World whisky can sometimes refer to whiskies from countries that aren’t typically known for the spirit. But because we covered rye, bourbon and American whiskeys in their own dedicated Spill Awards articles, we decided to write about our favorite bottles from everywhere else right here. Whether you’re a fan of Scotch or can’t get enough of Japanese bottlings, these are the best world whiskies from 2023.
Note: We’ve already lauded Power Irish Rye as our favorite rye whiskey of the year, so we’ll forego that one from this list.
Usually, my favorite part of the year for Scotch is the annual Octomore releases in the fall. And those peaty expressions were great, as usual, but my favorite release from this terroir-obsessed Islay distillery this year was an unpeated gem. Coming in at 50% ABV, Bere Barley 2013 is tropical fruit-forward, malty and full of honey and toasted oak notes with a rich and oily mouthfeel. It was aged primarily in first-fill American oak with some second-fill French oak and utilizes an ancient variety of barley, sourced from Orkney, that can be traced back 2,000 years.
Featuring a recipe of 50% malted barley and 50% unmalted barley, the second iteration of Teeling’s Wonders of Wood series finds their triple-distilled Irish whiskey matured in virgin Portuguese oak barrels. Bottled at 50% ABV with no chill filtration, this WOW release features notes of sandalwood, cereal, orange and a bit of lemon butterscotch on the finish. It’s a bit oily and quite delicious.
Shibui is a recently launched brand with a fascinating portfolio and a co-owner who’s not afraid to take on the giants of the Japanese whisky world. The whiskies here are crafted by multiple distilleries from two different regions of Japan; the art of blending and multi-cask maturation is showcased in expressions from Niigatta, while Okinawa’s releases feature distillates from local grains (mainly long-grain rice). This single-grain release is sweet and floral and features a fair amount of salinity — it’s almost like a dessert.
These terroir-driven Irish whiskey distillers — the largest producer of organic malt whisky in the world — just launched a second edition of their Arcadian Series, which spotlights farmers who offer up a “non-conformist” approach (basically, they’re utilizing organic, biodynamic and heritage barley, and the whisky has no coloring, chill-filtration or additives). Gaia is Ireland’s only whiskey to be distilled from 100% organic Irish barley, and it’s matured in a combination of 39% first-fill U.S. oak, 17% virgin U.S. oak, 19% premium French oak and 25% Vin Doux Naturel oak. At 50% ABV, this outstanding release features notes of malt, vanilla, pear, kiwi and orange, rounded out by a creamy mouthfeel.
A U.S. exclusive, Select is made from 100% Indian barley and matured in first-fill bourbon casks. A restocking of a bottle first released in 2016 (which won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition), this single malt — crafted in the foothills of the Himalayas under extreme temperature — features a rich mouthfeel and a palate of candied fruit, baking spices and caramel.
You rarely find peated whiskies this old — that’s what the Benriach team told me in 2021 when discussing their peated 21, 25 and 30-year releases. But they kept going: the Scottish Speyside distillery’s new 40-year-old peated malt Scotch features a whisky aged in a combination of bourbon and port casks. With a list price of $4,500, this one’ll be a hard one to find, but it’s worth it. The whisky is rich with a creamy mouthfeel and notes of cherry, tobacco, chocolate and walnut. The smoke is present but modest.
If the packaging isn’t quite as eye-catching as their last $75,000 collaboration, Bowmore’s latest team-up with Aston Martin certainly offers merit purely on taste (the packaging is pretty nice, though!). This Islay single malt marries two stocks: one distilled in 1997 and aged in American oak hogsheads, the other distilled in 2000 and aged in sherry butts. Caramel, cocoa, tropical fruit and a hint of smoke come together here for a lovely sipper.
The 6 Best Things We Tried at WhiskyFestThe 2023 edition of Whisky Advocate’s annual spirits fete featured a ton of distillery exclusives and up-and-coming brands
There’s a bit of smoke on The Legendary Silkie’s Irish whiskeys, but the focus on the limited-edition Red Silkie (a follow-up to a sold-out release from 2020; only 3,500 bottles are available) is more about the casks. Here, Silkie has been finished in Roja and Ribera red wine casks from the Ribera del Duero wine region, resulting in something equally luscious, fruity, malty and sweet.
Part of this Scotch distillery’s Grand Series — limited-edition single malt bottlings that have undergone experimental cask finishes — this 29-year-old Scotch whisky is finished for six months in oak casks that previously held Awamori, the oldest distilled alcoholic spirit in Japan (it’s distilled from long-grain Indica rice). This is a first for this type of aging, and with the luxury packaging here (bespoke stopper, Hanko stamp embossing, a rotating box with cherry blossom florals), it’s no wonder this expression launched at $1,999. Herbal, fruity, citrusy-y and featuring a warm finish with plenty of oak (but not overpowering), it’s a wonderful sipper and a nice piece of art.
Because we spent two weeks in Australia this year, let’s shout out an Australian whisky. Lark, based in Tasmania, does several excellent single malts. We weren’t able to try their Tasmanian Peated (using local peat), but their flagship Symphony No. 1, a 2023 World Whiskies Awards winner, is a blend of Tasmanian single malt whiskies. It’s full of apricot, peach, toffee, biscuit and a hint of salinity and salt. Though it’s not cheap or easy to get outside its home country, it’s worth a try if you’re traveling.
Celebrating 100 years (with some help from Sofia Coppola and Keanu Reeves, no less), the House of Suntory just debuted this exceptional limited-edition whisky, created by fifth-generation Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. The Yamazaki ($1,800) is a single malt aged exclusively in rare Mizunara oak casks; it’s an exquisite mixture of fruit, cloves and sandalwood with a soft and warm mouthfeel.
This northeastern Scottish distillery has announced The Coastal Series, a collection of four new whiskies matured in different “seaside” casks; the first in the limited series is an expression created with Pineau des Charentes casks. So what happens when a Scotch, which starts out in ex-bourbon barrels, interacts with barrels that once held a lesser-known French aperitif? You get a decidedly sweeter note that balances out the briny and meatier notes of Old Pulteney and also accentuates the undercurrent of butterscotch, orange and vanilla.
From Torahbaig Distillery on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, this double-barrel blended Scotch was aged for 12 years in refill American Oak hogsheads then re-aged in 230-liter barrels that held Oloroso Sherry — and then re-aged again in specially coopered 500-liter European oak butts that were seasoned with Oloroso sherry. In spite of the “heavily peated” label, it has a low peat point here (18.7ppm), and the smoke is pretty delicate on the nose. On the palate, however, the warm campfire notes shine alongside the sweet, fruity flavors and a bit of maritime salinity. At about $70 to $75, this is a steal.
The third Compass Box’s four limited-edition Extinct Blends — homages to retired or “lost” blended Scotch releases — Metropolis takes its inspiration from a recently extinct whisky that was known for its “high malt content and rich honeycomb flavor.” For this one, the Compass Box utilizes barrels from Aberlour, Miltonduff, Bowmore and some parcels of blended Scotch that were matured in sherry butts. You’ll get a nice mix of dried fruit, honey, fudge, apricot and a hint of smoke.
A limited-edition release from the famed Islay distillery, this is a 17-year-old whisky finished in a white Madeira cask and hand-selected by renowned chef Francis Mallmann. Limited to just 276 bottles worldwide, this one maintains the peaty, smoky flavors you’d associate with Laphroaig but adds in a wonderful amount of orange zest and tropical notes, along with a hint of salinity.
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