Five Of The Best Whiskies From Around The World
Photograph courtesy of Death & Co, New York
From Highland scotch to American rye via a Japanese blend, become a whisky expert in no time at all with our guide to the finest drams.
If you didn’t know better, you’d probably imagine whisky to be stuffy, slow to change and drunk by old buffers by a log fire. Nothing could be further from the truth: the world of whisky is fast-moving and it is one of the most sophisticated and fashionable spirits you can drink. As I discovered when researching the new edition of my book 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die, there are a lot of new developments in whisky production, much of it driven by distillers far from the hills and glens of Scotland.
Below, I’ve selected five of my favourite whiskies that won’t break the bank, but which will take you on a world tour of different styles and tastes. Understand them, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an expert. Here are my tasting notes.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
This is, quite simply, a classic. Ask any distiller or blender to name a great whisky (other than their own) and this comes up time after time. First launched in 1909, it’s a timeless blend: smoky but with fruit, vanilla and hints of sweetness. It may seem a familiar drink, since they sell so much of it, but it’s one to go back to time after time, and a reassuring presence in almost any bar anywhere in the world. Great value for the quality – if you like the smoky hit you can move onto the more assertive Double Black.
Highland Park 18 Year Old
There’s only room for one single malt on this list, and this whisky is it – the product of one distillery, using malted barley, water and yeast. It is also the most expensive whisky here; you'll hardly see change from £100. However, once tasted, you’ll forget the price. Based in Orkney since 1798, Highland Park is one of the most traditional distilleries and, though they produce older versions and various special editions (look for those at the airport), the 18 Year Old offers the optimum combination of quality and value. Save it for a special occasion.
Nikka All Malt
Japanese whisky is currently the hottest thing in town. From a position of neglect and decline less than 20 years ago, the Japanese industry has staged a remarkable recovery and released some stunning, award-winning whiskies. Stocks are in short supply though, and prices have soared. However, this little beauty has crept below the radar. Despite the pedestrian packaging (did you really want to pay more for a ritzy bottle?) this will establish your credentials as a man of real taste. Kanpai!
Wild Turkey Rye
Yes, rye – the original American whisky that is making a storming comeback in hip bars around the world. And rightly so, because this spicy grain is stunning to sip and savour on its own but, for the Mad Men look, an agreeable cocktail ingredient, too. Forget the sweetness of Bourbon and try this in an old fashioned, sazerac or manhattan. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t use great whisky in a cocktail – tell them it’s what makes a great cocktail, and you are what you drink. In this case, a true Kentucky gentleman.
Starward New World
Australian whisky? Really? Yes, really. This new Melbourne distillery has attracted global interest among those in the know, and a healthy investment from Diageo, who know great whisky when they see it. It’s a sweet one, due to the clever use of Australian wine casks and the rapidly-changing climate which accelerates maturation. So, we don’t have to wait as long for the whisky as we do in Scotland. However, no corners have been cut. I wouldn’t pour it on Burns Night, but perhaps there is an upcoming birthday when you could toast with one of the most exciting new craft distillers.