5 Asian Whiskies to Try

5 Asian Whiskies to Try

Sixteen glasses of single malts were lined up, glint amber in the glass, perfuming the room with vanilla, caramel and smoke. And lucky me, I get to sample them all. Some people might call this a special occasion. But as a spirits reviewer for Wine Enthusiast, I simply call this Tuesday.

But this particular Tuesday, I was in for a big surprise. Among those glasses of what I thought was Scotch whisky, was a single malt from Taiwan. I tasted it, and it was off-the-charts good.

When I discovered the brand, I was floored. From Taiwan? Not Scotland, home of the most-lauded whiskies in the world?

This mysterious stranger, Kavalan Single Malt Whisky, hit all the right flavor notes—fresh fruit, light smoke, mouthwatering butterscotch. Delicious.

It got me thinking: Why aren’t I drinking more whisky from Asia? Why isn’t everyone?

Frankly, Asia’s rising crop of whiskies is every bit as good as some of the finest Scotches around. Most were deliberately made in Scotch whisky’s image, but added twists give Asia’s whiskies their own distinct identity. For example, the local water in Japan is said to be the key to creating that uniquely silky texture found in many of the country’s standout whiskies. India’s Amrut uses a local barley in its mash bill that helps temper the otherwise stiff stuff with a soft, candied citrus note. And the inhospitable heat and humidity in that country is said to accelerate aging, creating bold flavors. Not unlike terroir in wine, whisky is shaped by the world around it.

I’m glad the Kavalan snuck into the Scotch lineup. It was a welcome excuse to forget about the restrictions of provenance and just focus on what’s in the glass, and to be open to surprises and serendipity, whatever the source. And, of course, it was a reminder to drink more whisky from Asia.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, 12 Year (Japan): Bright gold and fresh, this single malt hits a pitch-perfect balance between orchard fruit, oak and smoke. Wallet permitting, the newly released 17-year-old ($150) and 21-year-old ($180) bottlings are also worth seeking out, $70.

The Yamazaki, 18 Year (Japan): Velvety soft to the point of luxe. Luscious butterscotch is enlivened by touches of stone fruit, lychee and the faintest hint of smoke, $120.

Amrut Fusion (India)Made with Indian barley and peated Scottish barley “fused” together in ex-Bourbon casks, hence the name. Not for wimps, this robust 100-proof single malt mixes smoke and hints of chocolate-covered orange peel, $64.

Kavalan Concertmaster (Taiwan): A Port-cask finish means rich, candy-like caramel aromatics in this single malt, plus dark, mouthwatering hints of cola, allspice, espresso and dried figs, $90.

Kavalan Single Malt (Taiwan): Harmonious and delicious. Mild smoky notes, fresh apple and pineapple swirl together with rich vanilla and butterscotch flavors, $120.

3 Reasons Why Ginga-Kogen Weizen is your new favorite craft beer.

1. It’s Delicious 

It’s a yeasty hefeweizen, with aromas and flavors of banana, scone, orange zest and allspice, and a deliciously dense yet polished-smooth mouthfeel.

2. How cool is this bottle? 

It comes in a super heavy, beautiful deep-blue glass bottle that’s fun to hold and tip.

3. It’s Saving A Village

The brewery opened in 1996 as an economic development project for the strapped community of Iwate Sawauchi, a rural village on Mt. Wagatake. The village elders agreed that with an abundance of local wheat, barley and mountain snow-melt spring water—plus the burg shares roughly the same climate and elevation as Munich—that a German-style brewery was to be a part of the town’s future.

Published on December 4, 2013