While Covid-19 shut down most of the world in 2020, whisky aged in cellars all the same and the global demand for this brown spirit remained — fuelled in part by so many people staying home and needing a drink. In fact, revenue in this segment is projected to reach US$18.22 billion by end-2021, an annual growth of 5.8%.
With the way things are going this year, it does seem like 2021 is just 2020 with a bit more make-up on. Quite frankly, it is going to take many a well-stocked bar to keep our spirits up as the year progresses. So, here are our picks of some fascinating, non-traditional whiskies (nothing from Scotland, Canada or Japan, for example) to keep an eye out for. If we are lucky, these will end up on our shores soon.
While tequila, mezcal and all things agave are hot property right now, Mexican whisky is not a category you stumble upon too frequently in the spirits industry. But that may soon change after farm-to-glass beverage producer Casa Lumbre launched Abasolo, a whisky made from an ancestral corn called cacahuazintle. Grown in the higher elevations of Mexico, cacahuazintle’s chubby, pale kernels are familiar in traditional pozole. After being field-dried, a small percentage of the corn is malted while the rest is nixtamalised — which is how you make staples such as masa and tamales, and the first time this process is used in whisky production — and then soaked, heated in a lime bath, rinsed and hulled. Not a beverage for the weak-hearted, Abasolo is 86 proof and it opens up with an unoaked, volatile florality mixed with dry popcorn kernels and fresh tortilla.
The home of some of the most highly rated New World wines, Australian distilleries are now gaining street cred for their whiskies as well. Archie Rose Distilling Co started production at its new distillery in Botany, Sydney, last month, with plans to push back the boundaries of spirit development. The site includes a patented whisky production process that has been in the making for more than four years, which sees each malt in the six-malt mash bill milled, mashed, fermented, distilled and matured separately to allow the team to tailor every step of production, including yeast selection, cask type and maturation conditions, to each specific malt. The brand’s single malt is especially notable — it is matured predominantly in Australian apera (sherry) casks, complemented by a selection of ex-bourbon and air-dried ex-rye casks. The natural sweetness of these casks complements the savoury charisma of the spirit, revealing fresh herbs, shortbread biscuits, raisins, toffee and dark chocolate on the nose.
Amrut is generally the brand most associated with whisky from India, but newcomer Sterling Reserve is serving up some stiff competition. Owned by Allied Blenders & Distillers, Sterling Reserve has managed to more than double its sales volume in its second year of operations, and established some unique marketing initiatives in the fields of music, comedy and online gaming to attract a younger audience. A blend of imported Scotch malts and the finest Indian grain spirits, Sterling Reserve comes in two expressions — Blend 10 and Blend 7 — each boasting the same number of tasting notes, with bright and crisp flavours. As long as Sterling Reserve continues to reach out to its target audience this year, as well as expand to other markets in the region, this fledgling brand could really become an industry icon.
If you need further proof that Irish whiskey continues to be an exciting category beyond just Jameson, look no further than Midleton — a charming distillery just outside of Cork. Method and Madness (we love it just for the name, to be honest) is a delicious single grain whiskey matured in bourbon barrels and finished in virgin Spanish oak, a delicious sipper that combines notes of grape, vanilla and espresso beans.
Meanwhile, the small and intimate The Dublin Liberties distillery is working on its own whiskey. In the meantime, it has unveiled a tasty sourced single malt finished in a variety of cask types. Ominously called Murder Lane after an old alleyway where many reportedly met their maker in days of yore, Dublin Liberties’ 13-year-old is finished in Tokaji wine-seasoned casks from Hungary, which adds a gentle sweetness to this golden nectar’s fruit and floral spirit.
Established in 1999, Mackmyra was founded for a simple reason — there weren’t any Swedish distillers for whisky. Mackmyra is located right by crystal clear waters and distils its whisky from barley that develops a special sweetness during the Scandinavian nation’s long summer days. And then, there are the casks — Swedish oak that lends the liquid within a harsher flavour than American oak — as well as a fiery spice balanced by sweetness similar to caramelised sugar. The brand’s range is not all that broad yet, but I can already pick one out I am sure to enjoy: its autumnal Jaktlycka, inspired by the flavours and senses of the ancient forests that surround the distillery. Jaktlycka, which means “happy hunting” in Swedish, has been made using whisky matured in casks that previously held lingonberry and blueberry wine from the Grythyttan winery, something quite unusual in whisky.
As a single malt aficionado since my twenties, I have always turned my nose up at bourbon (erstwhile misadventures with badly mixed doses of Jack Daniels had a lot to do with this). In my thirties and more open to other spirits, I got my first taste of Woodford Reserve and realised that this entire category was grossly misrepresented. A new entry into the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, the Very Fine Rare Bourbon is a deep, complex whiskey with strong notes of tobacco, chocolate, cherry and a whiff of smoke underneath it all. Some of the whiskey in these bottles is 17 years old (distilled in 2003), with the rest of the liquid somewhat younger than that. This is the right drink to nurse on a rainy night, and the bottle is gorgeous enough to occupy pride of place on your bar too.
This article first appeared on Jan 18, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.