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The cool young whiskies coming for Scotch’s crown

From a fresh, fragrant Japanese spirit to Swedish producer of single malts, these are the brands pulling ahead in the battle of the bottle

Whisky is big business. As one of Britain’s best, most spirited and celebrated exports, the charms of Scotch are far-reaching. But, up in the Highlands and on the islands of Skye and Islay, Scotch has also laid fiercely fought battlegrounds. Today, even some of the biggest names in the business are on the rocks — thank to young upstarts and pretenders springing up across the globe in a bid to take the crown.

But, while we value tradition — and nobody wants to see Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Glenlivet (or indeed any ‘Glens’) go under — our heads and rocks glasses have been turned in the direction of some of these younger bottlings. So, from an Australian making waves in the Lowlands, to Japanese and Scandinavian-produced whiskies, take a look at the most exciting names in 2020’s whisky business.

Kininvie Works doesn’t work to any commercial deadlines

As a collective of determined free-thinking distillers, Kininvie Works is going against the grain. And aren’t we glad of it? The distillery doesn’t work to any commercial agendas; instead innovating and experimenting to see what excites people and ignites interest.

And you can consider us hooked. Firstly on those pleasingly pared-back bottles, but also in the way Kininvie sets out with a singular ‘objective’ for each of its bottlings. Our favourite so far? KVSG002, which began with the aim of ‘Exploring new flavour profiles by stilling Malted Rye using a traditional Scotch Whisky distillation process.’ It’s the one with the green label — and it’s an absolute treat.

Whisky Works is a boutique blending and small-batch bottling house

One of several brands on this list affiliated to larger whisky firms, The Whisky Works is an independent arm of Whyte & Mackay. But don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security — there will be no middling, mundane bottlings here. No sir. The four Scotch whiskies produced by this boutique blending and small-batch bottling house are some of the most exciting coming out of Scotland today.

Our two picks are above; the deliciously herbal and floral single malt 20-Year-Old Speyside, and the delightfully innovative Quartermaster blend. The latter, a combination of Highland Grain and Speyside Malts, feels particularly fresh, with notes of almonds, rum-steeped peaches, ginger, coffee, and dried fruit. We can’t wait to see what it comes up with next…

Eden Mill can — and does — do it all

Could Eden Mill have any more on its plate? The St Andrews-based brewery and distillery has cast a wide, wide net over the intoxicating world of alcohol production and churns out a selection of gins, whiskies, pre-mixed cans and even beer. But, while we’re also taken by these wider offerings — the Chilli & Ginger Porter is as mind-bending as it sounds — the whisky is what’s really caught our tastebuds.

Above, you can see Eden Mill’s Hip Flask series, poppily-bottled single cask expressions with prevailing notes including Australian Red Wine, Chocolate Malt and Brown Crystal Malt. They’re a joy. But, last year, Eden Mill really stepped it up when it launched the 2019 Release. Incorporating a selection of Oloroso hogshead casks, Pedro Ximenez hogsheads and American bourbon barrels, this is a bottling to make Scotch purists wince and the rest of us smile.

Mackmyra is experimenting with artificial intelligence

Up in Sweden’s Gävleborg County, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, Mackmyra has been confidently and consistently producing whisky for two decades. And the energy of its youth is yet to wane — every year, two seasonal limited editions are launched, usually focusing on unusual finishes. It also produces spins on the classic spirit, from an unmatured ‘raw’ whisky called Vit Hund to a whisky and honey liqueur called Bee.

But the most exciting, envelope-pushing move from Mackmyra (the name derives from the Owlet Moths that used to be native to the Scandinavian region) is its Intelligens bottling, on the right in the picture above. This whisky marks the first time artificial intelligence has been used to augment and automate production of the spirit, altering the recipe depending on existing customer reviews, awards and ratings. The result? An elegant single malt with notes of creamy vanilla and white pepper.

Cù Bòcan is pushing the boundaries of what ‘Scotch’ is

There’s been something of a branding revolution in the whisky world of late. From Glenfiddich and Whyte & Mackay’s sharp new bottles to the Glenlivet’s fresh colour-coded branding, some of the largest Scotch producers in the world are clamouring to blow the cobwebs off their dated designs. And Highland distillery Tomatin has done one better — by breathing new 21st century life into one of its long-dead brands: Cù Bòcan.

The three new experimental single malts from Tomatin exemplify Scotch whisky’s modern push for relevance. They’re embracing the new official — and more lenient — production regulations for the spirit. They’re presented in futuristic, stylish bottles. And they taste very good. Think of the homely, comforting flavours of vanilla, cinnamon, apples and raisins — but wrapped in something exciting, contemporary and cutting-edge.

Pure Scot is giving traditional distilleries a shot in the arm

You’ve likely never heard of the Bladnoch Distillery. One of Scotland’s six remaining Lowland distilleries, Bladnoch is plugging away with its core range — a collection of middling whiskies in well-designed bottles. But we’re more interested in the brand’s push for more modern drinkers. After Australian David Prior bought the distillery in 2015, he decided to introduce a shot of tongue-in-cheek, youthful vigour into the distillery; namely, Pure Scot.

Spicy, smooth and refreshing, this is a whisky with tradition and pedigree behind it. But, rather than being green-bottled and simply labelled, it has been given a boxy, future-proof branding that sees it stand out behind even the busiest bar. And this is just the beginning. If the latest limited edition — a zesty, nutmeggy, American-casked bottling called Virgin Oak 43 — is anything to go buy, Pure Scot is a brand to keep an eye on.

Nikka Days is taking Japanese whisky in a fresh, intoxicating direction

By now, we all know that Japan is a force to be reckoned with in the whisky game. And Nikka, the 86-year-old brand, has been spearheading oriental efforts for almost a century. But, while we’ve respected its bottlings in the past, it’s only recently that we’ve added one to our collection. It’s fresh, it’s bright and it marks a new era in Japan’s bid to become the whisky capital of the world. Introducing Nikka Days.

Brilliantly blended and sunnily packaged, there’s something slightly subversive about Nikka’s new direction. It looks light and breezy, but behind that mustard-yellow packaging, there’s a notable smoky fug to Days. But it works. The subtle heaviness balances out the fruit and malt on the tongue and leaves you with an almost lemony cheesecake taste in your mouth. It sounds strange. It is strange. But it might just be the future.

Still deep in Dry January? Why not take a look at the best non-alcoholic spirit alternatives instead…

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