There’s so much damn whiskey in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and Scotland that you might be forgiven for forgetting that there’s even more brown juice from dozens of other countries too. Australia, Denmark, Sweden, South Africa, Germany, France, Finland, Wales, Peru, and Mexico are just a few of the countries making and bottling great whisk(e)y these days. And that’s to say nothing of old-school whisk(e)y hot spots like Ireland, Canada, and Japan. Taking a step back to take it all in, you realize that the world of whisk(e)y, folks, is colossal. So let’s take that step back and name some great international whiskies!
For this list, I’m pulling all the double-gold-winning international whiskies from this year’s New York World Wine & Spirits Competition (sans Scotland). I was a head judge this year, which means I double-blind judged all the finalists/double gold winners for the “Best in Class” and “Best in Show” winners. So, I’ll be providing my own tasting notes for each of these whiskies now that I know which is which.
One quick disclaimer: we’re talking about international whiskies from all over the world below, so finding these might be a little tougher than, say, running down to your local liquor store. Each bottle is gettable (click those prices), but expect some serious shipping fees on some of them.
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- All The Brands From The Jameson ‘Family’ Of Irish Whiskeys, Ranked
Best Rye Whiskey & Best In Class — Stauning El Clásico, Denmark
Average Price: $90
This Danish whisky takes some local rye as a launching point and a Manhattan cocktail as inspiration. The juice is made from locally grown and in-house malted rye (70 percent) and malted barley (30 percent). Once distilled, that juice rests for a few years in oak before it’s re-barreled into ex-vermouth casks for a final touch of flavor.
The nose draws you in with a mix of orchard fruits — ripe tart apples and sweet plums especially — next to burnt orange zest, cinnamon bark, and a hint of salted caramel underneath it all. The palate leans into vermouth botanicals with hints of anise and clove next to more of that woody cinnamon before a sense of dates and prunes mellow toward sultanas and maybe some dried cranberries. The mid-palate peaks around some sharp black peppercorns before descending toward more orange zest and a hint of dried red chili pepper-laced tobacco.
This was an excellent sip of rye that felt both classic and fresh. Since it was made with a Manhattan in mind, stir one up with this.
Best Other Single Malt Whisk(e)y — Starward Nova Single Malt Australian Whisky, Australia
Average Price: $69
Australia’s Starward is making big waves around the world right now. Their Nova expression is a classic single malt that’s aged in Australian red wine barrels that held Shiraz, Cabs, and Pinot Noirs. Those barrels are then vatted and the whiskey is proofed before bottling.
The nose opens with a burst of a fresh orchard on a sunny day with plenty of pears, peaches, and plums and a hint of orange next to woody cinnamon and allspice berries with a hint of clove cigarette. The taste leans into rip red berries with a hint of tartness swimming in vanilla cream and dusted with nutmeg and cinnamon and a whisper of caramel sweetness. The end leans into the woodiness of the spices and adds in a plummy chewiness with a hint of orchard tree bark.
This is a great entry point for Starward. It’s an easy-going sipper than also makes a mean cocktail.
Best Other Single Malt Whisk(e)y — Archie Rose Distilling Co. Good(e) Whisk(e)y, Australia
Average Price: $90
Sticking with Australia, this single malt mixes the grains after distillation. The juice is a blend of single malt and malted rye whiskies. Those barrels are balanced to create a single malt/rye hybrid that leans into the best of both worlds on the palate.
The nose has a good hint of black pepper and citrus (more grapefruit than orange or lemon) with a solid sense of malted caramel with a hint of dark chocolate that ends up kind of woody with a wet sawdust vibe. The palate opens with a soft caramel roasted maltiness that gives way to winter spice warmth on the mid palate. The end adds some dark chocolate oranges to those rich caramel malts with a soft vanilla underbelly and a faint rum barrel finish (slightly bitter and funky).
This is nice but pretty fleeting if you’re not Down Under. if you are in Oz, then definitely grab a bottle.
Best Other Single Malt Whisk(e)y — Seven Seals Port Wood Finish, Switzerland
Average Price: $60
This Swiss whisky combines several malt whiskies (peated and unpeated) from different barrels to make something bigger and bolder. That blend of whiskies is then re-filled into a Port cask for a final rest before vatting, proofing, and bottling.
There’s a light hint of campfire smoke with an (I swear) echo of funky melted mountain cheese next to soft creamed honey, ginger snaps, and raisin-heavy trail mix on the nose. The palate has an earthy edge that’s a little like burning moss next to dates and old gingerbread cookies, marzipan, and sultanas dipped in very mild chocolate. The end warms as it fades with sharp ginger and cinnamon and a mild sense of burning orchard wood and sweet grass.
This is an outlier for sure. If you’re into peated whiskies, then this is a must-try. If not, it might be a little funky at first blush.
