Bartenders Name Their Favorite Whiskeys (From Countries Not Known For Whiskey)

While whisk(e)y is a global spirit, it’s mostly made in the United States, Scotland, Canada, Ireland, and Japan. With new expressions dropping daily, you could spend the rest of your life only enjoying bottles from those dram-loving hotbeds. But you’d be doing yourself a disservice.

Because while the “whisk(e)y big five” are historic production hubs for the industry, countries like South Africa, India, Mexico, and even France are all currently producing high-quality whiskeys worth tracking down. Even Sweden is getting in on the action.

In an effort to take a trip around the whisk(e)y world without needing to hop on a plane, we asked a handful of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best whiskeys from countries less known for distilling the brown stuff. Their picks didn’t disappoint — check them all out below.

Sierra Norte Black Corn Whiskey (Mexico)

Seth Falvo, bartender at The Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach, Florida

I have to admit, when I was first presented with a bottle of Sierra Norte Black Corn Whiskey, I was skeptical. Corn whiskey, for me, brings back memories of college football tailgating; chasing mason jar swill by shotgunning Abita Amber doesn’t exactly scream “refined spirit” to me. I’m happy to admit that I stand corrected. Sierra Norte Black Corn Whiskey has a rich, sweet taste nuanced with vanilla, maraschino, and brown sugar notes.

The mouthfeel is surprisingly full and smooth, and it makes an excellent Manhattan.

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky (South Africa)

Josh Curtis, bar director at Carbon Beach Club in Malibu, California

Scotch-style whisky production is big in South Africa, but I’ve only tried its two most popular brands — Bain’s and Three Ships. Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky is filled with hints of vanilla, sweet cream, and toasted caramel and is perfect for sipping or mixing.

Roazelieures Rare Collection (France)

Patricia Verdesoto, head bartender at Jams in New York City

While traveling through Europe two summers ago, I stumbled upon Roazelieures Rare Collection single malt. After having my fill of Aperol spritzes, something with a little more oomph was a necessity. This being my only time trying French whisky, I didn’t know what to expect. Immediately I noticed a light honey aroma followed by dark fruit notes and major malt flavor. The smoke isn’t too heavy, which makes this a much softer experience altogether.

I don’t know if it was the ABV content or the fact that I was very far away from home, but this French whisky straddled the line between the familiar and the unknown — in a very welcoming way.

Amrut Fusion (India)

Andy Printy, Beverage Director at Chao Baan in St. Louis

Amrut Fusion from India is a lesser-known whisky but is still so unique, it continues to stand out. It’s made from both malted barley from Scotland as well as barley grown at the foot of the Himalayan mountains and aged in barrels in Bangalore, which sits at 3000 feet. The unique profile is a combination of smoke, apricot, and honey.

If you’re into Islay type single malts, this is a nice lateral move into something new and intriguing.

Brenne 10 Year (France)

Juan Fernandez, bartender at The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel in Charlotte

Brenne 10 Year is a pretty solid spirit, though I’ve only tested it once. It has a lot of cognac on the nose, baked pecans, plums, and spices. The palate follows suit, with baked pies, toffee, cloves, walnuts, and chocolate. Something that would fit in great around Christmas time.

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Finish (Taiwan)

Jess Manchenton, bartender at Talk Story Rooftop in Brooklyn

I love Kavalan whisky. It’s from Taiwan. It’s from a subtropical climate, so it ages faster — similar to rum — and they have a wide variety of finishes. The Sherry Cask finish is one of my favorites. I love that because of the climate they have a unique expression of what their whiskey is while still holding true to the values of whisky (the owner was trained in Scotland).

In short, they use their location to their advantage.

Abosolo El Whisky De Mexico (Mexico)

Nicholas Wyatt, bar manager at Teddy’s Bourbon Bar in Prattville, Alabama

Abosolo El Whisky De Mexico is a brand-new whisky hailing from Mexico. While it uses corn as its base ingredient, it isn’t anything like what bourbon drinkers would expect. A 4,000-year-old cooking technique lends notes of black tea and honey.

You should make room on your bar cart for this one.

Black Mountain (France)

Sebastien Derbomez, brand advocacy manager at William Grant & Sons

If you can get your hands on it, try Black Mountain whisky from France. It’s blended and aged in Occitanie, the region where I grew up. They use local barrels and this dram will surprise you. Their whisky is full of character and very smooth.

Three Ships 10 (South Africa)

Brennen Brainard, bartender at Gigglewaters Social Club in Clearwater, Florida

I got to try a Three Ships 10-Year Single Malt once, awhile back. Distilled in Wellington, South Africa, and aged in new American oak casks this whisky has a bit of honey on the nose, some baking spice and vanilla got flavor, finished with a long oak flavor. This is a great whiskey with a unique talking point.

Writer’s Pick:

Mackmyra Brukswhisky (Sweden)

While Sweden is known for its vodka, brands like Mackmyra are making the world think about the country’s whiskey. Aged in bourbon and sherry casks, this mellow, light whisky has hints of sweet cream, dried cherries, and caramel.