Whiskey From 3 Unexpected Corners of the World
For many whiskey lovers, the best bottles come from North America, Scotland and Ireland. Whiskey experts may also be familiar with some whiskeys from some other parts of the world, like Japan.
Whether you’re exploring your local liquor store or you’ve decided to buy the best whiskey online, take a break from your North American and U.K. standbys to explore whiskeys from other parts of the world. In addition to tasting some phenomenal Japanese whiskeys, find out how Tasmanian and Israeli whiskey makers are adding their own twist to a beloved beverage.
Suntory set up Japan’s first whiskey distillery in Yamazaki in some of the nation’s most beautiful bamboo forests. Within the forests flows spring water of amazing quality, which is designated as one of the country’s best mineral waters by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.
On Hokkaido, Suntory’s top rival, the Nikka whiskey distillery, traces its lineage to Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru, who had learned the craft of whiskey-making in Scotland, was tapped to build Suntory’s first distillery. Instead, he headed north to Hokkaido to the city of Yoichi, proclaiming Hokkaido’s climate to be more similar to Scotland’s. Nikka tastes more like Scotch than Suntory whiskey, and the distillery is filled with tartan patterns as well as with maps, photos and journal entries related to Scotland.
Overall, Japanese whiskey is smoother than Scotch, and it has sweeter flavor notes. Because of the quality, whiskey drinkers don’t have to pay for older vintages to get a good product. In addition to becoming attractive for everyday drinkers, collectors are turning to hard-to-find Japanese whiskey varietals. For example, Karuizawa is esoteric and hard-to-find, so it has become valuable for Eastern and Western collectors alike.
One of Tasmania’s best whiskeys, Overeem, is actually distilled in a garage in the Tasmanian capitol city of Hobart. This suburban brew has earned coveted “liquid gold” status in Jim Murray’s “Whisky Bible,” but it’s not the only Tasmanian whiskey to win that distinction. Distillers credit the island’s pristine water, highland peat, favorable brewing climate and local brewing barley with creating Tasmania’s liquid gold.
Tourists can explore Tasmania’s whiskey industry along the country’s freshly inaugurated Whisky Trail. Some of the larger distilleries along the trail, like Hellyers Road, Nant and Lark, offer visitor centers and whiskey tastings. Nant also operates five whiskey bars in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Hobart. In addition to distributing whiskey throughout Australia, big Tasmanian distillers sell to lucrative markets in China and Hong Kong.
Smaller distilleries on the Whisky Trail, like the Belgrove Distillery, can be visited by appointment. Belgrove is a one-man operation run by a sheep farmer named Peter Bignell. He brews one 100-liter barrel a month of the only rye whiskey in Australia and calls himself “the greenest distiller in the world.”
Ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Jewish alchemists often experimented with distillation. In fact, legend says Irish monks traveled to the Holy Land during the Crusades, where they learned the art of distillation. Thanks to the knowledge they picked up in Israel, they started crafting Irish whiskey upon their return home.
Even the word “alcohol” comes from the Arabic “al-kuhl,” a word for a pot similar to the pot used in whiskey and brandy distillation today.
It is no surprise craft whiskey has risen again in distillation’s birthplace. Israeli whiskey producers Simon Fried and Amit Dror, co-founders of the Milk and Honey Distillery, plan to mix whiskey-making know-how from Scotland and Ireland with local Israeli ingredients and Israeli labeling and marketing materials. Fried argues producing whiskey in warmer climates allows for faster production without compromising quality. In fact, he’s betting three years of aging whiskey in Israel can match 10 years of aging in Scotland. Fried and Dror are considering aging their barrels down by the Dead Sea, which would make Milk and Honey whiskey the first whiskey to be aged below sea level. The company’s first brew will hit the market in 2017. In the meantime, Fried says the company plans to release both gin and moonshine to the Israeli market.
Suntory whiskey image by David Svensson from Flickr Creative Commons.