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Beyond The Big Four:
Bold, Flavour-Forward World Whiskies Set To Make Waves

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Introduction by: Peter Marshall

 

World whisky is developing at an astonishing rate – producers outside of the ‘big four’ are flourishing and, as a result of the recent distilling boom, exceptional whiskies are now made right across the globe. That also means that there’s a wealth of new and undiscovered makers with huge global travel retail potential. Yes, some already have a GTR presence, others are just starting out. Written by Kristiane Sherry, our guest contributor this week, this feature is a round up of 9 of the most exciting producers, based on production techniques, flavour profile and quality. It acts as a great guide for all category buyers.

The big four have long dominated whisky sales. Producers from Scotland, Ireland, the US and Japan regularly hit the headlines for case sales, quality and collectability. But both the advent of craft distilling and the consumer thirst for newness mean buyers are casting the net wider – and there are astonishing examples of both flavour and innovation to be found.

Around 110 countries now make whisky. One of the many factors fuelling this rapid development is freedom when it comes to production. All the major styles made in the places outlined above are made to technical files that give a whisky category its character. While this is broadly a good thing, it means that a Scotch maker, for example, couldn’t experiment with the influence of a pomegranate wine cask, whereas others can (more on that shortly…). They must stick to the rules, or call their whisky something else.

What has emerged is a vibrant cohort of geographically diverse producers. These distillers are courting inventive methods, while pursuing quality whisky – and all through a strong sense-of-place lens. What ties them together is a bold sense of self. From disruptive branding to unusual production methods, these lesser-spotted names offer quality across the board. Here are nine names to watch out for as world whisky makes gains in GTR.

Kyrö Distillery Company

Situated in an old dairy in the small Finnish village of Isokyrö, the five friends behind Kyrö came up with the idea in a sauna. In 2012 that dream was realised. Fast-forward to today and the company has just launched its first permanent core range. The four 100% malted rye expressions are Malt, Malt Oloroso, Wood Smoke and Peat Smoke. If Kyrö’s prior limited-run releases are an indicator, these are set to be both delicious and intriguing.

Oxford Artisan Distillery Co.

Sticking with rye but touching down on UK soil, The Oxford Artisan Distillery Co. is a maker on a mission. The team is obsessed with regenerative farming methods. Led by archaeobotanist and grain expert John Letts, they are part of a growing network of producers committed to carbon sequestration through restorative grain production. All their heritage grains are grown using this method – and the recently released Oxford Rye Whisky 2018 Harvest is stunning. The Oxford Artisan Distillery is part of David Mills’s Sustainaholics Alumini range line-up.

Penderyn

Wales has a burgeoning whisky category – there are now at least seven distilleries making the spirit in the country. The pioneer was Penderyn, which now runs three of them. It all started in the Brecon Beacons, with unusual ‘Faraday’ copper pot stills creating that light, fruit-forward character. Arguably what Penderyn has become known for is its bold use of casks. It made its name with its Madeira cask finish, and has experimented with everything from ex-Islay to rye barrels. Penderyn is a distillery to follow if you want flavour.

M&H Distillery

Very few distilleries capture a sense of place quite like M&H. The Tel Aviv maker basks in over 300 hours of sunshine a year, and makes use of Israel’s unique geography in its production. From maturing casks below sea level at the Dead Sea to utilising traditional pomegranate wine casks in production, its single malt expressions dial up flavour to the max. The humidity, heat and supercharged casks mean the liquid often tastes far older than it is – explore the Elements range to surprise the palate.

Starward

Melbourne’s Starward has long been at the forefront of Australia’s vibrant distilling scene. Founded in 2007 by David Vitale, it’s one of the more established new world whisky makers, and it showcases the breadth of flavour – and the quality – coming out of the country. Its single malt range is made using local barley, and its core range makes use of wine barrels (Fortis, Nova), a sherry-style blending system (Solera) and fortified wine (Tawny). Its experimental Small Batch range shines with innovation – any retailer to get their hands on some is lucky indeed.

Cardrona

Hop down to New Zealand and you’re in safe hands with the Cardrona team. While it also makes vodka, gin and liqueurs, whisky is at the heart of production at its Wānaka home. Spirit flowed for the first time in November 2015, and releases since have charted its progress. Just Hatched marked the whisky hitting three years, while Growing Wings came out at five years. Now Full Flight is here, bursting with baked goods, apricot, and the distillery’s signature floral notes. Recently acquired by International Beverage, we can expect to see this Kiwi gem get wider distribution, including in GTR.

Rampur

India single malt is now being touted as an investment alternative to Japanese makers (the latter seeing remarkable price increases as stocks dwindle). And while releases are generally still young, the quality is skyrocketing. Take Rampur, which has a small but growing presence in the channel. Its Rampur-based distillery makes the most of a varied climate (think: near-freezing temperatures in winter and 40+ celsius summers) to deploy an exacting maturation regime. Asava, finished in Indian Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks, is a must-try.

White Peak

A second English producer to make the list, White Peak is a Derbyshire distillery releasing lightly peated single malt alongside gin and rum. Its Wire Works whiskies – named after the old wire works that house production – make use of live yeast from a nearby brewery. A bottle refill programme elevates its sustainability credentials, too. Caduro, the distillery’s first permanent whisky expression, has been showered in tasting medals, and rightly so – it’s a young release but one that’s remarkably balanced. A maker to keep an eye on.

Mackmyra

One of the more familiar names on this list, no world whisky round-up is complete without a celebration of Mackmyra. Inventive, bold and with strong environmental credentials, Sweden’s first whisky maker continues to impress. Founded back in 1999, it was a genuine pioneer in this space. It’s recently released a chunky 20 year old age statement, but Svensk Rök, made with juniper-seasoned peat, will always be a flavour game changer. Perhaps something of a surprise that it’s not already a bigger name, there are surely exciting things to come from this distillery.

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