Tour The Globe With These Great International Whiskies
Standout sprits from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Japan, Mexico, and the U.S.
We recently shared a list of the best new American whiskies, focusing on single malts, bottled-in-bond and leaders in innovation. Now, inspired by World Whiskey Day, we’ve expanded our horizons to include whiskies from around the globe. These don’t have to be the priciest, rarest or even newest—they’re simply the best brown spirits that are moving us right now. And since we currently can’t we travel with our feet, we might as well with our thirsty palates.
Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky
While at first the idea of Mexican whiskey sounds odd, the integral grain for bourbon — corn — was born from Mexican soil, and the country boasts hundreds of native varietals. Created by the team behind Montelobos Mezcal, Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky is being billed as the first-ever 100% Mexican corn whisky.
Abasolo uses an ancestral non-GMO species called Cacahuazintle cultivated for centuries by local farmers in Jilotepec de Abasolo, which then undergoes an ancient Aztec/Mayan alkaline-cooking process called nixtamalization which promises to unearth “the deepest notes of this ancestral ingredient.” The juice is then double-distilled in copper pot stills and finished in oak, resulting in a whiskey whose pronounced corn flavors are laced with subtle hints of vanilla, toffee and leather. $40
Penderyn Peated Single Malt Whisky
When one mentions whiskey from the British Isles you instantly think of Scotland or Ireland, countries that invented the art form. Penderyn Whisky wants to put Wales on the map. Located in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Penderyn Distillery is the result of a night of festive drinking at The Glancynon Inn, where a group of Welsh friends decided their people needed a world-class single malt of their own.
By all accounts they accomplished their goal. Penderyn’s Peated Single Malt Whisky just won Double Gold at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, on top of their Rich Oak and Portwood bottles which also earned Gold medals. Beautifully packaged, Penderyn Peated Single Malt proves their quality is more than glass deep. $70
Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth 8 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
Scotch stalwart Dewar’s is one of many major brands that’s experimenting with new aging and distilling techniques, which is what lead to the creation of the limited-edition 8YO Ilegal Smooth Mezcal Cask Finish. The classic Dewar’s White Label blend of over 40 single malt and grain whiskies, aged for eight years in Scotland, were blended and aged again before receiving a final finish in Ilegal Mezcal casks for at least six months.
“Normally, 60% of a whiskey’s flavor comes from the wood,” the brand notes. “This is enhanced even more so by the extra aging period…. This specific cask finishing beautifully complements the classic Dewar’s house style, creating a complex, yet harmonious blend [with]a twist of crafted, Oaxacan smoke.” $25.99
Bruichladdich Black Art 7
Whisper the word “Brucihladdich” to scotch nerds and they’ll get weak in the knees. The Islay distillery first made its fame by not peating its single malt —the only distillery on the island to (not) do so. But when purchased by vintners in 2000 the distillery pivoted to experimenting wildly with indigenous barleys and other forms of terroir, including heavily peated expressions under the Port Charlotte and Octomore labels.
Despite an obsession with both radical ingredients and cask transparency, Black Art is the one and only Brucihladdich release that Master Distiller Adam Hannett keeps a total secret. What we do know is the juice dates back to before the distillery was mothballed, barreled in 1994, aged 25 years, and that’s about it. With only 12,000 bottles of Black Art 7 available, if you can find one you’ll probably pay more than the MSRP. $430
Glendronach Revival Aged 15 Years
Discontinued in 2015 to allow stockpiles to rebuild, after a long sleep the GlenDronach Distillery has relaunched its storied 15-Year expression. The Highland distillery was quickly rewarded in March by winning the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition’s ultimate prize, Best In Show (for Whiskey). One of the oldest distilleries in all of Scotland, GlenDronach has long been heralded for its alchemy in sherry wood maturation (using Andalucía-sourced Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso casks), but has yet to attain mainstream fame on American shores. That should change quickly with the spread of this single malt. $80
Ardbeg Wee Beastie
Wee Beastie is the newest permanent bottle to join esteemed Islay distillery Ardbeg’s  core range, which alone is reason to celebrate. Aged only 5 years in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, this relative immaturity means Wee Beastie retains more of the peated magic than older, more wise expressions — and for smoke fanatics that is joyous. Situated right on the crashing shores of the tempestuous Atlantic, the Ardbeg distillery itself hangs redolent with the scent of spent firecrackers, dry seaweed, smoke, and seasalt, and Wee Beastie seems to distill this magic into single malt form. Launching soon for $47.
