There is a new breed of whisky producers that are proving their mettle by producing world-class whiskies in places that nobody thought was possible. In addition, small-batch and artisanal whiskies (as well as no age statement whiskies, which can outshine age statement whiskies) are on every enthusiast’s radar, forcing us to rethink how whisky attains maturity.
The Japanese have taken the world by storm, producing beautiful whiskies with typically Japanesestyle exotic labels. Brands like Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakashu have reached cult status, with prices to match. At Tokyo’s Narita airport last year, I could only buy 18YO and 21YO Japanese malts if I wanted to. The 12 YO’s were not available, not even in a Japanese airport. In India, it is almost impossible to buy a bottle of Japanese whisky, and if you can find one, be prepared to pay OTT prices for it. Folks who do have a bottle or two open it with a serious dose of bragging rights, to a level where I cannot tell if they truly like what is in the bottle or just that it’s Japanese and hard to come by. This is the nature of the cult following these whiskies have created. Kavalan, from Taiwan, has created a swift fan following, specially with its top end Soloist variants, and Indian brands like Amrut and Paul John have put Indian malt whisky on the quality map, so much so that these brands prefer to export their product rather than sell it domestically. Until some time ago, Amrut was only available in Karnataka, for example. People flying in from overseas destinations started requesting friends and relatives to somehow source a bottle to take back home. Paul John recently released their top-end Kanya, priced at approximately Rs 10,000 a bottle, which is not a shy amount for an Indian bottle of malt whisky, that too for purchase in India – and guess what, you will probably not be able to get your hands on a bottle of it.
Leaving aside Asia, Tasmania in Australia, with its handful of distilleries, is seeing a quality whisky boom. The world is waking up to the fact that the Tasmanians can produce quality drop, and I think it will be only a matter of time before they too reach cult status (brands like Sullivan’s Cove already have).
Thus, while the Scottish wear the whisky crown, there are whisky producers from all over the world knocking on their castle doors, demanding a piece of the pie. In fact, the Scottish have bigger issues. They never dreamed that Asia would develop such a thirst for malt whisky. Laying down casks for 12-year old and older age statements takes planning. In the last decade or two, new demand from Asia, coupled with increased demand from the world in general, put them in a little bit of a spot, albeit temporarily. They found themselves not having enough to bottle their older age statements, and were forced to release nonage statements in the market. If you’ve noticed an influx of such variants from the big boy malt brands, now you know why.
The good news is that the whisky world, in its current state of flux, is exciting, to say the least. Here are some of the whiskies and malts that have intrigued me lately.
- DALWHINNIE 15 YO – HIGHLAND, Scotland
Gold, crisp, dry and very aromatic, with hints of heather and peat on the nose. Light to medium bodied, with smooth and lasting flavours of honey sweetness and vanilla, followed by deeper citrus flavours.
- COMPASS BOX HEDONISM, Scotland
A celebration of the ideal marriage between distilled grain spirit and high quality oak maturation. The aromas and flavours hint of vanilla, caramel and a delicate fruitiness, accented by flashes of coconut in the finish. This is a whisky that will appeal to both the ardent whisky enthusiast and newcomers alike.
- DAD’S HAT RYE WHISKEY, Pennsylvania, USA
Floral and spicy on the nose with a well-balanced mouth feel and flavor — up-front and back-end spice, cinnamon on the mid-palate. Underlying notes of dried fruit and black cherry with hints of tobacco, vanilla and oak.
- YAMAZAKI 18 YEARS OLD, Osaka, Japan
Rich with mature autumn fruit, with a deep amber colour. The nose has raisin, apricot, cafe au lait, Mizunara (Japanese oak) with blackberry, strawberry jam, dark chocolate on the palate and a long, spicy, smooth finish.
- SULLIVANS COVE RARE DOUBLE CASK, Tasmania, Australia
Aged in a combination of French oak ex-tawny and American oak ex-bourbon casks, this easy-drinking single malt whisky has incredible complexity and length, expressing characteristics of sweet malt, dried apricots, honey and freshly baked bread.