Best Other Single Malt Whisk(e)y — Kyoto Nishijin Orikuro Obi World Blend, Japan
Average Price: $180
This whisky is made at the Kyoto Whisky Distillery. The actual juice is a blend of single malt and single grain whiskies made on-site and also sourced from all over the world. The throughline is that those whiskies were aged in American oak. Those barrels were vatted and that juice was re-filled into ex-bourbon barrels for a final maturation before a final vatting, proofing, and bottling.
That bourbon vanilla comes through on the nose with a hint of lemon pudding, soft malted caramel, a drop of orange oil, and underlying layers of nearly tannic oak staves. The palate opens with an orange/vanilla pudding that leads to a warm sense of spiced malts before a hint of prune and raisin kick in. The finish has a mild dry flower note with a whisper of tangerines and honey before that almost bitter oak kicks back in.
This is a smooth whisky with a capital “S”. Is it worth tracking down? Maybe. A lot of Japanese whiskies hit this price range, but it’s still a lot to ask unless you’re really into Japanese juice.
Best Other Single Malt Whisk(e)y & Best In Class — Spirit Thief Distilling Co. Future Black Single Malt Whisky, Australia
Average Price: $172
Back in Australia, this whisky is all about the blend. The juice is made from 13 barrels that range from ex-wine casks to various oaks from all over the world. Those barrels are hand-selected for their unique flavor profile and vatted and the bottled as-is at cask strength.
The nose opens with a faint sense of dark cherries next to blackberry jam on a scone with whipped butter, and a pinch of salt with some prunes and dates lurking around next to a bundle of winter spices. The palate opens soft and creamy with a dark berry pie before hitting a high note of sharp spices and ABVs. That heat drops off toward a mix of raisins, prunes, and figs with a generous dusting of sharp cinnamon, anise, clove, and a little sassafras all wrapped up in cedar bark and tobacco leaves.
This is a delicious whisky that you’re going to need to try the next time you’re in Australia. If you do find a bottle here, maybe grab two as these aren’t going to be around forever.
Best Blended Irish Whiskey — Lost Irish 6 Cask Finished Irish Whiskey
Average Price: $40
This blended Irish whiskey is all about the finish — to an almost silly degree. The triple distilled tipple is aged and then barrels are re-barreled in six different casks from each continent. That means that this whiskey is finished in South African brandy casks, Spanish sherry casks, North American bourbon casks, Colombian rum casks, Australian tawny port casks, and Japanese mizunara casks. Those barrels are then blended, proofed (way down), and bottled.
There’s a nice malty nature to the nose with a hint of dark chocolate (think Maltesers/Whoppers) with a good dose of orchard fruit and a slightly spiced vanilla cream sauce. The palate leans into the creamy maltiness (kind of like a vanilla malt) with hints of old apple skins, peach pits, and maybe some old raisin boxes. The finish is light but hits on a good winter spice, orchard woods, and light notes of cedar bark.
This was perfectly fine. It was a little light for my taste (I didn’t vote for it) but works as an Irish whiskey at a low proof.
Best Blended Irish Whiskey & Best In Class — Teeling Whiskey Small Batch Irish Whiskey
Average Price: $38
Teeling was the first distillery to reopen in Dublin after nearly a century of tough times for Irish whiskey. The craft distillery ages its juice in bourbon barrels before transferring that whiskey to Central American rum casks. Those barrels are then batched, proofed, and bottled in Teeling’s big, dark bottle.
It takes a minute to find the nose on this one but there is a hint of rum-raisin, vanilla, and spiced malts in there. The palate has a slight mustiness to it with a thin line of vanilla tobacco that leads to a potting soil echo. The end is a bit warm on those malts and spice with a little bit of earthiness.
This is another whiskey that’s perfectly fine but not my favorite (again, I didn’t vote for this one). This is squarely a cocktail base whiskey for mixing.
Best Other Whisk(e)y & Best In Show Whisk(e)y — Don Michael Black Whiskey Andean Black Corn Whiskey Single Barrel, Peru
Average Price: $80
This Peruvian whiskey is made from a unique mash of 60 percent Andean Black corn, 30 percent malted wheat, and ten percent malted barley. After fermentation and distillation, the juice is barreled in new American oak barrels (just like bourbon). After a few years, that whiskey is bottled with a touch of Andean spring water.
Earthy and dark corn comes through on the nose almost like a burnt corn tortilla with a hint of smolder to it next to dates and raisins with a hint of vanilla pudding, sour cherry, and dried apricot meatiness. The palate leans into the earthiness with a hint of burnt cinnamon bark next to old vanilla pods, hard raisins, dried figs, and cornmeal mixed with sweet black potting soil and wrapped in a rum-raisin tobacco leaf. The end rolls through a matrix of sharp cinnamon bark, clove berries, star anise, and cardamon pods before hitting a dark chocolate-covered espresso bean next to a whisper of salted caramel and mild nutshell.
This was just really good. It was unique while still feeling like a perfectly made whiskey. Plus, you can also actually get it in the U.S., which is a huge bonus.