We're all obsessed with lists and awards, so I thought I'd just go right ahead and add to the hysteria. Let me assure you, though, I worked damn hard on this list, carefully balancing equal parts thinking and drinking.
It doubles as a round-the-world trip through Scotland, Ireland, the US, Japan, the Netherlands, and even India, and shows that amazing whisky is now being produced in all of these countries. It will also reveal some cracking whiskies from places you're probably familiar with, but which you might not have come across.
These products are overlooked for a variety of reasons, many of which I'll explain. None of these whiskies are overly expensive – the prices range from $48–130. Some of them will be trickier to source than others, while the majority are available at major retailers, specialist stores or online.
All of these whiskies are delicious, if I do say so myself. Please feel free to agree, disagree or add other underrated beauties of your own choosing in the comments below.
1. Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Kentucky, US
This is the second most-consumed Kentucky straight bourbon in the world. However, it's not as well known Down Under, which is odd, as Australians consume more American whiskey per capita than any other country on earth (mostly out of a can). I first tried it in Louisville, Kentucky, where it's as much of a staple as Jim Beam is here. But it offers much more complexity than Beam, with cherries, vanilla and a creamy leatheriness. It's not the best bourbon on the market, but as bourbon authorities Chuck Cowdery and Gary Regan attest, it's a splendid all-rounder, especially at under $50. Great for cocktails or sipping.
2. Amrut Fusion Single Malt – Bangalore, India
India's surging economic growth and optimism has whisky producers scrambling to get their products in front of India's burgeoning middle class. Strangely enough, malt whisky producers in India have been slow to do the same, preferring to target more traditional overseas markets. The Amrut Distillery has followed this path, and this release represents a literal fusion between the old and the new. Seventy five per cent of the malted barley used to produce this whisky was grown locally in India, while 25 per cent was sourced from Scotland. The Scottish malt was peated and adds a delicate smokiness to an already rich, full-bodied experience.
3. Bakery Hill Peated Malt – Melbourne, Australia
I've witnessed and performed numerous blind tastings with the Bakery Hill Peated Malt against Scottish whiskies of a similar ilk and it regularly holds its own, and often comes up trumps. One of Australia's older distilleries, it was established by David Baker in 1998 and is a very consistent performer. The peated malt is imported from Scotland, and gives this expression a toasty earthiness which is balanced nicely by honey and malt.
4. Compass Box Great King Street – London, England
If you have reservations about blended whiskies, the blends that Compass Box put together will change your mind. Since 2000 they've been purchasing casks from Scottish distilleries and creating some of the tastiest malt, grain and blended whiskies around. This particular bottling is great for anyone who enjoys a lighter style. You'll find vanilla, berries, biscuits and a lovely creamy finish.
5. Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky – Scotland/France
Scotland produces some of the best spirit in the world, and Europe produces the best barrels. Michel Couvreur whisky takes this philosophy to its logical end and matures spirit from Scotland in dark, dank Burgundian caves in east-central France. This particular release is a blend of malts aged between 12 and 27 years that have been matured in barrels that have previously held Pedro Ximenez, a sweet style of Spanish sherry from the Jerez region. It's got a winey, chewy character with a hint of tobacco, fruit, spice, and tons of other stuff.
6. Miyagikyo 12-Year-Old Single Malt – Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
One of the lesser known Japanese distilleries, Miyagikyo produces an elegant, fudgy style of whisky that rewards you with layers of complexity. The distillery was established in 1969, and has always been compared to the fruity and delicate Speyside whiskies from Scotland. One drawback is that it can be difficult to source. So we all need to write to Miyagikyo and ask if Australia can have some more, please.
7. Crazy Uncle Moonshine – Perth, Western Australia
I'm breaking the rules here, because this spirit from the Whipper Snapper Distillery isn't technically whiskey. But what could be more intriguing than tracing the evolution of this already tasty spirit from birth to maturation? Once Crazy Uncle Moonshine has spent a few more years residing in American oak barrels, this East Perth distillery will give Australia's bourbon obsessives something to pine for – an American-style whiskey made from Australian ingredients.
8. Caol Ila 12-Year-Old Single Malt – Islay, Scotland
This workhouse distillery is a lesser known Islay malt and an important component in Johnnie Walker blends - Black and the Double Black, in particular. When visiting last year I was told that Caol Ila wasn't continuously bottled as a single malt until as recently as 2002, when consumers around the world began to take a real liking to the peaty stuff. The distillery now releases a range of peated and non-peated whiskies, and is notable for striking a startling balance between fruity, floral, iodine, bacon and seaweed characters.
9. Zuidam Distillers Millstone 100 Rye Whisky – Baarle Nassau, The Netherlands
You encounter all sorts of problems when making whisky solely from rye grain. Thankfully, the talented Dutch folk at Zuidam Distillers know their stuff, and have patiently crafted this 10-year-old, 100 per cent rye whisky for us to savour. It gives you spice and chocolate and just when you think one element is going to stick out, everything harmonises beautifully. Worth seeking out if rye whiskey's your bag.
10. Connemara 12-Year-Old Peated Single Malt – Cooley, Co. Louth, Ireland
Irish whiskey is on the rise and the Cooley Distillery has been essential to the growth of the category. John Teeling founded the distillery in 1987 when only two other distilleries were operating in Ireland – Midleton (Jameson) and Bushmills. Yes, the Irish make peated whisky, and yes they make single malt. The Connemara is one of the best examples, and is such a complete drop: it smells like spring, it's creamy, and there are pears and an integrated smoky character that adds serious depth and intrigue.
Have you tried any of these? Do you have other lesser-known whiskies to recommend?