Knappogue Castle Marco de Bartoli Marsala Cask Finish
Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey recently launched only the second expression of their Cask Finish Series. It all starts with their foundational 12-Year-Old Single Malt— an already excellent malted barley Irish whiskey distilled from copper pot stills and matured for a dozen years in bourbon barrels — and finish the maturation in Sicilian Marsala casks, specifically from the vineyards of Marco De Bartoli. Sicilian soil is rich in limestone and minerals which is credited for bestowing on the Knappogue Castle expression notes of mocha, dried fruit and vanilla. Only 1,000 bottles will be sold worldwide. $95
Ohishi Islay Cask
The renown Ohishi Distillery uses gohyakumanishi and mochi rice for its juice, meaning its raw distillate/white lightning is already vastly different from all options on this list. For this year’s version of their Ohishi Islay Cask the Japanese maestros marry five casks each of Ohishi Sherry and Ohishi Brandy Casks, then finishes the blend for more than one year sitting in ex-Islay barrels. Ohishi’s recent 10-year Brandy Cask was named the Best Single Grain Whisky In The World, so needless to say this Islay Cask is some next-level spirit. $80
Blackened American Whiskey (Kentucky)
What does Metallica know about whiskey? Turns out quite a bit, actually. They knew at least enough to tap legendary Master Distiller Dave Pickerell — the man behind Maker’s Mark, the Nelson Brother’s Green Briar Distillery, WhistlePig and more — to blend their Blackened American Whiskey. After Pickerell blended a mix of straight American bourbons and ryes, Metallica assuaged the aging process by battering the barrels with their music to rattle the wood with their vibes — a proprietary sonic-enhancement process they call “Black Noise”.
This month they’re releasing a limited edition “Batch 100” bottle whose playlist was curated by someone outside of the band: new Master Distiller Rob Dietrich. It’s the first time in their 19 batches a non-Metallica member has selected the music, and the result is surprisingly good for what could otherwise be blown off as a celebrity money grab. Sweet notes of honey and apricot from the bourbon is balanced with cinnamon, clove, and allspice from the ryes. The limited edition box set comes with dual 12” vinyl picture discs of Dietrich’s custom Metallica playlist. Ride the lightning. $150
Heaven’s Door Bootleg Series, Volume 1 (Tennessee)
What does Bob Dylan know about whiskey? Well, Scottish hero Robert Burns called it the Poet’s Muse, so maybe it’s fitting one of America’s greatest living poets got in on the game. There’s three core expressions in his new Heaven’s Door label, including a Straight Rye Whiskey finished in toasted oak cigar barrels sourced from Vosges. But we’re interested in his limited production Bootleg Series, for which Volume 1 just debuted. Bob sourced a 26-year old whisky and finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak, a famously difficult barrel to work with, and then poured it into a hand-made ceramic bottles emblazoned with his Train Tracks painting. $500
St. George Baller (California)
When I discovered Baller I thought I’d fallen into some weird syncretic whiskey dimension where all good things combine into a single glorious brown. Based in Northern California (Alameda), the St. George distillery makes all sorts of interesting concoctions — like Absinthe, serrano and habanero-infused vodka, gin aged in French and American oak wine barrels and their own take on the Campari called Bruto Americano.
But their Baller may be their best: they start with a 100% American barley whiskey aged in used bourbon casks and French oak wine casks, and filter it through maple charcoal for their own take on the Lincoln County Process. But here’s the spin: they then finish it in St. George barrels used to make umeshu—a Japanese-style plum liqueur, creating what master distiller Lance Winters calls a “California take on the Japanese spin on Scotch whisky.” $55
High West Bourye 2020 (Utah)
High West is one of our favorite boutique whiskey distilleries despite the fact–or maybe because of the fact–that it hails from the most teetotaling state in American. Utah’s High West has garnered a ton of acclaim—one of our regular favorites being their Campfire expression which blends a peated scotch to their bourbon and ryes.
