Single malt lovers, take note—the world of whisky is expanding far beyond Scotland. Just look at the exciting expressions new to the U.S. from Japan. “Initially people assumed that Japanese whiskies were just wannabe Scotches,” says David King, president of San Francisco–based Anchor Distilling, which brought Nikka Japanese Whisky to stateside consumers in December 2012. “But after noting the meticulous care, attention to detail and highly tuned blending exhibited in these whiskies, the market realized how much more was out there.” Indeed, from Sweden to India, international whiskies are inviting exploration. These countries are emerging as whisky makers to watch.
Sure, France is a powerhouse wine producer, so why not whisky? A number of distilleries across France offer tours and tastings (though you’ll want to use the spit bucket if you’re driving after a visit). Near Strasbourg, Distillerie Bertrand in Uberach is better known for its pear eau-de-vie, but has been making whisky since 2002, aging the spirit in oak barrels formerly used for Banyuls wine. Noting that Brittany is a “a cousin of Ireland and Scotland,” the Warenghem Distillery in Lannion has been making spirits for over a hundred years—whisky for more than 25—and offers free guided tours mid-June through the end of August.
If a visit to France is out of the question, score a bottle of Bastille French Whisky, widely available in the U.S. It’s aged in French Limousin as well as beech, acacia and wild cherry barrels. bastillewhisky.com
The United States
Craft distilling is at an all-time high in the U.S., with whisky makers popping up from New York to Oregon. “Like many other craft distillers, we have definitely felt the momentum increase,” says Chip Tate of Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas. “It’s a national and even international phenomenon at this point.”
Tate should know: For the first time in the history of the Best in Glass competition, an American whisky from Balcones beat out nine others, including Scottish favorites like Balvenie and The Macallan in a blind tasting hosted by a panel of Britain’s most influential whisky experts. It caused a splash in the spirits world, and has shone a spotlight on new American malt whisky makers. Visitors can take a tour of the Waco distillery (arranged in advance) and sample the distillery’s entire line of seven whiskies for just $10.
“It’s been a wild ride!” says Tate. But certainly, a delicious one. balconesdistilling.com
The first-ever Swedish malt whisky, The Mackmyra Whisky First Edition, features local ingredients matured in bourbon casks stored some 165 feet down a mine shaft. Just as dramatic? Scoring the title for European Spirits Producer of the Year at the 2012 International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, the first time a Nordic distillery has ever received the award. But Mackmyra isn’t stopping at producing malt whisky—it’s launched an entire experience for those who make the journey to Gävle. A trip to the Mackmyra Whisky Village means you’ll trek through the pretty woods of Kungsbäck to explore a forest whisky warehouse, take a tour of the distillery and enjoy a whisky-focused meal at the distillery’s restaurant. Group tours and company excursions can also be arranged. mackmyra.com
Given its colonial past, it’s no surprise that whisky is huge in India, but did you know it’s the largest consumer of whisky in the world (according to an ASSOCHAM study released in 2011)? And while a range of whiskies are produced in the country, high-quality expressions are garnering praise, like those released by Amrut, which has been making malt whisky since the late 80s. After introducing its five whiskies to the U.S. in 2010—and subsequently scoring an impressive 97 points from Jim Murray’s World Whisky Awards the same year for its Scotch-like Fusion, a blend of peated Scottish malt and unpeated Indian malt—Amrut is a distiller of note in India. Select visits to the Bangalore-based distillery can be arranged through the company’s website. amrutwhisky.co.uk