There’s Scotland, of course, and Ireland and America. But did you know that the Swedes are in the whisky game now? And the French?
SCOTLAND: Why Scotland, of all countries, should have become the undisputed Mecca for maltheads remains an enduring puzzle for historians. Was it the miserable cold weather that motivated them to create a warming spirit, something of a similar hue to their ginger hair, something that would dull the pain of the constant fighting, that great Scottish past time? But the real conundrum is culinary —how could a nation known for black pudding and deep fried chocolate bars have mastered a spirit of such unsurpassable complexity, delicacy and nuance? It’s one of those great Scottish mysteries, rather like the preference for men in skirts and sword dancing. Or the throwing of stones at each other’s heads for sport, as in Braveheart. Of course, I kid Scotland—a nation that gave us Hume, Burns and Kenny Dalglish. A nation that has a whole world of regions under its umbrella—Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Campbeltown, Islay. Who can criticise a country that gave the world Scotch? Not just the whisky but the eggs? If you see a Scot, then thank him.
Top distilleries: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Talisker, Tobermory, Johnnie Walker... (too many to mention)
CANADA: Said to be lighter and smoother than their peers on account of their use of malted rye, Canadian whiskeys are still yet to take the world by storm, overshadowed as they are by their American cousins, like Jack Daniel. Canadians would, however, argue that their whiskeys have a better healthcare system and sense of humour.
Top distilleries: Seagram’s, Crown Royal, Canadian Club
AMERICA: Fans of Scotch tend to sneer, in that patriarchal, European way, that American whiskeys lack the maturity and complexity of their own aged spirits, a reflection of America’s immaturity as a culture and all the rest of it. And they’re right. Bourbon tends to age for two years, as opposed to 12 for a typical Scottish single malt, so it’s a simpler drink all round. Bourbon isn’t the only American whiskey—there’s rye and corn, too, but it’s Bourbon that counts. And Jack Daniels, a kind of Tennessee Whiskey, which is what you get when you filter Bourbon through sugar maple charcoal.
Top distilleries: Maker’s Mark, George A. Dickel, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel
IRELAND: The Irish claim they invented whiskey long before the Scots, so it doesn’t sit very well with them that they’ve since been superseded by their Gaelic brethren across the water. Notice their efforts to distinguish themselves— the insistence on spelling whiskey with an ‘e’ like the Americans, for instance. The use of a simple closed kiln to dry their malt, while the Scots use peat fires. Best not mention that Jon Jameson, the man whose name graces the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world, is actually a Scot.
Top distilleries: Jamesons, Bushmills, Connemara, Kilbeggan
SWEDEN: After eons of faffing about with meatballs and selfassembly furniture, the Swedes discovered the solution to their long, dark, endless nights of perpetual winters—whisky. And like most other things they turn their hands to, they’re actually quite brilliant at it. A new distillery, Mackmyra, opened shop in 2008.
Top distilleries: Mackmyra
RUSSIA: That vast, frozen expanse of vodkaholics and chess masters has turned its prodigious brains and livers to the business of Scotch. One of Perestroika’s lesser known triumphs. There is now a distillery in Kizlyar called Dagestan and one in Stavropol called Praskoveysky. Try saying that after a few.
Top distilleries: Praskoveysky
INDIA: Excepting that “Indian Whisky” nonsense, we have a passable showing on the world stage. It’s not the quantity that’s at issue, it’s the quality. Thank heaven for imports, frankly.
Top distilleries: UB Group, Diageo, Pernod Ricard
GERMANY: The oddity here is how long Germany has taken to join the party. Why haven’t they applied themselves to whisky the way they have to lager and automobiles? What on earth is going on over there? Schnell schnell!
Top distilleries: Slyrs
ENGLAND: Sorry England, you have the Commonwealth, the empire, the Kohinoor Diamond and the global language of science and commerce. But in the whisky department, the rest of Britain kicks your ass.
Top distilleries: St. George’s
JAPAN: Continuing their trick of perfecting what everyone else started, the Japanese have spent the last several decades quietly mastering the art of the single malt, in the Scotch style. Today, they’re the world’s 2nd biggest producers of the same. And it’s good stuff. Earlier this year, the Yoichi 20 yo was awarded the highly coveted Single Malt Award by Whisky Magazine, beating a whole string of Scotch counterparts.
Top distilleries: Nikka, Taketsuru, Yoichi, Yamazaki
AUSTRALIA: A nation of approximately 47 people has somehow managed to produce world class lagers and wines. And now they’re in the whisky game. In Australia, there’s no such as having too much to drink.
Top distilleries: Bakery Hill
WALES: As long steeped in the art of spirit distillation as any of its Celtic neighbours, Wales has nevertheless lagged behind in getting international recognition. It’s believed that the key reason is most of the booze never makes it to the boats.
Top distilleries: Penderyn
FRANCE: They use the Scottish technique in Bretagne, a remarkable act of humility on the part of such a proud booze nation – one that has gone all but unnoticed.
Top distilleries: Armorik, Whisky Breton