New for 2020 is the latest blend of their limited edition Bourye, blending three straight whiskeys, each aged for a minimum of 10 years and sourced from Indiana’s MGP distillery (a 95% rye whiskey and two high-rye bourbons). $70
Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Nevada)
Nevada is possibly one of the last places you’d expect to find an elevated whiskey distillery , but Frey Ranch makes some of the best new bourbon we’ve recently tasted. A truly grain-to-glass distillery, 100% of the sustainably grown grains (corn, winter cereal rye, winter wheat and two-row barley) used to make the bourbon are cultivated on the 1,500-acre farm located just outside Lake Tahoe.
Malted, distilled, matured and bottled on property means founder Colby Frey has total control of the process from seed until it packs in a truck. The result is a deep mahogany colored whiskey rich in notes of vanilla, caramel and pepper, with a luscious mouthfeel. Exceptional whiskey that’s just now as of this week available outside Nevada borders.
Redemption High Rye Bourbon (Indiana)
Redemption aims to offer a sweet spot between bourbon and rye with their High Rye Bourbon. Distilled and aged in Indiana’s renown Midwest Grain Products distillery, the High Rye Bourbon utilizes a unique mash bill (60% Corn, 36% rye, and 4% barley malt) that marries rye’s spice with the sweetness and aroma of a traditional Kentucky bourbon. Perfect for Manhattans. $30
Jefferson’s Pritchard Hill (Kentucky)
Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller has quickly notched a name for himself in the whiskey world via furious innovation. One of our favorite small batch whiskeys, Oceans, he sends on a literal ocean voyage that crosses the equator 4 times, bouncing off five different continents in the pursuit of extreme aging. Jefferson’s latest, Pritchard Hill, isn’t quite as far-fetched but is still deserving of praise.
Sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from Napa Valley’s Pritchard Hill area — specifically the Chappellet Winery — Zoeller took a three-bourbon blend aged in new American Oak and performed a second aging on them. The process bestowed rich notes of black currant and black cherry absorbed from the Cab barrels. $75
Slipknot No. 9 Iowa Whiskey (Iowa)
What Metallica is to Blackened fellow metal gods Slipknot are to their No 9. Iowa Whiskey. The infamously masked band has long shown loyalty to their home, so it’s little surprise they’ve chosen whiskey as a way to offer homage to the Hawkeye State.
A self-proclaimed Jack Daniels man, Slipknot percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan tapped Cedar Ridge Distillery for his craft brown spirit and has been thoroughly won over. Despite the corn’s provenance from the distillery’s family farm in Winthrop, Iowa, the spirit’s mash bill (56% corn, 36% rye, 8% malted barley) means there’s nice spice to the mix. There’s also a 99 proof No. 9 Reserve bottle, but we’d argue the value is in the downmarket bottle. $38
Catoctin Creek Infinity Barrel #InThisTogether Rye Whisky (Virginia)
Virginia’s Catoctin Creek Distilling Company is making whiskey out of lemons, figuratively speaking. Due to the crisis many DC restaurants are suffering during the lockdown they can’t afford to keep the barrels they’d purchased from Catoctin’s barrel select program. These are some of the distillery’s best hand-picked barrels, including an American Chardonnay oak cask, apple brandy cask and American Imperial Stout cask from Virginia’s Stablecraft Brewery.
So Catoctin Creek owners Scott and Becky Harris are not only easing their burdens by taking back the barrels, but are blending them into an Infinity Barrel Rye Whisky dubbed aptly #InThisTogether. Not only is it a delicious blend, but all profits from this limited 80-proof release will go to charities (like the US Bartender Guild’s Emergency Assistance Program) supporting struggling restaurants and bars. $45
J.H. Cutter Class A No.1 Whisky (California)
Blended whiskies have always been looked at as anathema — the cheap stuff you get when you can’t afford single malt. The browns ginned up with grain alcohol to make you forget what you’re (not) drinking. But after Prohibition when all over stocks were scarce, the feds came up with the “Class A” signifier to separate the chaff from the wheat.
This designation meant no neutral spirit, color or flavor were added — meaning, they were still premium spirit. San Francisco’s Hotaling & Co. have jumped on this designation with their new limited edition J.H. Cutter A. No.1 Whisky—a Class A blend without compromise. They start with a minimum 4-year-old Kentucky Bourbon and then blend in two whiskies from their Old Potrero Distillery: 3+ years old 18th Century Style Rye Whiskey and Port Finish Rye. $55