The term “world whiskies” is a catch all category that is used in spirit competitions to describe whiskies from parts of the world that do not have their own specific category.
The designation includes whiskies from countries that are not traditional producers of whisky or it may include countries where the number of distilleries, or at least the number of entrants, does not merit a separate category. Irish whiskeys, for example, often used to be included in the world whisky category but now, with 39 operating distilleries, has sufficient critical mass to warrant its own category.
In the International Wines & Spirits Competition (IWSC) spirits judging whiskies from Scotland, the United States and Ireland each get their own category. All other whiskies are grouped into the World Whisky category.
The IWSC is an annual wine and spirits competition. Founded in 1969, by Anton Massel, it has grown to become the largest such competition in the world. Spirits are evaluated on a 100-point scale and awards are given out for Gold Outstanding (98-100 points), Gold (95-97 points), Silver (90-94 points) and Bronze (85-89 points).
The competition employs over 250 judges, drawn from all over the world, who evaluate thousands of wines and spirits across 1,500 different categories.
There were a total of eight Gold Outstanding and 20 Gold medals that were handed out in the judging of the World Whisky category at the 2021 International Wines and Spirits Competition.
These winners came from 10 different countries and included whiskies from “traditional” whisky producing countries like Canada and Japan and expressions from non-traditional producers like Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland. Taiwan is not a traditional whisky producing country, but it has emerged as a whisky making powerhouse in recent years.
Taiwan’s Kavalan Distillery dominated the Gold Outstanding category, winning an unprecedented seven of the eight medals awarded. In total, Kavalan won 15 of the 28 Gold or Gold Outstanding medals awarded in the world whisky category at the 2021 IWSC spirits competition. It’s hard to think of any whisky brand who has even come remotely close to a such a dominating performance.
The Kavalan Distillery is located in Yuanshan Township in Yilan County, Taiwan. The distillery was opened in 2005, shortly after the Taiwanese government relinquished its monopoly on the production of alcoholic beverages.
Kavalan produced its first spirit in March 2006, and released its first bottling in December 2008. The distillery first came to prominence in January 2012, when one of its expressions beat out three Scotch whisky expressions in a blind tasting held in Leith Scotland for Burn’s Night. Since then, it has gone on to win dozens of awards for its whisky bottlings. All of its whisky expressions are double distilled single malts.
Traditional whisky production has been centered in countries with temperate climates. Ireland, Canada and Scotland are classic examples, as is the American Midwest – historically the center of American whiskey production.
Taiwan, on the other hand, is largely subtropical with long, hot, humid summers. As a whisky producing region it has more in common with areas of southern Japan, India and Texas than it does with Scotland or Kentucky.
Hot summer temperatures speed up the extraction of color and flavor from the cask wood producing deeply colored, flavorful whiskies. They can also, however, produce whiskies that are unbalanced, lacking the smoothness and texture typical of whiskies that have been aged for longer periods.
Kavalan has done an excellent job of managing its whisky maturation to produce both very flavorful and smooth, balanced whiskies; often by finishing its whiskies in a range of casks that previously held sweet wines. Indeed, these expressions have been among Kavalan’s standouts, and have been consistently judged among the world’s best whiskies.
The Gold Outstanding medal winners from Kavalan included:
Kavalan Distillery, Reserve Peaty Cask, Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 51.6% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Podium Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 46% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Artist Series: Paul Chiang Puncheon Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 57.1% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Artist Series: Paul Chiang Virgin Oak Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 52.4% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Reserve Rum Cask Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 57.8%, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Manzanilla Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 57.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Moscatel Sherry Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 57.1% ABV, 750 ml.
The one exception to the Kavalan juggernaut was The Westfalian, Cask 120 Single Malt Whisky 2016, 5 YO, 51.9% ABV, 750 ml. The Westfalian distillery is a German whisky producer located in Paderborn in eastern North Rhine-Westphalia.
The company describes itself as a “German spirit with a touch of Scotland.” While it follows a Scotch whisky template in the production of its single malt whisky, it also makes a variety of other whiskies that are more inspired by American mash bills.
The distillery has been repeatedly honored as the best whisky distiller in Germany and has garnered many Gold medals for its whiskies. All of its single malt bottlings are single cask bottlings. Many of them have been matured in casks that previously held whiskies produced at some of Scotland’s better-known distilleries.
