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Scotland isn’t the only place to find good single malts. The wider whiskey world holds plenty of delights for those willing to look beyond the horizon.
Scotland may be considered the traditional home of single malts, but such is the spirit’s popularity, that whiskey lovers from around the world are producing their own distinctive expressions, and winning over plenty of enthusiastic fans in the process. The global single malt landscape is surprisingly diverse, stretching to almost every continent and featuring a broad spectrum of production techniques, drinking cultures, and flavor profiles.
Stepping away from your favorite Scottish single malt and exploring the global whiskey map can be a daunting proposition—especially for the uninitiated—but rest assured there is an abundance of incredible whiskey just waiting to be discovered. To help you find your ideal international dram, let’s take a look at some of the best single malt whiskeys from around the the world.
The United States
Bourbon and rye have always been the spirits most commonly associated with American whiskey culture, but now American single malts are starting to rise in popularity and prominence. Sharing distillation techniques similar to classic scotch, American single malts tend to impart a certain smokiness—often derived from barrels like mesquite of cherrywood. The flavor spectrum is quite broad, thanks to both a willingness to experiment, and a growing number of producers across the country. American single malt distillers of particular note include Balcones, FEW Spirits, Stranahan’s, and St George.
The hot, humid climate of India seems a counterintuitive setting for single malt production, but the spirit is gaining remarkable popularity across the country, and distillers are working to meet rising demand. The climate plays an important role in the distillation process, as Indian whiskeys mature up to three times faster than their Scottish counterparts, so single malts rarely carry an age-statement on their bottles. Indian single malts tend to be distinguished by notes of fruit and malt: look for bottles of Amrut Single Malt and Paul John Single Malt for some of the best examples of the Indian style.
Although the spirit is remarkably popular in Taiwan, whiskey production in very uncommon inside the country. In fact, there is only one significant operation, the Kavalan Distillery, although more are currently being developed. That said, Kavalan produces a remarkable range of single malts which have, in recent years, begun to win international recognition and awards. Maturing quickly in the tropical climate, Taiwanese single malts are distinctively fruity and rich, aging in a variety of casks, including oloroso, manzanilla and sherry. Hunt down Kavalan’s highly-regarded Solist Vinho Barrique. Or try finding Omar Single Malt, which comes from the lesser-known state-owned Nantou Distillery.
Japan’s whiskey culture is thriving, and its single malts are gaining international recognition from both whiskey fans and casual drinkers alike. Japanese single malts have a track record of winning prestigious industry awards: in 2014 the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask was ranked the best whiskey in the world by Jim Murray’ Whisky Bible, beating a number of Scottish single malts. Japan’s single malts are distilled at high altitude, and consequently achieve an impressive spectrum of aromas and flavors. They tend to be characterized by a light, smooth texture and sweet profile, making them suitable for casual drinking or pairing with food. Famous Japanese single malts include the Yamazaki 18 Year Old and Hakushu 12 Year Old.
Whiskey production in Australia has a proud history: dating back more than 160 years, it now takes place across the continent. The distillation of single malt whiskeys became particularly popular in the early ’90s, accompanied by a culture of experimentation which encouraged the use of a range of barley and yeast strains. Maturing quickly in the hot weather, Australian single malts are also informed by the country’s wine culture. The spirit often ages in a variety of wine casks, which create a surprising range of aromas and flavors. Particularly remarkable Australian single malts include the Hellyers Road 12 Year Old, the Bakery Hill Double Wood, and the Overeem Port Matured. And let’s not forget the very good Sullivan’s Cove single malts from Tasmania.
France has one of the highest per-capita scotch consumption rates in the world, but the country is also home to some good domestic single malt producers. The country’s production techniques broadly mirror those of their Scottish counterparts, but they make use of a wide range of local woods, which results in a spectrum of single malts with substantive French character. A few of the most interesting expressions in France include Brenne Single Malt, Armorik Breton Single Malt, and Kornog Peated Single Malt.
The Swiss have a complicated relationship with whiskey. While almost two million liters of the spirit are imported per year, whiskey distillation was illegal in the country until 1999. Since then, Switzerland’s whiskey production and culture has taken off and produced some notable single malts inspired by the Scottish tradition, which requires at least three years in barrels. The Swiss style reaches across a variety of profiles and wood varieties. For stand-out single malt expressions, look for the Burgundy-aged Holle Single Malt, and the popular Single Lakeland Malt Whisky, which is aged in sherry barrels.