When you think of single malt whisk(e)y, your brain almost automatically thinks of Scotland. I think you can be forgiven for that slight to other whisk(e)y producing nations — Scotch absolutely dominates the sector. But single malt doesn’t have to come from Scotland. Anyone can make it from Kamchatka to Chile. That’s why, today, we’re blind tasting and ranking eight iconic single malts made all over the world.
Full disclosure, this was the hardest blind ranking I’ve done. Period. Every one of the whiskies I tasted in this blind taste test was very good. They were varied and nuanced and I really, really liked all of them. Alas, there couldn’t be an eight-way tie for number one so I did rank them but the distance between these rankings is paper-thin.
Our lineup today:
- Kavalan Sherry Oak Single Malt Whisky
- Slyrs Bavarian Single Malt Whisky
- Balcones Pilgrimage Texas Single Malt Whisky
- Penderyn Rhiannon Single Malt Welsh Whisky
- Rampur Asava Indian Single Malt Whisky
- Cragganmore Distillers Edition Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Waterford Dunmore 1.1 Irish Single Malt Whiskey
- Nikka Whisky Single Malt Yoichi
Let’s get tasting!
Part 1: The Taste
This is pure Christmas cake on the nose with sticky prunes, tons of holiday spice, orange oils, and marzipan. The taste has a subtle nutmeg with creamy vanilla that leads towards a soft and almost rummy plum pudding with a hint of sweet oak in the background. Hints of dark chocolate dust lead towards a hot and spicy tobacco leaf buzz on the end that’s very reminiscent of a hard-hitting, high-ABV bourbon.
Stone fruit dominates on the nose with a nice medley of orange wedges, cellar must, and savory papaya skins. The taste moves towards rose-water heavy marzipan with caramel sauce, old leather, and thin malts that leads towards a spicy Red Hots finish.
This opens with a mix of rich honey, soft leather, pears, red grapes, and a touch of stewed peach. The palate has a slight maltiness that’s cut with pear candies, more honey, and pecans floating in syrup. The mid-palate takes on a little nutmeg as an apple soda vibe arrives late and leads you towards a mild chocolate-tobacco finish.
This hits hard, with a big oak char that immediately fades towards red and blackberries plus a hint of pear that’s then emboldened by creamy walnut sauce from a Chiles en Nogada on the nose … I mean, it’s exactly that sauce. The taste touches on rich marzipan and walnut cake as a creamy caramel leads towards plums, more berries, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and a hint of dry oak.
Ripe apricots mingle with fresh pineapple, blackberry, and a hint of fruity tobacco. The palate leans into a honey sweetness as a thin line of vanilla and red wine staves drives the taste. The end has a slightly warm and woody tobacco note that touches on clove and nutmeg.
Apples grilled with fresh fennel and raisins draw you in on the nose with a slightly honeyed edge. The taste pings between mild and soft oak, powdery white pepper, fresh figs, and hard pear candies. Vanilla pops in late as that pepper brings about a savory green herb finish that’s almost oily.
Grapefruit pith and vanilla beans sit next to brand new leather notes on this nose. Apple taffy with the wax paper still on drives the palate as dried roses, pinewood panels, and honey-soaked pecans add a nice balance to the taste. The mid-palate goes from a spicy zucchini bread to focus on the walnuts in that bread with a dry note on the finish that’s closer to the walnut shells.
This is so mild you really have to take a moment to figure out the nose. There’s a sense of an old Weber BBQ that’s been left out in the rain by the sea that accent hints of rich marzipan, orange oils, freshly ground nutmeg, and a hint of ginger candy. The taste starts off with a bright melon candy next to almonds and walnuts with a light maltiness. The mid-palate brings dark plums into the mix, with smoked pears and apples adding a tine twinge of savoriness and smoke before the finish gently lands on earthy menthol tobacco leaves.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Slyrs Bavarian Single Malt Whisky — Taste 2
Average Price: $60
The whisky is all about local, Alpine craft. The Bavarian Summer barley is grown and malted in the foothills of the Alps. The juice is aged in new American oak tuns (huge barrels). Finally, the whisky is proofed with local spring water from those very Alps.
