Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: Whiskies to Wish For

It's a cold hard fact among American whiskey connoisseurs that some of the best stuff never reaches our shores. There is nothing more frustrating than reading a great review of a new malt only to find that it will never touch American soil. To taste these treasures we have to rely on our own travels or those of friends and relatives willing to save room in their suitcases for a few bottles.

Here then is a list (in no particular order) of some bottles I wish were available stateside. I've been able to try most of these, but some I've only heard tell of.

Green Spot Irish Whiskey. This moderately priced pure pot still whiskey (a whiskey made from a blend of malted and unmalted barley) is bottled by Mitchell & Son from whiskey made at the Midleton Distillery. It has a pure, malty taste, and I prefer it to Redbreast 12, the only pure pot still currently available in the US. It has a bit of a cult following and would make a great everyday Irish.

Nikka Yoichi. The category of Japanese Whisky is the most lacking of all whisky categories in the US. There are only four Japanese Whiskies available here, all from one company (Suntory) and three from one distillery (Yamazaki); the fourth is a blend. I could put nearly every Japanese single malt on this list, but I've tried to limit myself to just a few. Nikka Yoichi is a workhorse whisky from the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido; slightly sherried, sometimes slightly smoky and delicious. I think of it as Highland Parkish, and like Highland Park in Scotland, Yoichi is the northern most whisky distillery in Japan. Given my limited exposure, I would probably pick the regular Nikka line over the two other most prominent unavailable Japanese lines: Karuizawa and Suntory Hakushu (elderly Karuizawas are legendary, but I can't afford them anyway).

Ardbeg's Peat Path to Maturity. The Ardbeg peat path to maturity is over now, but it was an interesting experiment that allowed consumers to monitor the aging of a single vintage of whisky over a ten year period. Ardbeg released four different ages of a whisky distilled in 1998 (shortly after the distillery was reopened following a brief closure) on its way to ten years old. The Ardbeg Very Young was released in 2004, followed by Still Young in 2006, the Almost There in 2007, and at ten years old, the Ardbeg Renaissance in 2008. Each bottling was at cask strength. I had a chance to sample all of these versions except Renaissance and it was fascinating to observe the changes in this very popular peated malt. I only wish more Americans would have had the opportunity to try it.

Ichiro's Malt. Ichiro's Malt whiskies come from the closed Hanyu distillery in Japan. They are the Japanese equivalent of Brora or Port Ellen, fantastic and increasingly rare whiskies. I've been lucky enough to try a number of Ichiro's expressions and the best of them are among the best malts I've had from anywhere. These are increasingly expensive, but I sure wish we had the opportunity to treasure them before they're gone for good.

Kilchoman. I'm hoping that the newest distillery on Islay has plans for market expansion. Kilchoman just released its first expression, a three year old (the minimum age allowed for Scotch), which is allegedly a lighter peated whisky.

Cougar Bourbon and Rye. Believe it or not, there are even American whiskeys that we can't get in our own country. Cougar Bourbon and rye whiskeys are made by the Foster's group (Australian for beer, yeah them) for export only. They are distilled at Lawrenceburg Distillery in Indiana, a somewhat mysterious distillery which doesn't release any whiskey under its own label. I've never tried Cougar but it's received very good reviews.

Alberta Premium. Discussions of the new wave of Canadian Whiskies tend to begin with Forty Creek, make brief reference to Glen Breton, and ultimately end with Alberta Premium. One of the most consistently highest rated Canadians, Alberta Premium comes in 5 and 25 year old expressions and is made entirely from rye by Alberta Distillers. Is it so much to ask that they send a few bottles south?

The good news is that we are getting much more whiskey than we used to, particularly Scotch. Diageo is sending us special bottlings from previously unavailable distilleries (albeit at high prices) such as Mortlach and Linkwood. As I recently reported, Inver House is sending us Balblair and anCnoc. And Ardbeg is finally sending us their much sought after committee bottlings. Hopefully, some of these others distilleries will follow suit.

What currently unavailable whiskey would you like to see in the US?


Greg said...

You said it brother. As my whisk(e)y drinking experience continues to evolve and widen, I find the lack of availability a frustrating realism. I do like the Redbreast 12 year and of course my interest in the 15 year was a natural progression only to discover that it's not available here in the U.S. I had the same frustration with Paddy's Irish only to find out it became available about a month after I received my bottle as a gift. Green Spot is another I wanted to get my hands on. So, to your point, my wife travels to the UK this weekend and I have called ahead and reserved by bottle of Redbreast 15 and Green Spot and she will travel with map in hand to pick up and return with these little treasures. Oh, and while she's there, a couple bottles of Rosebank 12 year for good measure.

sku said...

Good stuff! I hope you enjoy the Green Spot and would be interested to hear how it compares to Redbreast 15. I've tried and enjoyed both, but never side by side.