- BUNNAHABHAIN 18 YO, Islay, Scotland
A rich mahogany single malt scotch whisky, this is one of the Bunnahabhain family favourites. It is intensely warming, with dried fruit, sherry, toffee and spices leading to a delicious honeyed nuttiness and the slightest hint of sea salt.
- LARK SINGLE MALT WHISKY CLASSIC CASK 43% ABV, Tasmania, Australia
This is the flagship product of the Lark Distillery. It is distilled with Tasmanian (Franklin) barley, malted at the Cascade Brewery. The whisky is lightly peated (approximately 50 per cent of the malt is peated) and resembles in flavour a Scottish Speyside or Highland whisky. It is double distilled in locally crafted copperpot stills and aged in small, 100-litre oak casks. The spirit is matured for 5-8 years in these small barrels, which have a much larger surface area-to-volume of liquid. This allows a faster rate of evaporative losses and a considerably shorter maturation period than that required with the larger barrels commonly used in Scotland.
- THE BALVENIE DOUBLE WOOD 12 YEAR OLD, Speyside, Scotland
Matured in two wood types, two whiskies that have spent at least 12 years in traditional whisky casks, are moved to Spanish oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks for another nine months to allow the whiskies to “marry”. Each stage lends different qualities to the resulting single malt whisky. The traditional casks soften and add delicate character, the sherry wood brings depth and fullness of flavour.
- SPRINGBANK 10 YO, Campbeltown, Scotland
Matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks, it is perfectly balanced from the first sip through to the full, rich finish. Orchard fruit (pear) with a hint of peat, vanilla and malt on the nose. The palate shows malt, oak, spice, nutmeg and cinnamon, with vanilla essence. A sweet finish with a lingering salty tingle.
- CRAGGANMORE 12 YO, Campbeltown, Scotland
A combination of sweet floral fragrances, riverside herbs and flowers, with some honey and vanilla on the nose. The body is firm rounded, light to medium, with a strong malty taste with hints of sweet wood smoke and sandalwood on the palate. The finish is long, maltdriven, with light smoke and hints of sweetness.
- PAUL JOHN KANYA INDIAN SINGLE MALT WHISKY, Goa, India
A light citrus with manuka honey arrives early; an intense malt is infused with ripe peach, apricot and vanilla. Superb mouthfeel of rich creaminess. The oak delivers a soft, sweet, delectable butterscotch. Warm spices suffuse the toasted oak, and the slightest of saltiness ensures the friendliest of finishes. A very complex whisky, the big malt and intricately well balanced dryness makes this whisky one of the softest Indian whiskies ever bottled.
- THE GLENDRONACH PARLIAMENT 21 YO, Highland, Scotland
A delicate mix of ripe autumnal fruits – notably blackberries and red plums. Rich Oloroso sherry and candied orange segments. Spiced oatmeal biscuits and toasted oak fragrances bring excellent weight and balance. Resolute flavours of fine Oloroso sherry and bitter chocolate sauce, which has been spread liberally over homemade plum pudding. This is all infused with fabulous spicy notes – cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Full bodied with smooth tannins.
- GLEN GRANT 10 Y0, Speyside, Scotland
Rich golden barley with a medium dry bouquet and a good balance of ripe orchard fruits. A creamy and fruity palate, with an intense finish. Gentle, elegant Speyside single malt with hints of hazelnut matured in Bourbon Casks.
- MICHTERS SINGLE BARREL KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON, Kentucky, USA
Michter’s US 1 Bourbon is made from a carefully selected mashbill of the highest quality American corn. It is then matured, with barrels often aging in excess of eight years. Truly “small batch,” each batch is typically composed of no more than two dozen barrels. It is nuanced, mellow, and earthy — rich caramel with balanced vanilla, stone fruit notes and smoky depth, with an oak finish.