Think about the phrase “single malt whisky” for a few seconds. What images does it conjure in your mind? We’re willing to bet the first (and likely only) images you see in your mind’s eye are those of Scotch whisky, right? This would be due to both the prowess of Scottish-made whisky as well as its advertising. But just because single malt whisky is big in Scotland doesn’t mean that’s the only place it’s produced. In fact, search around long enough and you’ll realise some of the best single-malt whiskies come from some quite unexpected lands.
RELATED: Best Scotch Whisky Brands
How Man of Many Chose this List of Best Single Malt Whiskies Not From Scotland
This list of the best single malt whiskies produced outside of Scotland has been collated by Man of Many’s experienced team of drinks writers and reviewers. In addition to tasting every whisky on this list, we also turned to the wider public for their overall ratings. Our list takes into account three major perspectives to determine the overall rating. In addition to our own opinions, we take into account reviews via alcohol retailer Dan Murphys and the Australian drinks forums such as Master of Malt and The Whisky Wash. Each whiusky identified in the list was measured on:
- Flavour profile
- Value for money
Importantly, one defining characteristic for each of the releases on this list is availability. S0, while the Yamazaki 55 might be objective one of the greatest single malts ever released, it’s $1 million+ price tag certainly puts it out of the realm of affordability for most. Similarly, limited releases were also excluded from the listing.
Best Single Malts Not From Scotland: By Country
- Best from Australia: Sullivans Cove Double Cask, Starward Nova
- Best from USA: Westward, Colkegan
- Best from Japan: Yamazaki 12-Year
- Best from India: Paul John Brilliance
- Best from Taiwan: Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique
- Best from Ireland: Connemara 12-Year Peated
- Best from France: Brenne
- Best from Sweden: Mackmyra Svensk Rök
Best Single Malt Whiskies Not From Scotland
Since you’ve likely had your fair share of single-malt Scotch whisky by now, it’s time to broaden your whisky-drinking horizons. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the great single malt whisky from countries besides Scotland. As we mentioned above, there are many great single malt whiskies from countries all over the globe. While nobody would fault you for only drinking Scotch whisky (and you could spend the rest of your days doing so while still continuously enjoying new expressions), why not try something different? Keep scrolling to see all of the noteworthy, flavorful single-malt whiskies from everywhere except Scotland.
1. Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt (Japan)
Release: 12-Year Single Malt
Region: Shimamoto, Osaka Prefecture
When it comes to single malt whiskies not made in Scotland, it’s difficult to top the products made by Yamazaki in Japan. This historic brand is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, having been founded back in 1923. While it has myriad expensive, sought-after expressions, one of its best entry-level bottles is its 12-year. One of the most popular single malt whiskies in Japan, this popular expression is made from a mash bill of 100% malted barley before being aged at least twelve years. This results in a bold, complex whisky with notes of candied orange peel, wintry spices, toasted coconut, vanilla, and cinnamon.
If you’re a fan of Japanese whisky, this release perfectly walks the line between refined and bold, delivering an outstanding level of punch and a subtle sweetness thrown in. While it is on the pricier end of the spectrum, coming in at around AUD$400, it’s well worth the money. The Yamazaki 12-Year single malt has racked up a series of accolades, including a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2013 and 2018, alongside Gold Medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2011 and 2014.
2. Paul John Brilliance Indian Single Malt (India)
Brand: Paul John
Age: Minimum 5-year maturation
In recent years, India has gained a lot of fans in the single-malt whisky world. Brands like Amrut and Paul John are leading the charge. The latter’s Brilliance was first released in 2013. This unpeated whisky gets its 6-row barley from fields at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. It’s matured between three and five years in ex-bourbon barrels in Goa, India. This results in an award-winning, well-balanced, rich, sweet whisky with hints of clover honey, cinnamon sugar, dried fruits, wintry spices, cocoa powder, buttery caramel, and candied orange peels. The finish is sweet, spicy, and pleasingly warming.
The success of drops like Brilliance have shot distillery Paul John into the global eye, with the brand securing the coveted Liquid Gold Award from Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, along with being crowned with the Best Indian Single Malt Award along with the Best Asian Whisky Award. As a producer, Paul John is leading the way for the Indian whisky industry, which is set to explode in the coming years.
3. Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Malt (Taiwan)
Release: Solist Vinho Barrique Single Malt
While Japan has carried the mantle for single malt whisky in Asia for almost 100 years, in the last decade, Taiwan (specifically Kavalan) has begun to make some noise. It began in 2015 when Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique was named the “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” at the prestigious World Whiskies Awards. That notable whisky is still one of the best made by the distillery. This high-proof whisky was matured in American oak barrels that previously held wine. They were re-charged and the spirit was added to them. The result is a fruity, rich whisky with notes of vanilla beans, oaky wood, dried fruits, candied orange peels, and tropical fruit flavours.
For whisky fans, Kavalan has emerged as a cult favourite, with even prominant whisky critic Jim Murray observing that the brand “has that very rare talent for brilliance without apparent effort”. The Solist Vinho Barrique Single Malt is a perfect example of this. The producer works on a slightly different model than most, opting to cut maturation time where possible. Master Blender, Ian Chang has previously stated that he will “almost certainly never” release anything older than ten years, so what winds up in the bottle is young, pure and full of stunning wood expression.
4. Colkegan Single Malt (USA)
Release: Single Malt
Country: United States of America
If you read this whiskey’s name quickly or you don’t take a closer look at the label, you might assume based on the name that it’s an Irish or Scottish whisky. Well, you’d be wrong. This single malt whiskey (note the ‘e’ in the word) is actually from Santa Fe Spirits in New Mexico, USA. While this whiskey is made similarly to peat-smoked single malt Scotch whiskies, its 100% malted barley is mesquite smoked. This creates a smoky, rich, highly memorable single malt with flavours like caramel, vanilla beans, candied orange peels, gentle spices, and rich, bold, mesquite smoke throughout.
According to the distillery, this release also makes use of the a unique barrel ageing process, courtesy of the producer, Sante Fe Spirtis’ high-altitude location. A good 7,000 feet above sea level in the high desert, the distillery utilises a climate-controlled barrel warehouse to maintain an even temperature, as local temperatures range from freezing cold to swelteringly hot, with very low humidity.
5. Connemara 12-Year Peated Single Malt (Ireland)
Release: 12-Year Peated Single Malt
When it comes to smoky, peated single malt whiskies, most drinkers think of the likes of Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Laphroaig. All these distilleries are found on the sheep-filled Inner Hebrides island of Islay. But you can get peat-smoked single malt whiskies from other places and Ireland’s Connemara 12-year is a great example of this. It starts with imported peated-smoked barley that is mashed, fermented, and distilled in Ireland. After a minimum of twelve years spent ageing, the result is a nutty, sweet, smoky whiskey with hints of toasted vanilla beans, candied orange peels, clover honey, light nutmeg, buttery toffee, and robust peaty smoke throughout.
6. Brenne French Single Malt (France)
Release: French Single Malt
France is mostly known for its wine, then cognac, and then vodka. It’s not well-known for its whisky. But brands like Brenne are hoping to change that. This unique single malt whisky is distilled two times in a copper alembic still before being matured for a minimum of six years in both French Limousin Oak barrels and Cognac casks. This 100% organic whisky is proofed using locally sourced water from the nearby Charente river. The final product is loaded with flavours like sticky toffee, sweet vanilla, tropical fruits, cinnamon, and brown sugar.
7. Starward Nova Single Malt (Australia)
Release: Nova Single Malt
While there are many great single malt whiskies made in Australia, there are none as well-known as Melbourne’s Starward. Founded in 2007, this award-winning distillery has a glut of great single-malt whisky options. One of its best is Starward Nova. This 2022 Double Gold medal winner at San Francisco World Spirits Awards known for its balance and complexity was aged in Australian red wine barrels. This results in a fruity, sweet, balanced whisky with hints of ripe berries, vanilla beans, buttery caramel, and baking spices. The finish is a warming combination of sweetness and gentle spice.
8. Westward Single Malt (USA)
Release: Single Malt
This award-winning single malt whisky from Oregon’s Westward Whiskey is the whiskey that started the American single malt bandwagon. Made using locally-sourced malted barley and aged in new, charred American oak barrels, in hot dry summers and cold, wet winters, it’s known for its welcoming nose of toasted vanilla beans, butterscotch and spices as well as its palate of malts, buttery caramel, dried cherries, and wintry spices. The finish is a warming mix of chocolate, fresh leather, and gentle spices. If you only try one American-made single malt whiskey, make it this one. There’s a reason it consistently ranks as one of the best single malts in the US.
