There’s a whole world of whiskey out there, quite literally. Though broadly associated with a few specific countries or regions—Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and a handful of U.S. states like Kentucky and Tennessee—whiskey (or whisky) comes from all across the globe, often produced from unique ingredients and matured in unconventional casks and/or climates.
Australian whiskey matured in locally-sourced red wine casks over the course of several warm Melbourne summers will develop differently than one matured in ex-bourbon barrels in the cooler Scottish highlands. A spirit made from an ancestral Mexican corn variety will exude flavor notes that diverge significantly from those in a Kentucky bourbon.
The following list of world whiskeys is by no means comprehensive, but it does include some excellent bottles (at various price points) that have captured our interest at a time when global travel has been seriously curtailed. This season may prove a stationary one for many of us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t expand your horizons along with your palate by adding a few of these bottles to your bar.
Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky
Billed as the first-ever 100% Mexican corn whiskey, Abasolo couldn’t be mistaken for anything else, with a smooth and savory roasted corn top note that evokes elote. Made by the same team that brings you Montelobos mezcal, Abasolo is crafted from a heritage corn variety known as Cacahuazintle long grown by farmers in Jilotepec de Abasolo that then undergoes nixtamalization, the same alkaline-cooking process used to turn corn into masa (a process that itself goes back to Mexico’s indigenous Aztec and Mayan cultures). After double-distillation in copper pot stills and aging in oak, the final product offers up copious notes of corn that give way to sweeter vanilla, honey, and toffee flavors.
Rampur Double Cask Single Malt Whiskey
On paper, Rampur Double Cask is produced in a very traditional way for a single malt whiskey, spending time in a combination of American ex-bourbon barrels and European oak casks that once held sherry. Hailing from Uttar Pradesh in northern India, this Double Cask is packed with stewed and dried fruits, dark berries, salted caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and more vanilla—floral and tropical on the nose with hints of vanilla and spice. Tropical south-Asian fruit and florals atop rich, dry European sherry notes and baking spice from American oak makes this dram a true intercontinental journey.
Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Casks
In March, Washington State’s Woodinville took home the honors for Best Straight Bourbon Whiskey at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirit Awards. This iteration takes that same bourbon (aged five years) and finishes it for six months in tawny port barrels, rounding the bourbon’s sharper notes a bit while layering notes of cherry, dried plum, and raisin atop what is already a fantastic foundation. Available in limited quantities, so don’t sleep on it.
Starward Nova Single Malt
Despite a lack of visibility in the U.S. market, Australia produces a whole lot of great whisky (that unfortunately never makes it to American shores). However, Melbourne-based Starward has cracked the U.S. market, and regular readers likely have noticed that we’re big fans. Starward retains its sense of place in a very tangible way, aging its whiskies in locally-sourced Australian red wine casks rather than traditional American or European oak. Its flagship Nova Single Malt spends its entire life in these wine barrels, producing a light, somewhat sweet whisky—think: honey and stewed fruits—with tailing notes of warm baking spice and malt.
Kilbeggan Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Ireland is not exactly an unconventional source of whiskey, but Kilbeggan’s has in recent years set about resurrecting recipes last seen more than a century ago that are anything but conventional. Its Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey incorporates oats into the mash bill, an ingredient once found in many Irish whiskey recipes but largely phased out by the early 1900s. With just 2.5 percent oats in the mash bill the presence is notable in a textural creaminess and unique roundness atop the typical fresh fruit, vanilla, baking space, and malt you’ll find in many great Irish whiskeys. Think of it less as a whiskey that will transport you to another place, and more of a time traveler bringing souvenirs from another era.
Jefferson’s Ocean Voyage 17
Every so often, Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller blends a few barrels worth of Kentucky bourbon and then places them on a friend’s 126-foot research ship for a four-year, equator-crisscrossing journey around the world. While it might be easy to dismiss the resulting Jefferson’s Ocean series as a marketing gimmick, we do know that factors such as temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure influence maturation in the barrel. That’s not even accounting for the movement of the boat, which churns the whiskey within the cask and increases contact with the wood. Whether or not it makes better whiskey, it certainly makes a different whiskey—the Voyage 17 is well-matured, overflowing with delicious wood aromas of spice, brown sugar, and vanilla—and one that most definitely has some travel stories to share.
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