I really liked this (I’m going to say that a lot on this list). But if you forced my hand to reach for a 9th dram right after this tasting, I’d likely reach for this one last. So… here it is.
7. Waterford Dunmore 1.1 Irish Single Malt Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $104
Waterford might be the most interesting whiskey maker in the world right now. The interesting bit about this distillery is found in the barley. The short version of the story is that Waterford sources barley from just over 40 farms across Ireland and then makes a single estate whiskey from each, to highlight how massively important terroir is to whiskey.
This was complex and tasty. It was just slightly less nuanced than some of the others on the list and ranked a little lower.
Still, it’s a damn fine dram.
6. Rampur Asava Indian Single Malt Whisky — Taste 5
Average Price: $100
Rampur Asava is distilled and aged in the shadow of the Himalayas. The whisky is aged in both ex-bourbon and finished in Indian Cabernet Sauvignon casks before vatting and proofing with water from those Himalayan peaks.
This is where we really start splitting hairs. This is tasty, unique, yet familiar. I wrote in my notebook, “Oh, this is nice.”
5. Balcones Pilgrimage Texas Single Malt Whisky — Taste 3
Average Price: $76
This single malt starts with Golden Promise malted barley in the mash with proprietary ale yeast and local Texas water. The distilled juice is then loaded into used barrels like all of the world’s great single malts. After a few years of aging under the hot Texas sun, the whisky is transferred into French Sauternes casks, bringing a distinct dessert wine vibe to the juice. Finally, the whisky is bottled at cask strength from very small, one-off batches.
This landed a little more into my palate but also really fit in with the rest of the lineup. It was nutty, fruity, funky … everything I wanted in a single malt was there.
4. Cragganmore Distillers Edition Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Taste 6
Average Price: $100
Cragganmore is an iconic Scottish distillery. The whisky is matured in sherry casks for 12 years. It’s then transferred into American oak casks that held port for a final maturation phase before proofing and bottling.
This is the biggest outlier and that’s why it’s in the middle. This was so different and so much greener and more herbal that I didn’t know if it should be number one or eight. So, here it is.
3. Nikka Whisky Single Malt Yoichi — Taste 8
Average Price: $100
This single malt from Nikka’s famed Yoichi Distillery by the sea blends its single malts into the final product that highlights both the distillery and region in the bottle. The whiskies are very lightly peated malted barley whiskies that are made with peat heated with dry coal fires. The no-age-statement whisky is then proofed with local spring water and bottled.
This was a delightful dram. It’s so subtle and, really, gentle. The fact that this is peated could be completely lost on some whisky drinkers. It’s really an amazing sip of whisky for this price point.
2. Penderyn Rhiannon Single Malt Welsh Whisky — Taste 4
Average Price: $90
This Welsh whisky is part of the distillery’s “Icons of Wales” line. The seventh release in that series is a malted barley whisky aged in sherrywood grand cru barrels and proofed with local Welsh spring water. The bottle is named after the Celtic horse goddess which means “Great Queen.”
This blew me away. That walnut cream sauce vibe on the nose was both wild and really enticing. The taste didn’t quite live up to the uniqueness of the nose and that’s the only reason this isn’t number one.
1. Kavalan Solist Sherry Oak Single Malt Whisky — Taste 1
Average Price: $210
This big, award-winning whisky is made from 100 percent malted barley. The distillate is aged in Olorosso sherry casks for an undisclosed amount of years. That whisky is then bottled as-is without any coloring, filtration, or cutting with water.
This was a dream to drink. It also really appealed to my bourbon-soaked palate, which certainly helped in hitting number one. This is a bottle I definitely need more of, especially as the holiday season sets in.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
This is a great example of how varied single malts from all over the world can be, while also having a real throughline. Nuts, fruits, wintry spices, and woody notes came up in almost every bottle except, oddly, the one from Scotland.
That being said, there were so many surprises and unique nuances between drams that they each stood out. And that’s always nice when tasting something blind and trying to rank them. Overall, I think I need to dive into Kavalan a lot more in the coming year. That Sherry Oak is a masterstroke of whisky making and deserves a lot more attention.