Aside from perhaps only Pappy Van Winkle, Japanese whisky has become the most sought-after commodity by many American drinkers. And with good reason: It tends to be consistently delicious, refined, and complex. While some Japanese whiskies remain affordable and available—like the 2018 Whisky of the Year, Nikka From The Barrel—that isn’t true for many bottles. The category’s meteoric rise in the last decade caught Japanese distilleries off-guard, and supplies of mature whisky have become scarce. Thus, all the great age-statement Yamazaki and Hibiki bottles you could have easily found a decade ago have virtually disappeared from shelves.
It’s time to move on—or at least find a few alternatives.
Outside of Japan, not many Asian nations are producing whisky. There are distilleries starting to pop up here and there, and nascent makers in unexpected countries like Indonesia and Bhutan, but few have produced anything for export so far. Instead, if you want the next great Asian whisky, you’ll need to focus on two specific countries: Taiwan and India.
These single malts aren’t getting the buzz (yet) of their Japanese predecessors, but they’re heating up nevertheless; one was even named to the 2017 Top 20. And while the most sought-after Japanese whiskies will cost you a pretty penny, the bottles below are still a great value and showcase the whisky-making and climatic influence of Asia’s subtropical areas.
Not Turning Japanese: Other Whiskies From Asia To Try
Kavalan King Car Conductor—90 points, $100
Taiwanese conglomerate King Car Group owns the eponymous distillery that makes Kavalan whisky. This release is comprised of single malts aged in ex-sherry and bourbon casks, then vatted together. More subtle than the robust, rich, and often sweeter Kavalan bottlings, this whisky leans on a soft banana aroma, with a clean, dry body. Notes of bitter orange, dark chocolate, and pepper are present on the palate.
Kavalan Concertmaster—90 points, $99
Kavalan has quickly become the most famous of the non-Japanese Asian whiskies; the only problem can be figuring out which one of its numerous expressions to pursue. While some are too limited or pricey for many fans to nab, Concertmaster is a reasonably affordable way to start. Matured in American oak and then finished in ruby port casks, the single malt is heavy on dark fruit, loaded with notes of blueberry, cranberry, black currant, and even red apples. A background of spices, black pepper, and fresh ginger keep things from becoming too sweet and fruity.
Amrut Peated—90 points, $80
Beyond Taiwan’s contribution with Kavalan, India offers Asia’s next-best-known non-Japanese whiskies. India surprisingly drinks more “whisky” than any other country, though most of it is a blend of malt- or grain-based whisky with neutral spirit made from sugarcane. The Bengaluru-based Amrut Distillery was the first Indian producer to make single malt for sale outside of the country, and its peated take is especially good. The peat on the nose is less like Islay-style iodine and heavier on smoky and savory aromas. The palate adds tropical fruits like pineapples, tangerines, and limes, making for a quintessential Indian pour.
Paul John Edited—86 points, $64
Amrut isn’t the only Indian distillery making great single malt. This newer brand, distilled in the coastal state of Goa, was launched in 2012 and has quickly gained a following. Edited is a medium-peated bottling, using Indian barley malted with imported Scottish peat, and acts as a good introduction to the country’s developing single malt style. Sweet like dried fruits and a tad smoky, its spice and herbal qualities are its most prominent notes, leaning heavily on cinnamon. Even at cask strength, this whisky’s marked sweetness makes it a very sippable dram.
Rampur Select—93 points, $65
The least-known of the Indian single malt triumvirate, though that is starting to change: This bottle was No. 5 in Whisky Advocate’s 2017 Top 20. The Radico Khaitan Distillery was founded in 1943 in the Himalayan foothills, but it didn’t start releasing single malt until 2016. This flagship whisky is heavy on the chocolate notes, with hints of coffee, dark toffee, and fruits like strawberry and raspberries. The finish is a little spicy, with a kiss of fresh ginger and a lingering bitter cocoa note.