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Are regional styles of whiskey the next big thing?

Are regional styles of whiskey the next big thing?

Exciting new developments are happening in the whiskey world. Distilleries are dotting the map from coast to coast in the United States with every state having at least one distillery. And now more regions across the world are getting in on the act. Whiskey is commonplace in Scotland and Japan, but now regional styles are cropping up in France, Germany, India and even Australia and Mexico. Will whiskey become more like the wine world where individual styles are influenced by the region they originate? Only time will tell but these regional styles might become the next big thing in whiskey land.

Regional styles of whiskey are emerging

The very first record of whiskey production dates all the way back to 1494 in an area of Scotland. It’s no surprise, then, that most historians consider Scotland to be the region where whisky (local spelling) first originated and then all other styles to be iterations off the original. While most of the regional styles are a cut from the same Scotch cloth, in other places innovations are emerging. Distillers in France, for example, are experimenting with Cognac and eaux de vie to produce a distinct style (with additional substyles) of French whiskey. More of the same is happening in Germany and Austria. As regional styles emerge, the desire is for whiskey makers to put a stamp on the spirit that is a unique nod to its unique heritage. These are a couple of areas that are following this pattern well.     

First dedicated whiskey distillery pops up in Mexico

Mexican whiskey has held its own as a small but developing spirits category for years, with a focus on using heirloom Mexican corn. And while a few labels have led the way for Mexican whiskey, Abasolo is a new distiller with a goal to make this regional style a category all on its own. Abasolo has been at work during the last seven years creating a new type of whiskey and owners hope the process by which it is made will change the perception of what Mexican whiskey is and can be.

Abasolo crafts their whiskey using non-GMO red Cacahuazintle corn, that is sourced directly from three local farms. The corn then goes through nixtamalization, a 4,000-year-old process that opens up the corn, bringing its flavors to the fore, especially in the absence of a longer aging process. Cesar Sandoval, National Ambassador for Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky tells Thrillist that It's part of what makes the whiskey uniquely Mexican, even though it's a company active in both the US and Mexico.   

"We started with corn. We wanted to encapsulate the alma de la tierra, but we also wanted to capture la alma de mais, the soul of corn," Sandoval says. “It makes for a unique whiskey. It's new, so the variety of age expressions aren't available yet, but they're coming. They wanted this spirit to be a true expression of the regional corn.” 

Australian whiskey strives to stand out

The oldest distillery in Australia was founded in 1992 and in the past 25 years, the region has officially arrived on the world whiskey scene. In 2014, Australian whiskey Sullivans Cove catapulted into whiskey greatness when it won the award for World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards. It was the first time a whiskey outside of Scotland or Japan had earned the title. During that time the most well-known Australian spirits came from the island of Tasmania, which had nine distilleries in 2014 but since has grown to more than 30 operational distilleries. Because of a boom in popularity for domestic consumption, producers there struggle to meet the demand and can’t yet consider looking at export markets. 

And now producers are spreading across the mainland because of the interest in the spirit and the success of craft distillers in Tasmania. Archie Rose is a craft distiller in Sydney that was founded in 2015, marking the first distillery there in more than 160 years. The founder, Will Edwards, says he opened the distillery after talking with pioneers in Tasmania and continues to use unique methods to build the brand.

“Across the board, I think Australian drinkers are very supportive of distilled spirits from Australia, which is great to see,” Edwards tells Liquor.com. “We have not yet released an aged whiskey; however, we are nearing a point at which we can. But the innovative production, focus on provenance and focus on quality has built a good deal of anticipation for our first release.”  

That support for the regional style of whiskey continues to pave the way for more craft distillers. More than 120 distilleries are currently listed in Australia, with many others launching soon. “The industry in general is in a big period of growth and experimentation,” says Edwards. “I think over the next few years it’ll settle down and we’ll hopefully see the best new products thrive and survive. As the industry matures, we’ll see quality and consistency improve across the board, and we’ll probably see more commercial-scale production with more serious investment, too.” 

RackHouse Whiskey Club sources craft whiskey from within the United States, but we continue to champion spirits from all over the world. If you want in on the action and to become a member of this exclusive whiskey club, check out RackHouse. We scour the U.S. looking for the best distilleries with the most interesting stories to curate a unique subscription box filled with full-sized bottles of hard-to-find small batch whiskey. We’re building a community of premium craft whiskey drinkers and you’re invited. Join us!