Part 3 – The Wide, Wide World of Whisky
We rattle on about Scotch, Irish, Canadian and American whisky like they were the only kids on the block. Well, here’s a news flash – India produces about three quarters of the world’s whisky. Mind you, they drink the vast majority of it themselves. But still, that’s 3500 million liters per year, compared to Scotland’s 700 million, United State’s 475 million, and Canada’s 55 million. And there are lots and lots of other countries producing whisky.
So, who else is in the Khamrada game (that’s Somali for whisky)? And what kind of craft whisky industries are out there?
Let’s take a little spin around the globe. We’re all familiar with the well known brands – Kavalin from Taiwan, Hibiki from Japan, Amrut from India, and Sullivan’s Cove from Tasmania. But, what about, say, the Czech Republic? Not exactly a whisky hotbed. Except for the Prada Distillery. Founded in 1929 by Vaclav Sitner, it took a few years to ‘get the hang’ of whisky making. At one point, in the middle of the cold war, they imported several truckloads of Scottish peat moss, in order to produce a better product. They didn’t have their first official release, a product called Hammerhead until 1984. It is, by all accounts, very good. Especially the casks from the 1980’s that were uncovered in 2007 that had been lost in the velvet revolution following the demise of the Berlin wall and the end of the USSR. You can also buy Green Feathers, a 12 year old produced by the Gold Cock Distillery, and Trebitsch Czech Single Malt, produced in a UNESCO World Heritage site in Trebec. Who knew?
Moving on to Israel, another hidden gem of whiskydom, with their Milk and Honey Distillery. Since 2014, M&H have been producing whisky at their Tel Aviv location, using their hot climate maturation process, which uses the warm sunny climate to speed up aging in the casks. Downside? They lose up to 10% of their whisky to evaporation each year. Despite this, they have produced several products in their Elements series, including a sherry cask, a peated, and a red wine cask.
If you happen to be in the Golan Heights, drop into the, you guessed it, Golan Heights Distillery. Since 2014, they have been pumping out five different grain whiskies that use a blend of imported and local products combined with water from the historic Eden Springs. Just to keep things local, they will soon be releasing Spicy Hummus, a brewer’s whisky made from chick pea malt ale. It’s gluten-free and Passover friendly.
How about a wee dram of Uisque, or Portugese whisky? For that, let’s go north of Lisbon to the Venakki Distillery in Alpiarca, where no fewer than nine whiskies are produced. Their specialty? Casks. Beautiful bespoke oak casks that are seasoned for three years in the open air, before their first taste of spirits. Then, they are prepared with madiera wine and local douro wine in preparation for aging of their Experimental Collection of single edition whiskies. Jim Murray was so impressed that he gave them a Liquid Gold Award in the 2021 Whisky Bible, with a score of 94. Lofty stuff.
Moving along the whisky path less-travelled, let’s pop into the Patagonia Region of southern Chile. This is not whisky country, folks. This is a barren, mostly uninhabited wasteland – mountains, lakes, fiords, desert, and ….. whisky. It’s home to the world’s most southerly distillery – The Last Hope Distillery. To be precise, it’s in a little town called Peurto Natales, about 300 miles north of Cape Horn. Available in 2021, the first whisky from Chile, Last Hope Whisky is made in a handmade copper still using Patagonian grain and glacier water, and then aged in American oak casks. Although it’s not available yet, it’s a great story in the making.
The last stop on our world mini-tour of craft whisky is the Spis Region in northern Slovakia. Just so. you can get your bearings, it’s sandwiched between Hungary and Poland. To start this story, we need to go back to the Stara Lubovna Castle in 1747. Locally grown rye was distilled into gorzalka, the early name for distilled spirits. Local archives reveal the list of ingredients and the process.
Flash forward to 2008. Descendants of the Morganbessers family open the Nestville Distillery near the old castle. In 2018 they win a bronze medal at the World Whisky Awards with their three year old blend, made from barley, corn and triticale. Nicely done. It only took 360 years to get things right. Cool tidbit – it is distilled seven times. No one seems to know why.
Whew! A lot of ground covered. If you want to complete the world tour, you can also visit such whisky stalwarts as South Africa, Holland, Italy, Finland, Russia, France, Mexico, and more. What a tour! So take a little detour from time to time and explore a dram from off the beaten path. Cheers and enjoy!