6 Non-Scottish Single Malts You Should Be Drinking Now
When you hear the term single malt, the first names that usually come to mind are likely to be those of the old Scottish brands — Glen Scotia, Talisker, Glenfiddich, and the like. In recent times, however, Scottish single malts have seen their superiority successfully challenged by some newcomers from overseas. Single malts have enjoyed growing popularity even in countries like Taiwan and India that previously had no tradition of producing this type of whiskey.
What is in a Single Malt Whiskey?
The key definition of single malt is that it must come from a single distillery, distilled from a fermented mash made with malted grain in pot stills, and aged in oak casks not exceeding a capacity of 700 liters. As long as the spirit meets these requirements, it can be classified as a single malt. Contrary to common belief that single malts are from a single batch or a single barrel, they could actually be a blend of whiskeys from different batches or barrels. That said, here are six of our favorites that you need to try now:
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique, Taiwan
The shocking, yet well deserved winner of the world’s best single malt whiskey in 2015 for its “sweet pruney” flavors and dry, walnut finish. This is an impressive feat, considering Kavalan was only founded in 2005, but has now established itself as a distillery of global repute. Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique is a wonderfully rich, complex and interesting whiskey to cherish. It was made to cater to the Taiwanese palate, so expect a fruity, nutty flavor profile with notes of caramel coffee-vanilla, fudge and sandalwood. One of the judges at the World Whiskies Awards even described it as bourbon-infused milk chocolate.
The term Kavalan translates to “flatland people,” an aboriginal ethnic group that originally inhabited the modern-day Yilan County, which is the home of the distillery. With a 57.8% ABV, the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique retails between $300 to $700. Safe to say it’s worth every drop.
Amrut Kadhambam, India
After several years of supplying spirits to the Indian military, Amrut has established itself as a distillery of global reputation and stands tall as the only single malt producer in India. In the local Tamil dialect, Kadhambam translates to ‘mixture’, but in this context, that mixture refers to the number of casks involved. This single malt is matured in 3 different cask types — Rum casks, Oloroso Sherry Butts, and Bangalore Blue Brandy’ casks before being non-chill filtered and bottled at 100 proof. As you can expect, this leads to a very singular whiskey that is adored for its chocolate, oak, caramel and spicy flavor notes.
On the nose, Kadhambam wafts with floral notes, honey and oak, as well as lighter touches of apricot and vanilla coming through. Breaking it with a splash of water brings the honey just ahead of the floral notes and becomes the dominant aroma. Expect a smoky, spicy finish with cinnamon and nutmeg, and a touch of fruit-sweetness at the end.
Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt Whisky, Japan
Over the past years, Japanese whiskeys have enjoyed a dedicated cult following of whiskey enthusiasts, all willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a single bottle, which makes the Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt Whisky all the more special. The bottle first hit the markets in 1984 and was the first seriously marketed single malt whiskey from Japan. One notable difference with this fantastic single malt is that the wash is fermented longer than usual in wooden washbacks, which results in a creamier character that is easily noticeable on both the nose and the palate.
Expect fruity notes of peach, pineapple, grapefruit on the nose, as well as an intoxicating blend of clove, candied orange, vanilla, and Mizunara (Japanese oak). This whiskey is aged in Spanish, American, and Japanese oak barrels, which in turn, shows up on the palate with a mix of coconut, cranberry, and butter, with an undercurrent of spice just underneath, and then finished with a nice assortment of dried fruit, sweet ginger, and cinnamon. It retails from $150.
Penderyn Madeira Single Malt, Wales
Penderyn is the only whiskey maker in Wales and the award-winning company also produces a gin and vodka. In terms of its single malt, however, whiskey connoisseurs have had nothing but praise for the Madeira Single Malt. Distilled in unique Faraday copper stills, then matured in old bourbon casks and finished in Madeira wood for extra smoothness, the bottle carries no aging statement and comes with an ABV of 46%.
The aroma of this prestigious single malt is distinctively crisp with fruity, nutty, vanilla sweetness, closely similar to dry and oaky white wine, thanks to the Madeira finishing. On the palate, the whiskey stays thickly sweet with a creamy mouthfeel of honey, vanilla, and autumn fruits like apples or pears, along with a moderate tongue burn. The finish is medium to long with a bit of grape-skin tannin and winds down on the spice and nutty aspects with no bitterness. This makes the Penderyn Madeira a great choice in hot weather.
Balcones Texas Single Malt Whisky, USA
Balcones is known for having a rather maverick approach to whiskey — playing with mash bills and wood finishes. its single malt is made with unpeated 100% malted barley but with a curious aging process, which combines small batches of the whiskey aged in different sized barrels before blending them together to complete the maturation in one big ex-bourbon American oak barrel before bottling. It’s also non chill-filtered so expect huge flavours from this one.
Balcones’ Single Malt is an award-winning liquor, delivering mellow notes of ripe fruits mixed with a lingering toasty malt character. It hits the nose with notes of toffee and fruits, but adding a splash of water opens it up with overtones of molasses sweetness and butterscotch. The palate experience is full on with layers of toasted malt, honey, and spice, then finishes with an excellent aftertaste of fine dark chocolate and drying oak tannins.
Mackmyra Iskristall Single Malt, Sweden
The name ‘Iskristall’ translates to ‘Ice crystal’, which is a pretty cool way to describe this spicy whiskey with sweet raisin notes, vanilla, and caramel. The Iskristall Single Malt is matured in Swedish and American casks that once held Pedro Ximénez sherry, giving it an exciting mix of flavors that come together to form a powerful and clean taste, just like the winter air in the mountains of Sweden.
On the nose, it starts off spicy and fruity, but you can definitely catch a whiff of berry with hints of honey and toasted oak barrels. On the palate, it is a versatile but perfectly balanced mix of vanilla toffee, anise, sweet raisins and grapefruit with fine herb spices. The finish is not overly long, but quite soft-warming, leaving the mouth a bit dry, but with hints of dried fruits.
How to Enjoy Your Single Malt
Single malts often fall under the category of liquors that you either love or hate. Several whiskey experts suggest that the best way to enjoy an expensive single malt is to add a few drops of water (at room temperature) to allow the whiskey ‘open up’ and unravel its true flavors. Still, like any other fine liquor, the best advice is to simply enjoy your single malt whiskey the way you like. Are there other brands that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.