The world of whisky is continuing to evolve, and each passing month brings a new clutch of producers worthy of enthusiasts' attention. Here are some of Whisky Magazine's tips for distillers to watch in 2024.
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A new era has begun at The Balvenie with celebrated malt master David Stewart passing the baton to his protégé Kelsey McKechnie. To mark this occasion, the brand launched A Revelation of Cask and Character, a 19-year-old expression created solely by McKechnie which is the latest release in its Stories Collection. At the ultra-luxury end of the market, The Balvenie has also launched a 60-year-old single malt – selected by McKechnie in honour of Stewart’s six-decade career at the distillery – which is limited to just 71 bottles globally.
With a focus on traditional methods employed by early 20th-century distillers, founders Simon and Phil Thompson established Dornoch in 2017 on the site of a 19th-century fire station located within the grounds of Dornoch Castle. Recently the brothers were granted permission to expand their operation and move to a location at Dornoch South. Concentrating on sustainable production, the new site will be carbon neutral and include a ground-based solar farm which it is hoped will power the entire distillery.
Harking back to production techniques of yesteryear, Dunphail in Speyside was the brainchild of London-based Bimber Distillery owner Dariusz Plazewski. The distillery began production in October 2023 with an emphasis on traditional methods; the site has its own floor maltings and kiln, there’s a focus on long fermentations, and the stills are direct fired rather than steam heated. Both peated and unpeated new make will be produced with most of the spirit being matured in refill casks.
Following the purchase of GlenAllachie by a Billy Walker-led consortium from Pernod Ricard in 2017, the distillery has rapidly gone from blending workhorse to recognised single malt brand. An extensive core range, experimental wine cask finishes, a plethora of single cask offerings, and a dedicated peated whisky brand have placed GlenAllachie at the forefront of every Speyside whisky lover’s mind. A recent £600,000 investment means the visitor centre now boasts a fully stocked whisky bar and tasting lounge.
Arguably Scotland’s oldest licensed distillery, The Glenturret has reimagined itself in recent years following its acquisition by the Lalique Group in 2019. The in-distillery Lalique Restaurant was awarded a Michelin star just seven months after opening, the brand’s core range was completely overhauled, and numerous limited editions have been released including the Manager’s Dram series, the 617 Squadron bottling, and a collaborative bottling with car manufacturer Jaguar to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the legendary E-Type.
Glenrothes-based InchDairnie Distillery started spirit production in 2015, but only released its first whisky this year: RyeLaw single grain whisky, created using Scottish-grown rye. In the last few months InchDairnie has started ‘pot still’ whisky production (taking inspiration from the legally protected Irish style) utilising a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley with a small proportion of rye. Once mature, it will become part of the distillery’s experimental PrinLaws Collection showcasing different yeasts, cereals, and oaks, which is set to launch in 2027.
7. Isle of Harris
Established in 2015 as a community-centred project, the Isle of Harris Distillery in the Outer Hebrides is the first-ever licensed distillery on the island. Built to help stem the long-term decline of the island’s population and support the local economy, the self-styled ‘social distillery’ has gone from an original team of 10 to more than 50 permanent employees. The first seven batches of its inaugural release, The Hearach, were launched earlier this year and epitomise the culture of the island – and strong demand so far sets a good precedent for future Isle of Harris releases.
8. Port Ellen
After closing its doors in 1983, many thought this revered and iconic Islay distillery was lost forever. However, in 2017 Diageo announced a £35 million investment to revive Port Ellen (in addition to Brora in the Highlands, another casualty of the distillery closures of the 1980s), with production due to recommence imminently. As well as producing the distillery’s ‘traditional’ spirit style, there will be a smaller pair of pot stills allowing for the creation of a variety of experimental whiskies.
9. Port of Leith
Launched in October of this year, the Port of Leith Distillery on the outskirts of Edinburgh is Scotland’s first ‘vertical’ distillery standing at eight and half storeys tall. Built upwards out of necessity due to the compact plot it occupies in the capital, milling and mashing take place half-way up the building, cascading down to distillation at the bottom. It also boasts a top-floor mezzanine bar which offers 360º views of Leith and the Firth of Forth.
The first legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay was opened in 2017 by R&B Distillers, with its signature single malt launching in 2021. The whisky is composed of both peated and unpeated spirit which have been matured separately in either ex-rye whisky casks, virgin chinquapin oak casks, or Bordeaux red wine casks. A selection of single cask bottlings followed, and the Raasay site will soon be joined by a sister farm distillery at Machrihanish in Campbeltown.
The ‘Pearl of Speyside’ was purchased by Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh’s Elixir Distillers last year following the sale of The Whisky Exchange to Pernod Ricard. Despite being situated on a well-trodden route into Speyside, whisky from this distillery is currently somewhat of a hidden gem. This is something Elixir Distillers is keen to remedy with a full range of expressions due to launch in tandem with a complete refurbishment of the distillery which will include a new visitor centre.
USA and Canada
12. Castle & Key
Castle & Key Distillery is located within the same buildings of Colonel E. H. Taylor Jr’s original Kentucky distillery, built in 1887. Like many distilleries, it closed during Prohibition and gradually fell into disrepair. Then, in 2014, a team led by lawyer Will Arvin purchased the buildings and brought distilling back to the historic location. The aptly named Restoration Rye Whiskey was its first release, followed by a small-batch straight bourbon, the first bourbon to be distilled at the site in more than 50 years.
13. Frey Ranch
Based on a 165-year-old 1,500-acre family-owned farm in western Nevada, Frey Ranch is the complete embodiment of the grain-to-glass ethos. All the grain used in the creation of its whiskies is grown and malted on site, every drop of spirit is matured in its warehouses, and every bottle is filled and labelled on the farm. After building its own in-house smoker, the distillery has also launched a peated whisky using its own peat created from decomposed farm plant matter.
