We Asked Bartenders To Name The Best Non-American Whiskies For World Whisky Day

Since 2012, the world has celebrated whisky (and whiskey) on the third Saturday of every May. The fittingly named World Whisky Day offers a great opportunity for you to branch out from your usual American-made bourbons, ryes, and Tennessee whiskeys and try something from a different country. You may not be able to travel the world right now, but you can take your palate on an international whisky tour.

In 2020, it’s grown crystal clear that whisky is a truly global spirit. There are amazing bottles coming out of places like Taiwan, Japan, Scotland, France, Ireland, and India that are cherished by aficionados around the world. Just ask Sally Gatza, lead bartender at LA Jackson in Nashville, who often finds herself reaching for Japanese whisky.

“I love everything coming from Japan at this point,” she says. “It’s a fun time to be alive for Japanese whiskey lovers because it’s not quite commercial enough yet for it to be anything other than perfect every time. You can pick up any bottle and expect it to be delicious.”

To determine which expressions you should try on World Whisky Day, we figured we would once again turn to the professionals. So we asked a handful of bartenders to tell us their favorite whiskeys from outside of the US.

Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso (Scotland)

Ian Clark, bar supervisor at Topside in Baltimore

My current favorite is Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso. It’s a great, Speyside single malt finished in Oloroso sherry casks. It’s a very well balanced whiskey with deeply rich flavors; mild smokiness, baking spice, dried fruit rounded out by subtle spice and sweetness from the sherry cask finish.

Hatozaki Small Batch (Japan)

Brandi Carter, beverage manager at Elvie’s in Jackson, Mississippi

I enjoy Hatozaki Japanese Whisky when I’m looking for something a little more unexpected. It’s almost like if Anejo Tequila and a nice peaty scotch had a baby. It’s even excellent in a margarita.

Brenne Single Malt (France)

Brooke Baker, general manager at Underdog in New York City

Brenne French Single Malt. I love the slightly sweet, delicate flavor. It is unique among all other whiskies. It is excellent to mix with, due to complex flavor profiles which allow much versatility. With subtle blueberry and grape notes, it is great as a simple highball with seltzer or ginger. It makes a killer whisky sour. In an old fashioned, it requires very little additional sugar which helps reduce calories. We can all take advantage of that during the ‘quarantine ten pounds’.

The Balvenie 12 (Scotland)

Catalina Borer, bartender at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia

This question is as hard as which is your favorite child. I consider myself more of a bourbon-gal, but there is a world of fantastic American and non-American whiskeys. The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 12 years, specifically American Oak would be my choice, although the Balvenie Distillery has an array of options that go from simple single malts to complex cask-aged gems. The American Oak version has to be at the top of my list. It has all the characteristics you look for in a single malt plus the toffee-caramel toasted hints that American oak brings to the table.

Suntory Toki (Japan)

Spencer Elliott, bartender at Bounce Sporting Club in Chicago

When I’m looking outside the US for whiskey, I always go to Suntory Toki. A bright and smooth taste that pairs wonderfully in a highball or just on ice. The notes are heavy enough to hold up in a Manhattan and light enough to bring out the lemon notes in a highball.

Lot No. 40 (Canada)

Gord Hannah, head bartender at The Drake Hotel in Toronto

My go-to whisky is almost always Lot no.40 Canadian Whisky. 100% rye, 43% ABV and packing enough flavor to star in a stirred classic or refreshing tall cocktail. We use it at the Drake in one of our best-selling cocktails, the Ginger Rogers. Lot No. 40 works beautifully in this strawberry/honey mule and it is always our endeavor to support local when we can.

Clynelish 14 (Scotland)

Westin Galleymore, spirits director at Underbelly Hospitality in Houston

Clynelish just about every day of the week, including Sundays. Outside of its jaw-dropping scenery provided by the natural landscape that surrounds the distillery, it has an amazing and tragic history as one of the “clearance” distilleries of the early 19th Century, where farmers were forced off of their land, oftentimes brutally, to work in towns where the Duke and wealthy landowners controlled and saw any and all profits. Clynelish is truly unique and special for its distillation process. While all other distilleries during their non-producing season will scrub just about every instrument clean and start clean again come distilling season, Clynelish opts to return the natural oils that are a result of the distillation back to one of its key tanks—technical term is the “feints receiver”—which, in turn, provides Clynelish’s coveted waxiness that it is known for.

There is not quite another whiskey on the planet that carries the same mouthfeel as any Clynelish product. It is one of my favorite single malt and in general whisky producers in the world.

Glenfiddich 18 (Scotland)

Kira Webster, beverage director at indo in St. Louis

Glenfiddich 18 Year single malt. It’s matured in American oak and Spanish Olorosso sherry wood, and the rich baking spices mix beautifully with the light, fruity notes from both wood finishes.

Dalmore 12 (Scotland)

Piero Procida, bartender at The London West Hollywood in Los Angeles

I always lean towards scotch whisky if we are talking about anything outside the U.S.

To pick one, I would have to go with anything from the Dalmore line such as their 12, 15, 18, cigar malt and King Alexander III which are all wonderful whiskeys that are just loaded with flavor. If you have the money, you can really start exploring some of their other gems, but these basics are a good place to start and have in your bar. Richard Patterson, master distiller for Dalmore will tell you to avoid ice with these whiskies and I would have to agree. Just a few drops of water if you truly want to open up the bouquet of flavors in these whiskies, so don’t kill them with cold ice. Dalmore is an art in my opinion that has to be enjoyed every sip of the way.

Teeling Single Grain (Ireland)

H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of ELIXIR in San Francisco

That’s a very difficult question. I’m a huge malt whisky drinker, and with so many great imported whiskies it’s all about “what am I drinking now?” So, I’ll answer that. Lately, I’ve been really enjoying The Chita, a single grain Japanese whisky that my brother brings me from Duty-Free in Singapore. Unfortunately, we can’t get it in the US. I’ve been loving single grains like Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey or Compass Box Hedonism.

Nikka Coffey Grain (Japan)

Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami

Nikka Coffey Grain. A playful balance of corn whiskey in the characteristic Coffey still texture. There is a soft spot on my palette for corn whiskies and this is such a great, mellow expression. Japanese spirits can be so vast and unique, but this is one I can regularly come back to much like I would an evening bourbon.

The Balvenie 14

Kyle Harlan, beverage director at Mission Taco Joint in Kansas City

I’m a sucker for Balvenie 14 Year I love rum, and I don’t care for peated whiskies and the Balvenie 14 checks all the boxes for me. That’s one of my celebration bottles. I go back to it again and again.