The world of whiskey—and whisky—is as broad and exciting as it’s ever been. Delicious drams are being crafted and poured seemingly everywhere, and narrowing down specific countries of origin to focus on is becoming increasingly difficult…though the process of “researching” them all is just about as much fun as a spirits lover can have.
The following 15, from Scotland, Japan, India, and Australia, listed alphabetically, are all worthy of space on your bar cart. We’ve featured these four countries because of the sheer level of excitement and ambition in their whisk(e)y industries right now, as well as the delicious and often esoteric offerings available. Still, once you’re done with these, make sure to explore the impressive options from Mexico, France, Canada, New Zealand, and beyond as well. Just make sure to pace yourself with these 15: They are so good that you may find the bottles emptying faster than you plan.
Here’s the list of the great whiskies and whiskeys
Benriach The Twenty One Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Not finished in a separate cask but instead the product of four different casks for its primary maturation, including ex-Sherry, ex-Bourbon, virgin oak, and ex-Bordeaux. This brings together peated and unpeated whiskies to delicious effect: A swirl of stone fruit, crunchy and baked autumn orchard fruit, sweet subtle smoke, freshly roasted espresso beans, candied citrus peel, fruitcake, warm honey, and dried berries and currants all mingle seamlessly on a silk-textured palate.
Compass Box Canvas Limited Edition Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
After maturing in American oak, this was finished for three years in casks that were seasoned with vino naranja, an orange-peel-influenced fortified wine from Spain. The result is a whisky that’s sweet and generous but so balanced, the orange marmalade and apricot conserves taking the lead, joined by mashed yellow apples, all of which linger through the long finish of orange blossoms and honeysuckle. There is a freshness to this, a vibrancy, that’s really appealing.
Dewar’s 8-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky Mizunara Oak Cask Finish
Delicate and floral, the subtle suggestion of smoke here, especially on the finish, serves as a successful counterpoint to the flavours of apricot preserves and orange pith dusted with woodsy spices, a stick of incense quietly smoking away in the corner of the room.
Glenmorangie A Tale of Winter 13-Year-Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Crafted from 13-year-old whisky that was finished in casks that previously held Marsala, this is a notably sweet-spiced expression from the venerable distillery, with mulling spices, candied ginger, and a finish that reminds me of my mother’s holiday-season butter-sugar cookies in the best possible way. Great concentration, yet liveliness as well.
Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Sherry Oak Finish Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Chocolate-enrobed caramels are joined by notes of nougat before a palate kissed with orange marmalade, cloves, pralines, and dark chocolate, all of which are juxtaposed against saline smokiness and camphor. The 12 to 18 months of finishing in ex-Oloroso casks is beautifully calibrated.
Mars Haru IWAI Tradition Whisky Finished in Sakura casks
This is so delicate and subtly lifted, with a quiet floral note to red berries and the salty air near the sea. Grain notes frame it all, and a faint sweetness rides in on the finish. The six-plus months of finishing in rectangular vessels crafted from Japanese cherry blossom wood is a unique, unexpected, and wonderfully idiosyncratic note.
McLaren Vale Distillery Single Malt Whisky
This absolutely fantastic Australian single malt matured in casks that had previously held Mr Riggs Shiraz before a final stint in barrels that were home to fortified Muscat. The result is a show-stopper: Ambrosial on the nose with butterscotch and sticky toffee pudding, the palate sweet and perfectly concentrated, practically dripping with flavours of baked stone fruit, orange and apricot conserve, pralines, and sweet spice. It’s very much in line with everything I’ve tasted from this incredible distillery: Smart, brilliantly crafted, and transporting.
Distilled and aged in Scotland and then finished in ex-PX casks in Jerez, Spain, this easy-drinking whisky is creamy and delicately spiced. Notes of apricot and vanilla pastry crème, golden raisins, biscuits, and salted caramel make it ideal on its own and a very useful component of cocktails, as well.
Old Pulteney 18-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
This whisky’s home in the far north of Scotland, not far from the sea, manifests itself in a lovely sense of subtle salinity: It’s called the “Maritime Malt” for a reason. Yet this savoury spirit also boasts chocolate, honey, spice, and cedar notes, and the finish rings through with orange peel, dried apples, and chocolate before a final grace note of saltiness fades away.
Paul John Indian Single Malt Whisky Christmas Edition 2021
This excellent whisky was matured in ex-bourbon casks and then finished in a combination of Madeira and Port casks, resulting in a liquid whose sweet—and sweetly spiced—nose absolutely brings to mind the holiday season, as well as chocolate malt balls and brown butter, all of which translate to a palate in which a thread of smoke serves as a counterpoint to the flavours of roasting chestnuts and walnuts, cooked honey, clove, dried orchard fruit, and allspice that sparkle through the finish.
Port Charlotte PAC:01 2011 Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Part of the always-fascinating Cask Exploration Series, this whisky is crafted from two individual lots of liquid: One that spent six years in ex-American whiskey casks before an additional two years in ex-red wine casks from Bordeaux’s Pauillac; and another that evolved for seven years in ex-American whiskey casks before finishing in second-fill Pauillac casks. The result, expectedly, is wildly complex, with iodine, nori, smoking meat, and nectarine-pit aromas that set the stage for a palate ringing with sweet-savoury smoke, briny seashore air, cacao nibs, salted butterscotch, and a subtle sweep of cherries and cherry pits on the long, lingering finish. The balance of savoury and slightly sweet here is impeccable.
Rampur “Asāva” Indian Single Malt Whisky
Maturing whisky in ex-Bourbon casks is nothing new. Finishing it in casks that previously held Cabernet Sauvignon from India? Well, this is a first. And it’s delicious: Effusive sweetness and fruit—German chocolate cake with cherry compote, vanilla-milk-chocolate pudding, sweet torrefaction notes of cacao nibs and espresso beans, hints of bananas Foster—are balanced, layered, and infinitely fascinating. This is one to look for immediately.
Starward Nova Single Malt Australian Whisky
All of the components for Starward whiskies, from the grain to the barrels, are sourced from within a day’s drive of the Melbourne distillery. In this case, the barrels come from local wine producers, and, according to the brand, it’s not unusual for the un-aged spirit to enter the barrel while the wood is still damp from the Cab, Shiraz, or Pinot that was previously in there. The result is a whisky that’s seriously tied to its place of origin, and that shimmers with lemon-blossom honey, red and black cherries, plums, dried figs, caramel, and cinnamon stick.
Suntory Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Spiced orange marmalade, apple and pear fritters, and a hint of nuttiness precede a palate that speaks of rhum baba, tobacco, leather, toasted grains, brambly berries, and roasted chestnuts. Layered and approachable, yet complex and thoroughly enjoyable.
The GlenDronach Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Port Wood
A nose reminiscent of chocolate-dipped raisins and caramel leads to a wonderfully concentrated palate that nonetheless glides over the tongue with dried figs, dates, cinnamon-seamed dark chocolate, cafe mocha, crushed Amarena cherries, and dark chocolate. A perfect dessert dram…or anytime, really.
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(Main and Feature Image Credit: Courtesy of Nomad)
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