WHISKY FAMILY TREE
The new growth
SMWS member David Daly is a well-travelled whisky fan, and wherever he goes he tries to sample some of the locally produced spirit. Here, he celebrates the rise of new distilleries around the world that share some DNA with Scotland and Ireland, but are taking their own approach with their offspring
Scotland and Ireland may joust for which is the mother of whisk(e)y, but in truth they are both generationally incorrect. Their children, America, Japan and India, to name a few, have already grown up. In ways they are parents to the next generation. Scotland and Ireland should pause from their good-natured teasing and smile warmly on their grandchildren.
Let’s meet some of them...
The Czech Republic
Before the Berlin Wall crumbled, Eastern Europe had already commenced distilling whisky. It was felt a niche market existed amongst its better positioned comrades. With limited access to outside information, utilising the books it could muster, Prádlo distillery set to work, taking its brand name from a pride of place cast iron hammer mill it managed to acquire.
Various long aged versions can still be found today. I tasted the Hammerhead 23-year-old and was delighted to see they produce whisky as unique and tasty as their beers. Fresh hay notes with accents of hazelnuts lead into a palate of pasted peanuts and hints of nutmeg. It leaves you with a crumbly caramel oaky cake wake.
Ahead of a recent visit to Tbilisi I discovered there were two distilleries: Jimsher and Alexander.
While the second eluded me, I discovered in the first, two whiskies finished in casks previously used for regional grapes varieties: Tsinandali and Saperavi. The former delivers rich fruit sweets on the palate before finishing on light woody menthol notes, the latter a thick mouthfeel redolent of peppered banana before bringing the curtain down with a long refreshing Campariesque haze.
Looking ahead to my next trip to this beautiful country, I will travel west, to the Kvemo Kartli region, and finish what I’ve started with a visit to the Alexander Distillery.
The Vikings spent centuries in the British Isles leaving much inheritance to us, yet it is only in recent years their descendants have peeped over the glens and turned their hands to making whisky. Sweden and Denmark may be best known, but do not ignore the magic being weaved by Teerenpeli in Finland.
For bleating edge innovation, go west to Iceland where Eimverk Distillery’s Flóki Young Icelandic Malt has replaced peat with dried sheep dung. Fundamentally, it’s replacing all organic with single organic material decomposition. A similar principle to blended versus single malt, one could argue.
In December 2019 I was in Bali and picked up, after tasting a dram, a bottle of Bali Moon’s Omrach whisky. This means amber in Gaelic. This bustling idyllic island rich in ingredients may, for some, have over egged the cake with this release. The mix includes caramel (and not the E150a variety). Be forgiving, all journeys begin with a single step.
It is undoubtably sweet and you might be forgiven for feeling that it’s still too close to rum, but with time, support and encouragement, we can all look forward to another stalwart staple of variation in our cabinets.
Rome is a sometimes called less a city and more a museum. What does that make Israel? Sifting through the names on a map where history repeatedly calls out to you, you might miss a growing industry that offers three distillery visitor centres.
My first experience was the Triple Cask Young Single Malt from the Milk and Honey Distillery. Its youth pelted me with an uneven experience, drawing too quickly on three different casks used for finishing. It was sweet, briney and mildly peaty almost simultaneously.
The distillery is now six years old and its offerings today are much more nuanced. I’m looking forward to visiting shortly and tasting amongst other drams their Elements range.
Let us from the home nations celebrate, as grandparents, the distant flowering of the art of creating whisky anywhere there is a dream to do so. We should send our wishes. We should support these new offerings. Their new ideas. Their innovative approaches. Their experienced hands working with local terroir. We can be happy with our ever-growing family that shares a fine heritage.