14. New York Distilling Company
Established in the heart of the trendy Williamsburg neighbourhood in Brooklyn in 2011, the New York Distilling Company was co-founded by Tom Potter, formerly of Brooklyn Brewery, and spirits expert Allen Katz. The distillery proudly uses rye cereal grown only in the state of New York for its flagship Ragtime Rye whisky, while it has combined rock candy, cinnamon, and sour cherry to create a ready-made bottled cocktail in the form of Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye.
15. Shelter Point
Located on farmland on the picturesque eastern coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Shelter Point Distillery was established in 2011 by third-generation farmer Patrick Evans. With a self-proclaimed ‘farmpreneur’ vision, where farming, nature, humans, and commerce can harmoniously co-exist, the distillery sits on 360 acres of land. More than 200 acres of this is used for growing barley which goes into creating Shelter Point’s signature expressions: Ripple Rock, Montfort, Evans Family Reserve, and Smoke Point.
16. Two Brewers
Established by (you guessed it) two brewers – Alan Hansen and Bob Baxter – as a brewery in 1997, the duo moved into the world of Canadian whisky in 2009. Based in Whitehorse, Yukon, its whisky is released in small batches, with the goal of no two batches ever nosing or tasting the same. To achieve this, the pair tweak the mash bill, fermentation times, or cask make-up to achieve new flavours.
17. Virginia Distilling Company
The passion project of Irish immigrant Dr George G. Moore, the Virginia Distilling Company was created in 2011 and is now run by his wife and son. Its flagship American single malt, Courage & Conviction, is matured in ex-sherry, ex-bourbon, and ex-cuvée wine casks, and named after a phrase the late George often uttered: “Have the courage of your convictions.” Single cask expressions have followed and expertly showcase the depth of flavour to be found in the American single malt category.
As a founding member of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, which is pushing for the category to be formalised, Westland has been at the heart of the American single malt movement since it launched in 2010. The Seattle-based distillery has a flagship single malt along with its annual limited-edition Outpost Range. Over the years it has gained global recognition for the quality of its whiskies, which harness the character of its Pacific Northwest home. Remy Cointreau had seemingly noted its potential when it acquired the distillery in 2017.
Founded by Peter Mulryan, Blackwater Distillery takes its name from the river upon whose banks it is situated in County Waterford. The distillery commenced production in 2018 and produces spirit inspired by heritage mash bills. Indeed, the first four expressions of the distillery’s Dirtgrain Irish whisky, collectively called the Manifesto Release, were created using mash bills from the 19th and early 20th centuries. This adherence to bygone practices has garnered Blackwater a lot of attention while also challenging the definition of Irish pot still whiskey.
20. Roe & Co
The launch of the Roe & Co Distillery in Dublin’s Liberties district in 2019 marked the final chapter in reviving the legacy of George Roe & Co, a pioneer in Irish whiskey’s 19th-century golden age. From a company which once operated the largest distillery in Ireland, Roe & Co seemed consigned to history when it closed in 1926. However, the brand was reborn in 2017, and the new site is producing single pot still whiskey and double- and triple-distilled single malt once again.
21. Kanosuke, Japan
Established in 2018 in the Kagoshima prefecture on Kyushu, the most southern of Japan’s four islands, Kanosuke Distillery is very much a newcomer to the now-established Japanese whisky scene. That said, its reputation has climbed rapidly following the launch of its first single malt in 2021 to widespread acclaim, which is created using a proportion of peated malt from Scotland and has used combinations of ex-shochu casks, ex-sherry casks, ex-bourbon barrels, and American white oak casks in maturation.
22. Karuizawa, Japan
It’s been more than 20 years since the original, legendary Karuizawa Distillery closed, but two Japanese companies are ensuring the Karuizawa name will continue for future generations. The Karuizawa Distillery Co. and specialist retailer dekantā have come together to build a distillery in the town of Karuizawa itself, with all spirit being matured in sherry casks to mimic its predecessor. The new distillery started production in December 2022 and will mature and bottle all casks on-site, as well as offering casks for private sale.
Rest of the World
23. Archie Rose, Australia
Archie Rose became the first independent distillery to open in Sydney, Australia in more than 160 years when it was founded in 2014 by Will Edwards. In 2015, spirit production commenced and the Archie Rose bar located next door to the distillery opened to the public. After outgrowing its original site in Rosebery, a new distillery was built in Botany in 2020 incorporating a mash filter in place of a mash tun to enhance flavour extraction from the variety of malts used.
24. Indri, Piccadily Distilleries, India
Piccadily Distilleries was formally set up in 1967 in the Haryana region of India and is the largest producer of malt spirits in the country. The distillery produces Indri single malt whisky, which adheres to sustainable distilling practices. It is created from traditional Indian six-row barley and matured in a combination of ex-French wine, ex-Pedro Ximénez sherry, and ex-bourbon casks. Indri’s recent peated Diwali Collector’s Edition 2023 won international acclaim, putting Piccadily Distilleries firmly on the global whisky map.
25. Kyrö, Finland
The idea for Kyrö Distillery was born in 2012 when five Finnish friends were drinking rye whisky together in a sauna and discussing the lack of rye distilleries in their home country. After visiting several microdistilleries around Europe to build their knowledge base, they secured a disused dairy building on the outskirts of the town of Isokyrö. From there, Kyrö Distillery was established and in 2020 it released its first rye whisky, made with 100 per cent Finnish malted rye. In 2023, it unveiled a new core range of whiskies that includes peat-smoked, wood-smoked, and sherry cask-matured expressions.