Although Scotch whiskey is synonymous with Scotland – for obvious reasons – there are many more places around the globe where this style of whiskey is produced. Scottish law demands that only whiskey produced in Scotland be called Scotch, despite the method being practiced elsewhere, which can serve to confuse those unfamiliar with this beautifully complex beverage. And, if global whiskey awards have demonstrated anything, the international examples of this style of whiskey are giving Scotch a real run for its money. In this article, we take a look at the emergence of single malt whiskeys from around the world, with many of them coming from very unexpected places.
Whether it be Japanese whiskey, Tasmanian whiskey, or Spanish whiskey, there are countless distilleries around the world producing single malt whiskey that rivals anything found in Scotland. For those unfamiliar with whiskeys and single malts specifically, this term simply means that the whiskey (made up of water and malted barley) comes from a single distillery. Blended Scotch whiskeys, such as the famous Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal brands, are usually made up of one or more single malts alongside whiskeys distilled from other grains. When only two single malts are blended, it is referred to as blended malt Scotch. It’s also not easy for new distillers to craft whiskey, however, so it’s hardly something that many can establish overnight. This is because whiskey must be aged in barrels for an extended period of time, and waiting for it to properly mature results in a period where a product cannot be sold. For this reason, and the relative inexperience of international single malt distiller start-ups, the development of whiskey outside of Scotland has been slow – up until now.
Perhaps the best-known producer of single malt whiskeys outside of Scotland is – surprisingly – Japan. The Yamazaki distillery, established in 1923, was Japan’s first commercial distillery, producing three differently aged single malt whiskeys: the 12, 18, and 25 years single malts. It was only very recently (considering how long the distillery had been operating) that this Japanese distillery was recognized, however, which surprisingly resulted in a global rush to buy up its stock. Yamazaki was one of the first single malt distilleries that showed the entire world what other countries were doing with single malts, and this recognition has seen many scrambles to join in. Ever since then, world whiskey awards have seen international entrants commonly pop up on ‘best single malt’ lists – it was only in 2019 where the boutique Tasmanian distillery Sullivan’s Cove won the coveted best whiskey in the world award, showing that even small and relatively new distilleries can beat the Scots at their own game.
If you’re new to the wonderful world of whiskey, don’t necessarily think that the Scots do it better than everyone else. While these are good to try for obvious reasons, it’s also worth your while to try some of the whiskey produced locally to you, in addition to some boutique offerings from distilleries around the world. This way, you can compare the grand-daddy of whiskey with some of the newer, trendier distilleries from around the world and decide for yourself who makes the best alcohol.