The Westfalian Cask 120 bottling, for example, was matured in a Sherry butt that previously held Glendronach single malt Scotch whisky. Only 534 bottles were produced.
There was a total of 20 Gold medals awarded in the World Whisky category. Kavalan won eight of those medals for:
Kavalan Distillery, Oloroso Sherry Oak Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 46% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Select No. 2, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 40% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Concertmaster Port Cask Finish Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 40%, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 56.3% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Soloist Port, Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, 57.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Earth Silver Wine Cask Matured, Single Cask, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 57.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Kavalan Distillery, Artist Series: Paul Chiang French Wine Cask, Single Cask Strength, Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 62.6% ABV, 750 ml.
Also from Taiwan, Nantou Distillery took home two Gold medals.
Nantou Distillery, Omar Single Malt Peated Whisky, NAS, 46% ABV, 750 ml.
Nantou Distillery, Omar Single Malt Peated Whisky, Cask Strength – Virgin Oak, NAS, 56.8% ABV, 750 ml.
Japanese whisky producers came in second in the medals sweepstakes, winning five Gold medals.
Eigashima Shuzo, Blended Whisky, Sherry Cask, 100th Anniversary Edition, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml. This is Japan’s smallest and oldest whisky distiller. It has just five employees, and was first licensed in 1919.
Matsui Shuzo, The Kurayoshi Pure Malt Whisky, 18 YO, 50% ABV, 750 ml. The Kurayoshi distillery has only been distilling its own whiskies since 2017. The 18 YO expression is a blend of sourced whiskies, mostly from Scotland. The distillery also won a gold medal for its Matsui Shuzo, The Kurayoshi Pure Malt Whisky, NAS, 43% ABV, 750 ml. The source of this whisky is unclear.
Kumesen Shuzo, Kujira Ryukyu Whisky Old Bourbon Barrel, 24 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml. This is a rice whisky produced in Okinawa. The island has a hot, humid, tropical climate that produces highly flavored whiskies. Kujira features herbal aromas with fruit flavors of prune alongside, licorice, vanilla, chocolate and cinnamon spice.
IND Beverages, Shibui Single Grain Virgin White Oak Cask Whisky, 10 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml.
Australia had three Gold medalists:
Lark Distillery, Chinotto Cask Release Whisky, NAS, 49% ABV, 750 ml.
Mountain Distilling Company, Mountain Whisky, 3 YO, 58% ABV, 750 ml. This is a peated whisky.
Killara Distillery, Tasmanian Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml.
The rest of the Gold medalists went to an eclectic mix of winners.
Golden Blue (South Korea), The Summit Blended Whisky, 20 YO, 36.5% ABV, 750 ml.
Casa Lumbre (Mexico), Abasolo Whisky, 2 YO, 43% ABV, 750 ml. Abasolo is a Mexican whisky that uses a mash bill comprised of ancient varieties of corn. These are traditional varieties that predated the arrival of the Spanish.
Spiritique (France), Amaethon Single Malt Whisky, NAS, 45% ABV, 750 ml.
Rugenbrau (Switzerland), Swiss Mountain Single Malt Whisky, Master Distiller Edition 3, 8 YO, 55.7% ABV, 750 ml.
Beam Suntory, Canadian Club – The Speakeasy, 43 YO, 45% ABV, 750 ml. Distilled in 1977, this whisky, at 43 YO, is the oldest Canadian whisky ever released. It’s part of the Chronicles Series, which has previously released a 40 YO, 41 YO and 42 YO. It’s expected that a 44 YO and 45 YO will also be released sequentially in 2022 and 2023.
Spreewood Distillers (Germany), Smoky Rye Whisky, NAS, 50% ABV, 750 ml. Rye whiskies are becoming increasingly popular in Europe. Spreewood was the first German distillery to produce a rye whisky. It’s located in Brandenburg, in the heart of Germany’s traditional rye grain growing region.
Stauning Whisky (Denmark), Stauning Rye Whisky, 3 YO, 48% ABV, 750 ml is another rye whisky being produced in a traditional rye grain growing region. In this case, the western part of the Jutland peninsula.
World whiskies are in many ways the most dynamic and exciting part of the whisky universe. While many are based on historical templates from whisky producing countries, they are also shaped by their particular climates, local sources of grain, and traditional distilling customs and practices. The result is a new insight into the complexity and variety that whisky can offer.