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Whisky Gets Its Wings

By Regan Hofman

Photo: courtesy of Vladimir Miklin/500px

Gone are the days when high-quality whisky meant burly plaids, open moors, and unpronounceable Celtic words like “Islay” and “Laphroaig.” While Scotland has dominated the industry for decades, the past few years have seen an explosion of whiskies from around the globe, in countries as unexpected as South Africa, Australia, and Taiwan. Hold your tongues, purists — these lesser-known alternatives are really, really good.

Asia, in recent years, has been a major importer of scotch, buying up a decent share of Scotland’s single-malt stock, and the WASP-y prestige that came with it. The first to take matters into its own hands was Japan, where Nikka and Suntory (remember Bill Murray’s hilariously painful commercial shoot in Lost in Translation?) began using Scottish techniques in the 1920s and ’30s. These distilleries produce traditionally styled whiskies aged as long as 25 years, effectively rivaling the Scottish at their own game.

Northern Japan, where Nikka has some of its
facilities, shares a climate with the Scottish Highlands, but whisky’s latest Asian powerhouse is actually the region’s polar opposite. Taiwan, where humidity averages 80% and temperatures never dip below 50 degrees, is storming the market with Kavalan, founded in 2005. That distillery has figured out how to use the heat to its advantage — a higher temperature actually acts as an age accelerator — and with an unusually broad line of sherry- and port-cask-aged whiskies (try the delicious Fino Sherry Cask), it took the top prize at the 2015 World Whiskies Awards.

While British hands are often tied by ancient regulations and techniques, weather and access to local ingredients have allowed international whisky makers to get creative. “We’re not held back by tradition,” says Andy Watts, master distiller for South Africa’s Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky. “As a young whisky producer, we can be quite innovative.” The result of that innovation: new whiskies that, for some drinkers, are more approachable than the campfire burn of a conventional scotch, with gentler flavors like honey, tropical fruit, and spice joining the mix. Bain’s combines the sweet vanilla notes of American bourbon with the spice of a single-malt, producing the perfect entry point for scotch skeptics. And Australia’s Sullivans Cove, another award winner, leads with chocolaty notes to entice both scotch lovers and those with a sweet tooth. So if you think you don’t like whisky, think again. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you. 

RECIPE:

King Car Rickey

Courtesy of Adam Robinson, Ounce, Taipei, Taiwan

1 ¼ oz. Kavalan Solist    Vinho Barrique

1 oz. Pedro Ximénez sherry

½ oz. fresh lime juice

Soda water

Lime wheel 

Place the first three ingredients in a shaker with ice. Give it a short shake to mix lightly, then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with soda water and drop lime wheel in as garnish.

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