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A world in motion

By Dominic Roskrow

Snobbery is rife in whisky, and there are many that will tell you that beyond the big five - Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada and Japan - the chance of finding a decent dram is all but non existent.

Take the view of one of Germany's most respected whisky writers, for instance. There is no such thing as a decent German whisky, he storms. Germans make fruit liqueurs, he insists. The Scots, Americans, and Irish make whisky.

Snobbery is rife in whisky... beyond the big five there's no chance of decent dram!

But world whisky makers in Germany and beyond are proving the likes of our German friend and his ilk wrong. In fact European, Asian and Australian whisky makers are not only turning the number of new whisky bottlings from a ripple to a stream, but they're starting to pick up awards and are knocking at the door of whisky's premier league.

So why is this happening now?

Firstly, there's nothing new about world whisky. Pretty much anywhere you find farming and the production of grain you'll find distilled spirits. Much of it is matured in oak, and much of it stretches back centuries. Look closely at genever in The Netherlands and Belgium and you'll find a very close cousin to whisky. Many of the American whiskey pioneers came from Dutch and German backgrounds and brought their distilling skills to new grains. Irish, Scottish and Welsh migrants, leaving their homelands for a mix of economic, political and religious reasons, took their alcohol producing skills to the furthest extremes of the planet. If there's whisky in Canada, why not Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America?

And indeed there is. It's just the whisky world didn't talk about it very much. Why would it? The big five produced enough world class spirit to keep the connoisseurs happy and for their part whisky producers in Auckland, Adelaide and Austria tended to produce small volumes of whisky to serve local markets and had neither the time or inclination to seek markets further afield or to try and compete with the recognized big boys. But that's all changing. As whisky drinkers become more knowledgeable and seek out spirits with a strong story to tell and a demonstrable provenance and heritage, they're looking beyond the traditional producers. With world demand for whisky growing every year as emerging markets discover the drink, whisky producers across the planet are looking to take advantage. And it's not just a matter of quantity, either, it's also one of quality. Now several distilleries are responding with world class boutique whiskies.

What makes the future so exciting is that world whiskies are proving that they can bring new flavours to whisky. Peat, the product of local flora and fauna, is totally different in Tasmania to the type found in Scotland. Swedish oak is distinctly different to that of the great oak forests of Missouri. Furthermore, the assumption that emerging nations will naturally adopt a Scottish template is not necessarily correct. Why shouldn't Tasmania produce a bourbon style or Irish style whiskey? And indeed it is.

Add to the mix different climates, humidity and heat levels and you're staring at a potential whisky revolution. So far the amount of new world whisky making its way in to mature markets is limited. But the tip of an iceberg is clearly visible now, and the likes of Sullivan's Cove, Lark and Bakery Hill in Australia, Three Ships in South Africa, Amrut in India, Mackmyra in Sweden and now Kavalan in Taiwan are at the vanguard of a movement which includes French, German, Belgian, Austrian, Finnish, Dutch and Swiss, English and Welsh distilleries.

A few of the whiskies are causing cynics to reassess their position. For most, though, the prejudices remain. For now. But we've seen whisky's future and it's multinational. I'm proud to be playing a part in driving the new world whisky sector forward. After all, isn't variety the spice of life?