Single malt whiskies are enjoying an unprecedented revival across the world, with a number of countries outside of Scotland, including Australia, getting in on the act, and winning awards along the way.
Japan is the hot new nation for whisky making, but you’ll also find Sweden, Taiwan and India making their own drams.
Alexandra Dahlenburg, the manager of Grain bar at Sydney’s Four Seasons hotel, is something of a whisky spotter and over the past few years, she’s curated one of the largest collections in the city, with more than 200 drams on show.
Everyone Monday night is whisky night and there’s a 20% discount on all the whiskies on offer at Grain bar. She even compiles a weekly whisky flight of 4 x 15ml drams for $40 ($30 on Mondays) so you can really explore the whiskies and see what you like.
There’s even a Sydney-made rye whisky by Archie Rose distillery. The cost of a dram ranges from $10 through to $380 for a rare 30-year-old Islay single malt, Port Ellen, which has its own cult following.
With such a phenomenal list, Business Insider asked Dahlenburg to choose 10 whiskies everyone should try at least once. She failed and succeeded, picking 14 instead. We like her thinking.
Dahlenburg’s tasting notes are compiled from a combination of research and personal opinion, and she likes you to form your own.
“At Grain bar, we believe whisky is about your own personal journey. Each individual nose and palate is going to pick up different smells and tastes, so there’s no wrong answer in what you like. It’s the journey of discovery that’s important,” she said.
Here are her favourites:
Bowmore 15 Year Old “Darkest”
Islay, Scotland, 43%, $20
It’s the colour that makes this whisky stand out. Aged in both bourbon and sherry casks for 12 years, it then goes into an Oloroso sherry cask for its final three years, giving it a red cherry colour, chocolate on the nose with slight smoke and earth tones and a sweet molasses finish. You don’t expect this colour and smoke together in one whisky.
Port Ellen 9th Release 30 Year Old
Islay, Scotland, 57.7%, $380
We won’t get this bottle back on our back bar. It’s a very rare cask strength. It’s peaty and sweet with lemon grass and smokey pepper with a long medicinal finish. Port Ellen is now releasing the 14th release… gives you an idea of how mature and special the 9th release is.
Auchentoshan Three Wood
Lowlands, Scotland, 43%, $17
As its name suggests, the Three Wood is finished in three casks: Olorosso, Pedro Ximenez sherry and American Bourbon. Although this is a non-age statement whisky, it offers red stonefruits on the nose, treacle or brown sugar on the palate then a citrus finish which cuts through the sweetness. It’s hands down one of the best whiskies to pair with cured meats.
Rosebank 12 Year Old Flora & Fauna
Lowlands, Scotland, 43%, $63
This rare gem has a light straw colour, and a sweet nose and taste of pure honeycomb and herbs with lemon and grass. The Rosebank distillery has closed, so this whisky is in very short supply and tricky to get your hands on. It’s well worth a try and a bit of a collector item.
Speyside, Scotland, 60.2%, $20
This cask strength whisky is not for the faint-hearted. It has a deep amber colour and a nutty all-spice, citrus nose, bitter chocolate, raisins and cherry palate, and a spicy finish cask strength finish. Visually, it’s one of our favourite bottles, with a wax seal and numbered label.
Kavalan Sherry Oak
(Taiwan, 46%, $30)
Yes, you read right… Taiwan. Kavalan is a family-owned distillery in the rural northeast which comes with a lot of awards under its belt. With dried fruit and a rich treacle and almost pineapple taste, this Taiwanese single malt whisky is a treat.
Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition
(Japan, 48%, $poa)
A very limited whisky to hit shelves and a must try. It is sweet with prunes and cherries with a chocolate long linger, deep rich colour and noses like raisins and spices. One not to be missed. We bought three bottles a few weeks back. We only have two left.
2001 Gordon & Macphail Caol Ila Connoisseurs Choice
(Islay, Scotland, 43%, $25)
The Connoisseurs Choice is a completely different take on whisky. The sweetness of the nose brings pineapple and vanilla beans and the taste is a smoky tropical fruit bowl leaning towards overripe banana, lime and pepper. Gordon & Macphail is putting out some amazing whiskies. This is one of their best so far.
Hudson Manhattan Rye
USA, 46%, $22
This “ode to prohibition” rye has an authentic spicy nose with subtle honey, cinnamon and coconut. The bottle is hand-waxed and hand-numbered. It’s the closest you can be to being back in the 1920s and it makes a killer classic-style Manhattan.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Classic Malt
(USA, 45.2%, $45)
A beautiful golden liquid, aged in bourbon barrels that give you an earthy cereal tones with a finish of cocoa. As these are a limited release each collection, we’re on our last bottles.
Speyside, Scotland, 43%, $65
This gold-copper whisky has been aged for more than two decades in Spanish and American Oak. It smells like berries and nutmeg with a rich marmalade taste. It’s definitely a winter warmer, perfect for the cooler months. And how often do you get to try a top shelf 20-year-old whisky for well under $100?
Nikka ‘From the Barrel’
Japan, 51.4%, $16
A blended Japanese beauty, its warming vanilla, toffee and biscuits flavours are softened with gentle spices. It has been described as chewy in its viscosity. It’s one of the greatest value-for-money whiskies around. And I know you shouldn’t judge a whisky by its bottle… but we love its neat and simple little design, like an oversized perfume bottle.
Hellyers Road Pinot Noir
Tasmania, Australia, 46.2%, $15
A great representation of Australian whisky, this single malt is aged in an ex-bourbon cask and finished in pinot noir cask, and smells like a citrus farm on the nose and moves to the pinot noir peppery cherries and blackberries.
Dalmore 18 Year Old
Highlands, Scotland, 43%, $38
This is one for the sweet tooths. It smells of vanilla and caramel, moving to candies and mocha on the tongue, then finishing with oak from the American bourbon barrels. It is its last four years spent in Matusalem Olorosso sherry casks that make this whisky a sweet delight.
Check out more about Grain bar online.
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