Campbeltown’s first in more than 180 years, Japan’s bright new star, and an emerging giant in New Zealand. Here’s five whisky distilleries we have our eye on this year.
New releases, spades going into the ground, and more new make spirit than you can shake a stick at. Yes, it’s the beginning of a new year, typically a period where we’re giddy about the distilleries that will come to life in 2023. Except, after so many years now of new names and inaugural bottlings, it’s easy to get fresh face fatigue. Just being new isn’t going to cut the cake any longer, so the below distilleries aren’t simply here because they have new whisky to show off or construction to commence, but because we’re confident each will prove to be standouts in their category for a long time.
Retribution Distilling, Somerset, England
Small-batch, high-flavour spirits are at the core of Retribution, which makes rum and gin as well as whisky. The latter is currently maturing, but we’ve tasted an array of new make and it’s bonkers how good it is already. Local ingredients are used where possible and all mashing, fermenting, distillation (direct-fired stills made to specification), and maturation occur on-site to ensure the spirits have a sense of place that is rooted in the Somerset countryside. In 2023, the brand will fill around 30 casks split between whisky and rum production, and over the coming years, Retribution will be experimenting with a variety of grains, including darker malts (kilned and roasted), yeast, and cask types. There are even plans to build a malt kiln to produce Somerset peated malt. Seriously exciting stuff.
Boann Distillery, Drogheda, Republic of Ireland
Irish whiskey is exploding with potential and there are new projects popping up all over the place, so standing out from the crowd is both essential and easier said than done. Boann has been doing that from the start, however, with the family business boasting a multi-award-winning new make as well as heading up projects like reviving historic Irish whiskey mash bills with leading whiskey historian, Fionnán O’Connor. The distillery has just unveiled its inaugural single pot still bottling, distilled in three custom handmade copper pot stills and aged in a variety of casks like Armagnac, Bordeaux, chardonnay, Marsala, Moscatel, Pedro Ximénez, rum, and Sauternes. There’s more to come in 2023 of the first whiskey made in Drogheda in 160 years. We think it will be worth the wait.
Scapegrace, Central Otago, New Zealand
The New Zealand whisky category is slowly but surely gaining a foothold thanks to the likes of Cardrona, but a new plan from Scapegrace Distilling Company is about to take things up a notch. The award-winning producer has announced the arrival of a new £13m, 36-hectare distillery, the largest in New Zealand, which will make vodka, gin, and single malt whisky. The first phase opened in August 2022 and the whole project will be finished in October of this year, but we already have whisky to enjoy which Henry reviewed recently. Early signs are very promising and we’re looking forward to seeing what’s to come.
Machrihanish Distillery, Campbeltown, Scotland
Machrihanish Distillery won’t be releasing whisky you can taste for a few years, but we’ve included it in this list because it will break ground in 2023. This is great because we’re talking about a new distillery in Campbeltown, which hasn’t had a totally brand-new distillery (not just a revival) in more than 180 years. Even better, with Dál Riata, two are coming at once. Machrihanish will be based on Dhurrie Farm on the Kintyre peninsula, with £10 to £15 million being spent to develop a ‘farm-to-bottle’ distillery and visitor centre with an initial production output of 400,000-litres a year. It ticks a lot of boxes, with talk of a sustainable net-zero distilling process, biological farming practices, and aims to create greater biodiversity on the farmland, as well as employment opportunities. But what makes us think this is a sure thing is the steady hand of backers R&B Distillers, who are founding the distillery after recently demonstrating its chops for the task with the excellent Isle of Raasay Distillery. Machrihanish is in good hands.
Shizuoka Distillery, Shizuoka, Japan
With Japan experiencing its own boom of distillery openings over the last few years, few have got the heart racing like the one you’ll find high in the mountains of Shizuoka. Founded in 2017 by Gaia Flow (importer of brands like Mackmyra and Asta Morris), Shizuoka Distillery boasts an approach to using 100% Japanese ingredients in its whisky and equipment from the legendary Karuizawa, including three stills (although only one was in shape to be used, the other two are for display) and its old English malt mill. After a wave of new make bottlings, the distillery has been steadily releasing its first cohort of whisky over the last couple of years with some standout features, such as whisky made exclusively with Japanese barley or peated expressions like the beautifully presented World Symphony Series. The hype is such that the private cask program is oversubscribed, the prices are steep, and the bottles end up on the secondary market a lot of the time. But that’s a consequence of the demand for Japanese whisky and Shizuoka has been hitting the most important mark of creating whisky of high quality already. As this distillery begins to release more and more over the coming years, access will improve and more people will be able to see what all the fuss is about.