Are international Whiskies as good as their Scottish, Irish and North American counterparts? Many countries produce Whisky and distribute them all over the world. Take a look at the international Whisky industry with us.
Hundreds of videos have been published on Whisky.de and Whisky.com over the years - and 90% of them are about Scotch Whisky. In the remaining 10% of the videos Ben and Horst Luening mostly deal with Whisky from Ireland, Canada, the USA, or every now and then with a German bottling.
This distribution is no coincidence, because most Whisky in the world is - quite clearly - produced in Scotland. But if asked, where the second largest amount of Whisky is produced, most people might guess Ireland or the USA. However, the second place in this ranking is occupied - hard to believe - by India. Although it is debatable whether these international bottlings are at all Whisky, as we understand it.
Horst Luening has moved out of his 'comfort zone' for once and has also taken on other Whiskies than the well-known and appreciated Single Malts from Scotland. There is, for example, Mekhong Whisky - also called 'The Spirit of Thailand'. Mekong is the name of a river in Asia that flows between Thailand and Laos, among other places. Due to the British colonization in the past, Thailand has also British roots and therefore has learned a lot about the distillation of Whisky. In 1941 the Thai Whisky distillery Mekhong was founded.
How does the Thai Whisky taste?
First of all, some data: Mekhong Whisky has only 35% alcohol and is therefore no Whisky according to European law. European spirit has to contain at least 40% alcohol to be called a Whisky. Mekhong is made from 95% molasses, i.e. syrup that is left over when sugar is extracted from sugar cane. Besides sugar, this molasses also contains starch, which can also be fermented. In addition, Mekhong Whisky is made from 5% rice. The raw material is very similar to rum production, because rum is also made from molasses - or even the production of rice liquor. Additionally, the recipe for Mekhong contains a secret mixture of herbs and spices.
If you look at these data, we believe that Mekhong is per definition no Whisky. Also in terms of taste, Mekhong is less convincing than Whisky; Horst Luening casually describes the distillate as "industrial spirit". After the takeover of the distillery by Thai Beverage Company, Mekhong is now increasingly marketed internationally, was given an English label and is also being distributed in Europe and the USA since 2011. You see: Whisky is on the rise!
Single Malt Whisky from Pakistan?
Very unusual is the combination of Single Malt Whisky and Pakistan. But there is Murree's Brewery in the north-east of Pakistan, which also produces Single Malt. However, this is only allowed to foreigners, as Pakistan is known to be a 'dry' country. The licence to produce Whisky in Pakistan is therefore only granted to non-Pakistanis, which makes the production of 'Murree's Millennium' no easy task.
However, the production description on the outer packaging of the Whisky reads as we are used to from a European perspective: It is made from malted barley and spring water, distilled slowly in traditional Scottish Pot Stills and then aged for at least 12 years in North American, Australian or Spanish oak casks or 'tanks' in the distillery's cellar - where it is cooler than usual in Pakistan. It is bottled at 43% - so Murree's clearly deserves the name Single Malt Whisky in Germany as well. Not without reason the producers equate themselves with the best Scotch Whiskies in terms of quality: "much better than a lesser Scotch Malt" reads the quote from Jim Murray, author of the 'Complete Book of Whisky', on the bottle. Additionally a detailed certificate from Murray is attached to the bottle. It is obvious that the producers of Murree's must show off what they have in order to make up for their locational disadvantage.
These two representatives of the international Whisky industry show that they have a local spirit, but follow different approaches in Whisky production and marketing: Mekhong Whisky redefines the term Whisky, Murree's, on the other hand, orientates itself strongly towards the Scottish role model.
Also an interesting country is India, which is internationally on the upswing with its very high Whisky sales and production figures. In the top 10 of the 2017 best-selling Whiskies are, besides Jonnie Walker (Scotland), Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam (USA), seven products from India. Most of these are Blends of Indian Grain Whiskies and a small amount of imported Scottish Malt. In India, too, molasses, which is left over from sugar production, is used a lot in the production of Whisky. This product is then blended with what we understand to be 'normal' Grain Whisky.
Is this really Whisky?
Or rather, do we have the right to define what Whisky is somewhere in the world? The EU and the USA have legally defined the term Whisky. Why can't Asia come up with their own definition? Are we, as in the past, the colonial power that globally determines what Whisky is and what is not? We Europeans could certainly question that!
This debate is reminiscent of the dispute between Irish and Scottish Whisky producers. It was about the 'right' way to produce Whisky: with Coffey Stills or Pot Stills. With the invention of the continuous still (Coffey Still) in Scotland (by the way, by an Irishman!) Whisky production became easier and cheaper, as no malting is required for this continuous distillation. In Ireland it was concluded that this distillate could no longer be called Whisky. At that time, even a royal commission was summoned to examine whether the distillate from this new type of production could be called Whisky. The commission came to the conclusion that it is indeed Whisky, whereupon people in Ireland were outraged and changed the spelling of the word to Whiskey in 1909, in order to stand out.
Back then, the Royal Commission settled the disagreement across national boundaries. Should the UN now decide whether Mekhong may call itself Whisky? Or is a third spelling of Whisky/Whiskey necessary?
We do not want to judge, so we leave it at these two Whisky bottlings - which are very little known in Europe. You will not find them in our shop; the competition from the excellent Scotch Whiskies in our range is too great. But maybe you will get a chance to try one of the less known bottlings - no matter if they are 'Whiskies' according to our definition.
Our tip: Better try it at the bar first, before you take home a whole bottle!