9. Mackmyra Svensk Rök Swedish Single Malt (Sweden)
Release: Svensk Rök
By now, you know all about the smokier side of single malt whisky. Mostly, the dynamic distilleries on the Scottish island of Islay and the amazing expressions they’re creating. But there are other places to find smoky single malts, and surprisingly Sweden is one of them. Mackmyra Svensk Rök translated in English to “Swedish Smoke” and that’s exactly what it is. Touted as the only smoky single malt whisky made in the Scandinavian country, this whisky gets its unique flavour from locally-sourced barley and smoked peat from a nearby bog called Karinmossen. It also gets flavour from the addition of juniper, a berry usually used as the base flavour for gin. Other notes include charred oak, tobacco leaves, dried fruits, and herbal spices.
10. Sullivans Cove Double Cask Tasmanian Single Malt (Australia)
Brand: Sullivans Cove
Release: Double Cask Tasmanian Single Malt
While Starward might be the most well-known whisky from Mainland Australia, the most popular whisky from Tasmania is Sullivan’s Cove. Makers of many high-quality, noteworthy single malt whiskies, Sullivan’s Cove has won numerous awards for its Double Cask Tasmanian Single Malt. This non-chill filtered winner of the “Best Australian Single Malt” at the 2018 World Whiskies Awards gets its name from being matured in both French and American oak barrels. The result is a bold, rich, memorable sipper with notes of raisins, dried apricots, sweet caramel, maple candy, and toasted vanilla beans. It’s a sweet, fruity dram you won’t soon forget.
What is Single Malt Whisky?
First, let’s take a little look at what exactly makes a whisky a whisky. In the simplest terms, whisky is a spirit made from distilling fermented mash from grains. In single malts, that’s usually barley, but when talking about all whisky, it can be corn, rye, wheat, and various other grains. Importantly, there are distinctions that separate some drams from others and these can often be attributed to geographical constraints.
Under the United Kingdom’s Scotch Whisky Regulations – The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, these liquids must be made exclusively from malted barley, be distilled using pot stills at a single distillery, and aged for at least three years in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres. Outside of Scotland and the UK, however, there is no definition of the term “single malt” with relation to whisky. In the United States, for example, some American whiskey advertised as “single malt whisky” is produced from malted rye rather than malted barley.
When it comes to single malt whisky, in particular, the Scottish rules are fairly straightforward. In Scotland, in order to be referred to as a single malt, the whisky must be produced with 100% malted barley. It also must be made at only one distillery. There are a few more rules, but those are the basics. In the US, while many of the same Scottish rules are followed, like with the corn content in bourbon or the rye content in rye whiskey, an American single malt only needs to have a mash bill made up of 51% malted barley.
Due to the strict requirements of the production process, the Scotch Whisky Association has confirmed that there are only five recognised whisky producing regions defined in the Scotch Whisky Regulations, each protected in law by UK legislation – the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009. These include Speyside, Islay, Highlands, Lowlands and Campbeltown.
“These are precisely defined geographical areas which have attracted protection because they have long been recognised as the traditional regions of Scotch Whisky production. ‘Speyside’ and ‘Islay’ are also regions within the Highland region and distillers in these areas have a choice which descriptions to use,” the industry body wrote. “These regional names can be used to supplement the category descriptions used for Scotch Whisky on labels, such as ‘Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky’ if all the whisky was distilled there.”
And while Scotland is most known for its single malt whiskies, countries like the United States and Japan have been making their own single malts for a hundred years or more with historic Japanese brands like Yamazaki and Hakushu and American upstarts like Virginia Distillery and Westland leading the way. But they aren’t the only countries producing award-winning, high-quality, notable single malt whiskies. You can find great expressions from countries like Sweden, India, Taiwan, Ireland, France, and even right here in Australia.
For more information of each country’s unique flavour profile, whisky release and brands, check out some of our recent coverage:
- Best Australian Whiskey Brands
- Best Japanese Whisky Brands
- Best Irish Whiskey Brands
- Best Islay Whiskies To Warm You Up
- Best Scotch Whisky Brands
- Best Bourbon Whiskey Brands: Top Shelf to Affordable
What is single malt whisky?
Single malt whisky refers to whisky produced from a single distillery. Under the United Kingdom's Scotch Whisky Regulations, these liquids must be made exclusively from malted barley, be distilled using pot stills at a single distillery, and aged for at least three years in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres.
What is the alcoholic strength of Scotch Whisky?
According to the Scotch Whsiky Association, when distilled Scotch is usually reduced for filling into casks at a strength of 63.5% of alcohol by volume. By law the minimum bottling strength is 40% alcohol by volume.