As many whisky lovers may know, the growth of drams from places other than Scotland, the USA and Ireland is ever increasing.
What does this mean?
Well, for me, it equates to an even greater pool of potentially great drams to pick from – no bad thing. It also means that even if I’ve attended a few tastings with world whiskies, there are always new options that I come across.
The most recent of these events was put on by whisky writer Ian Buxton at The Whisky Exchange near London Bridge.
I brought along one of my newest converts to whisky – Miss Andrea – to help me out in tasting drams from as far afield as Taiwan along with a group of other whisky lovers, such as Billy Abbott (ie: @cowfish).
We started the night on the English Whisky Company’s Chapter 6 release. This 46% whisky was the first official release from its St George’s distillery in Norfolk, and came onto store shelves in 2010. It is a light-straw coloured dram, with notes of marzipan, lemon, vanilla, pink peppercorns, paint and straw on the nose. The palate was slightly bolder, with spring, floral flavours to start and a peppery vanilla burst midway through the sip. Notes of strawberries dipped in caramel also came through.
Our taste buds next headed more than 4,200 miles westwards to Bardstown, Kentucky and the Heaven Hill distillery to try some Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey. Ian told us he enjoys this dram because of its value for money – coming in at around £22, it is a very cost-effective bottle. Now, I’m not a massive fan of rye – the bread or the drams made from it. But this was an intriguing whiskey regardless with loads of clove-like spice and a hint of sweet peach lingering in the background of the nose. The palate, meanwhile, was bursting with peppermint caramels. It was a refreshing dram but I think I would prefer it as a base of a cocktail, rather than just drinking it straight.
For dram number three, we headed back east across the Atlantic to Ireland to sample some Writers Tears whiskey, which is made from a vatting of single pot still and malt whiskies and comes from the Midleton distillery near Cork. The nose was warming and welcoming – it reminded me of two (nearly unexplainable) things: firstly, the smell of warm haystacks and a cat’s furr (cat owners who’ve ever picked up their furry friend when they’ve been sat in the sunshine might understand what I mean); and, secondly, there was a dash of caramel apple pops, which are a North American sweet. The palate was sticky and sweet, with loads of apple flavours and a heavy oiliness that coated the mouth. It finished on honey and hay notes. It was mine and Miss Andrea’s second favourite of the night.
Whisky number four took us over St George’s Channel into Wales to the Penderyn distillery near the Brecon Beacons. The Penderyn Madeira was most definitely the most divisive whisky of the night, with one outspoken observer declaring it the worst whisky he’d ever tried. I was not so angered by it. In fact, I didn’t mind it – it just wasn’t quite up there with the others. The nose was full of bananas and pineapple and the palate was sweet and spicy, with notes of peach and cinnamon and a bitter finish.
The most anticipated whisky of the night for me was Kavalan Single Malt, part of the collection from the first Taiwanese distillery, Kavalan, which produces nine million bottles a year. The distillery has been in operation since 2005 and has won numerous awards in its short lifetime. It is also a hugely popular visitor destination, garnering upwards of (a whopping) 7,000 visitors a day. The Single Malt is a gentle, well-balanced dram with notes of apples, pineapple and vanilla, while the palate reminded me of more of an Irish style, with light notes of lemons, honey and almonds. It was very pleasant but not outstanding. I’m keen to try the others in the range as I’ve heard they’re more exciting.
The final dram of the night was the powerhouse cask strength Ardbeg Uigeadail, a popular malt for good reason. The nose bursts with brine, and sweeter BBQ prawns, plus a wafting fresh smoky air scent. The palate has a great chewiness, with a real caramel sweetness that shines through the smoke. It’s joined by brown sugar and lemon pie notes, before being topped off with a grassy finish. Both Miss Andrea and I swooned over this dram – a definite favourite of the night.
And although we loved the last dram from more traditional Scotland, it was a fantastic look into a set of whiskies from across the globe. It excites me every time I am able to try such a range from other countries and seems to be yet another bit of proof that whisky is taking over the world!