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Long have the Scots been regarded as the producer of the world’s finest whiskies. After all, the country has been distilling the spirit for more than 500 years — according to an entry in the Exchequer Rolls, Scotland’s tax records dating to 1494, an entry notes “eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor, wherewith to make aqua vitae". The malt quantity was sufficient to make approximately 1,500 bottles of this ‘water of life’, suggesting that the production of whisky had by then reached considerable proportions.
But with distilleries from all over bursting onto the scene with whiskies of compelling quality and styles, the market finds itself with plenty more choices, many of which give the Scots a good run for their money. In the last few years, connoisseurs have been delighted to find top-quality drams coming from the east, particularly Japan and, surprisingly, Taiwan. These Asian distilleries may be relatively young compared to their Scottish peers, but that has not stopped them from winning over the palates of whisky judges and aficionados everywhere.
Here is a selection of the top five whiskies that have made headlines around the world.
1. Rare Cask
The launch of Macallan’s Rare Cask whisky signifies a break with tradition — there is no age statement on this precious pour. The statement that The Macallan is making with this is that age is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Assembled from remarkably rare whiskies — which constitute less than one per cent of the casks maturing at The Macallan — Rare Cask is drawn from 16 different types of casks identified by the distillery’s master whisky maker Bob Dalgarno. It showcases vanilla and raisin aromas that give way to apple, lemon, and orange balanced by root ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It finishes with vanilla and chocolate with a light citrus zest.
2. Solist Vinho Barrique
Named for the tribe that originally inhabited the area, Kavalan is a Taiwanese family-owned distillery located in the north-eastern county of Yilan. Construction of the distillery commenced in 2005, and its first whisky was released in 2008. In less than a decade, it has made a name for itself among the global whisky community — its Solist Vinho Barrique was crowned the world’s best single malt whisky of 2015 by the World Whiskies Awards. Fully matured in seasoned American oak barrels, the whisky has a pronounced vanilla character on the nose and palate against a backdrop of fruity complexity marked by mango, melon, pepper, spice, and fragrant incense.
3. Single Malt Yoichi 10 Years
Yoichi is regarded as a crown jewel in the range of whiskies produced by Nikka, whose Yoichi distillery was established in the south of Hokkaido in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru after his apprenticeship in whisky making in Glasgow. Unfortunately, Nikka has stopped the release of its age statement Yoichi single malts since August last year due to depleting stocks. But there are still some bottles floating about on the market, so get your hands on a bottle, or three, before they completely vanish. The dram offers notes of vanilla, spice, fruit, and a peatiness achieved by heating pot stills with finely powdered natural coal.
4. Diamond Jubilee Scotch Whisky
John Walker & Sons
A royally costly dram, this whisky released by John Walker & Sons in 2012 is a blend of grain and malt varieties that were distilled in 1952, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession and coronation. The whiskies were married in casks made by John Walker & Sons’ coopers using oak from the Queen’s private Sandringham Estate, and the bottling was then carried out at the Royal Lochnagar distillery on the edge of the Balmoral Estate. A total of 60 editions were created, with profits donated to the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.
5. Yamazaki 25 Years Old
If there is anything we can take away from Nikka’s discontinuation of its age statement single malts, it is that Japanese whisky stocks are quickly depleting, and it wouldn’t surprise us if other distilleries like Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Hibiki eventually follow suit. One of our favourite age statement whiskies is Yamazaki 25 Years Old, which we tasted with master distiller Mike Miyamoto at the distillery’s premises in Osaka. Matured in sherry casks, it displays alluring notes of fruits and nuts on the nose leading to a sweet intense palate of raisin, plum, spice, cocoa, and wood. This whisky was named the world’s best single malt at the 2012 World Whiskies Awards.