Baer, manager of beverage and bakery operations at The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated

When I think about great, non-US whiskeys, I immediately think of Ireland. One of the best is Red Spot 15 Year Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey. It’s subtle, creamy, and full of vanilla and caramel sweetness.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Scotch Whisky

Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

Glenfiddich 12 Year. It’s such a versatile and classic spirit, but they’ve been producing some really fun stuff. Fire & Cane is a favorite, especially for this time of year and they just came out with a Grand Cru bottling, which I’m really excited about.

Glenmorangie Signet Scotch Whisky

Amy Wong, lead bartender at King Tide Fish & Shell in Portland, Oregon

When it comes to non-US whiskeys, I tend to head to Scotch. Glenmorangie Signet is a scotch whisky, and my favorite right now. A little citrus, spice and rich with chocolate.

Green Spot Irish Whiskey

Adam Cornelius, director of operations at Little Beet Table in Greenwich Connecticut

Green Spot Irish Whiskey. I tried this for the first time about 6 years ago and have kept a bottle stocked in my home ever since. It is a very complex and layered whisky and can be the perfect gift for your Jameson friends to help them graduate up.

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte

Liam Deegan, Partner at Barrel Proof in New Orleans

Obviously, I’ve always been a sucker for Japanese whisky, but Bruichladdich is doing some really cool, but relevant for the evolution of Scotch. They push the boundaries and experimental stuff, but not in a ridiculous way. They are exploring Scotch whisky seemingly within its traditions.

Other than that, Kavalan out of Taiwan is making interesting single malts in a unique, humid environment for barrel aging.

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky

Cheston Overman, lead bartender at Bookstore Bar & Café in Seattle

Without a doubt, Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky. It’s a Japanese whisky that’s sweet and mellow, and the price point and flavor are spot on.

Ardbeg 10

Jordan Fattal, bartender at Accomplice Bar in Los Angeles

Generally, I like scotch, particularly Islay style. Ardbeg, Crois Chill Daltain II, McAlllister, Longrow, Campbeltown and Springbank are standouts. One Japanese up and comer we’ve been using a lot is Kaiyo, which is aged in Mizunara Oak — the most expensive barrels in the world.

Writer’s Pick: Kavalan Classic Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky

Japanese whisky seems to get all of the praise, but Kavalan, in Taiwan should definitely be on your list, if it isn’t already.

This brand received international praise a few years ago, but it’s still cranking out high-quality whiskies and many different varieties are now available in the US. To get your feet wet, we suggest starting off with the brand’s Classic Single Malt. It’s perfectly suited for Scotch and Japanese whisky fans as its smooth, rich, and full of caramel, toffee, and hints of tropical fruits.