The 'World Whisky' experiment
Are Scotch, Irish or Kentucky under threat? A whisky revolution is building...
WHERE once you could count the great malt producing nations on one hand, now there are dozens of countries where the spirit is being made, writes Dominic Roskrow for WhiskyInvestDirect – and some is giving the old boys a run for their money.
Whisky distillers as far apart as Austria and Argentina, and New Zealand and Norway, are ripping up the rule book and bringing scores of new and exciting flavours to the whisky category. From underground mines to mountaintop caves, and from former armouries to disused tombs, these 'world whisky' distillers are exploring new ways and atmospheres to mature their spirit.
Nor does the sense of adventure and innovation end with location. Some of the new producers are experimenting with a range of different grains including oak, triticale and quinoa, as well as drying their barley over peat which is peculiar to their location. Others are also experimenting with different drying methods, such as juniper twigs in Sweden and manuka wood in New Zealand. Finally, these unconventional producers are experimenting with different wood types to mature their spirit in, using casks that have previously contained wine or spirit that is unique to their region.
In many cases the results are as different to Scotch as American Football is to rugby union: sport played on a pitch by two teams using the same ball, but a totally different game.
Nobody's saying that Scotland, Ireland, or Kentucky are under any great threat. But some of the world's new whiskies have every right to be taken seriously. Already we've had world class offerings from India, Taiwan, Australia, and The Netherlands, and that's just the tip of a very large iceberg.
World whisky can be divided in to three groups. There are the leading players, now competing on the world stage. These include Amrut from India, St George's in England, Millstone from the Netherlands, Mackmyra from Sweden and Penderyn in Wales. Some of these are bottling whiskies more than 10 years old, and are trading in most world markets.
Below them is a tier of producers just bottling for the first time, selling mainly in their home market, and making tentative steps in to export territories. And finally, bubbling under the surface, there are hundreds of producers in the three-year European 'waiting period', or holding on to whisky for longer so that it is exceptional when it is finally released.
This all makes heady times for whisky lovers. To put it in to perspective, there was once about 150 significant whisky distilleries, 100 of them in Scotland. Now there are probably 1000 worldwide.
Amongst them are serious whisky makers who view the industry as not about size, but about quality. The term 'craft' is bandied about a lot, often with little regard as to what the term means. But the likes of Zuidam in the Netherlands, Orma in Switzerland, and Box in Northern Sweden believe that a commitment to quality, plus a 'unique selling point' based on nationality and a huge interest among a new generation of whisky drinkers, make international success a realistic target.
My view is that they're right. It's a whisky revolution alright. And one that's going to be a lot of fun to taste.
2015 Fortnum & Mason drinks writer of the year, whisky-guide author Dominic Roskrow is a prolific columnist and blogger for leading magazines, newspapers and whisky sites. One of the few people in the world recognized for services to both whisky and whiskey as a Keeper of the Quaich and a Kentucky Colonel, he has written nine whisky books and has been editor of both Whisky Magazine and Whiskeria.
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