Every season of every year brings with it a host of exciting new treasures when it comes to whisky, and 2019 has been no exception, proving yet again that the whisky world is in ruder health than perhaps ever before. Emboldened and enlivened by an enthusiastic new generation of whisky fans, the spirits market right now is a fascinating one to get into. Whether you’re an old hand at whisky tasting, or have only recently started dipping your toes into the realm of amber nectar, there’s just so much to explore and discover – from tried-and-tested classics from the Old World of Scotland and Ireland, to brand-spanking-new releases from the Far East and beyond.
In this week’s blog, we’re checking out five bottles which are rocking the boat in 2019, and which are absolutely begging to be tasted and enjoyed by whisky fans of all stripes and experience levels. Each of these are supreme examples of whisky craftsmanship, and highlight everything that is special about the key whisky-producing countries around the world. Naturally, this list is a million miles away from being exhaustive (and isn’t that the real joy of whisky exploration – seeking out those hidden gems from faraway distilleries?), but nonetheless provides a decent picture of where the whisky scene is at in 2019. Take look, fill your shopping cart, and uncover those flavours for yourself!
A new release from the iconic Booker’s distillery is always a cause for celebration, and the 2019 newcomer to our shelves is no exception. While this distillery rarely tops the lists of the most refined or sophisticated whiskies to come out of the Bourbon belt, and certainly never commands the lofty prices of some of the big-hitters of the scene, there’s something enormously reliable and comforting about their line of classic American whiskies. In fact, for those looking to get into Bourbon in a more serious way, and start seeking out whiskies which really epitomise the traditions and flavour profiles of this proud home-grown tradition, it’s the brand we generally point enthusiasts in the direction of.
“Teresa’s Batch” takes its name from Teresa Wittemar, an employee of Booker’s taken on by legendary distiller Booker Noe in the 1980s. She went on to be something of a muse to the great man himself, and would be the one to sign off the tasting notes on the distillery’s releases, after giving her seal of approval. This particular batch which bears her name has been barrel-aged for six years, three months, and one day, and bursts with classic flavours of brown sugar, toasted nuts, and vanilla. Smooth, satisfying, and a neat round-up of all we love in Bourbon, it’s definitely one to add to your collection this year.
Let’s turn our attention now to Scotland. The wild and windy home of fine whiskies, Scotland is a land where tradition and time-honoured distilling practices reign supreme… which is why, when a distillery breaks the mould and does something a little different, eyebrows are raised and our attention is duly caught. Ardbeg have a pretty solid reputation for bringing out highly reliable and well-refined Single Malt Scotch, and yet even they haven’t been able to resist the growing trend for traditional Scotch distilleries looking outside the box – something which has led to some seriously satisfying results.
Surprisingly, despite the distillery’s home in blustery Islay, Ardbeg Drum takes its inspiration from Caribbean carnivals (perhaps the distillers were fed up of strong winds and icy sea spray?), and the whisky has been finished in former rum casks gathered from premium Caribbean rum producers. While this might sound like a seriously bizarre choice, the banana and pineapple notes the casking brings to the bottle work incredibly well with the peaty, smoky, and intense nature of the Single Malt. It’s a new angle on a classic, and one which is unlikely to roll around again any time soon… so snap it up while you can!
Japan. It’s been the home of a feverish whisky industry over the past decade or so, and despite rumblings of a whisky drought and a scene in serious peril (due to the unexpected boom in interest in Japanese spirits), there are some distilleries still ticking all the right boxes, and ensuring fans are getting their fix. Meiyo Honor is the perfect solution for those Japanese whisky fans mourning the disappearance of Hakushu and Yamazaki 12 from their shelves, and despite being a rice whisky – something which, historically, hasn’t had much of a following in the West – it’s a deeply pleasing release that’s guaranteed to impress.
Aged in Bourbon barrels for sweetness and smoothness, Meiyo Honor explodes with subtle and boisterous flavours on the tongue, and possesses a silkiness that Japanese whiskies exhibit in spades. While it might not be the cheapest option on this list by a long stretch, it’s an absolute steal for a top-notch Japanese whisky in 2019.
The Irish Whiskey scene has been in rude health in recent years, with an impressive resurgence of traditional styles becoming hip on the scene, prompting a series of new arrivals experimenting with old recipes and eking out original and exciting flavours. One of the freshest names to hit our shelves is Roe & Coe, and to say the reception has been wholly positive would be one heck of an understatement.
Diageo, the parent company behind the Roe & Coe label, claim that the secret to the whiskey’s success comes down to the fact that the blend was curated by a specially selected panel of Irish bartenders, each of whom had some input into the spirit’s profile. Over 100 malt grain and blended whiskies went into this heady and spicy mix, and the result is a golden liquor that punches well above its price point.
It’s been something of an open secret for some time now that Taiwan may well be producing the best whiskies in the world right now. The reason for this? Most Taiwanese whisky fanatics would point squarely at the Kavalan whisky distillery, an innovative and quality-first operation which has helped put the country on the spirits map. Kavalan Distillery Select is their big release for 2019, and it’s an absolute joy to behold – packing in bold fruity flavours, and absolutely ideal for sipping neat and on the rocks.
Kavalan Distillery Select is a no-age-statement release, matured in malt-neutral casks with the aim of highlighting the sub-tropical climate of Taiwan, while not relying too much on the influence of wood. It’s direct, powerful, and impressive, and gives an affordable peek at the incredible scene which is putting this country’s output at the top of whisky fan’s wishlists this year.