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Designer Whiskies - Are Continental & Country Specific Flavor Profiles A Thing?

Updated: Mar 5

They are. However, we decided to investigate further.

Whisky brands desined for different global markets

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

It is possible that you have noticed a variation in the taste of whisky when you drink it in different countries. This is not just in your head, but it is because the whisky is designed that way.

Several factors influence the taste of drinks. Surprisingly, the location where you drink a spirit has a significant impact on how it is perceived. For instance, drinking whisky alone at home from a regular cup will taste different from drinking it at a fancy restaurant with friends, where it is served in a tasting glass. Restaurants spend a considerable amount of money to create a particular atmosphere that also affects the price of the drink. The smells and ambience around us always contribute to our tasting experience.

However, if we try to eliminate the environmental factor and focus on the taste itself as much as possible, it still appears that some versions of the same whisky are not identical. We are not suggesting that one type is better than the other, but they are different.

Whether we like it or not, spirit companies categorize consumers based on their region and country, resulting in flavour profiles by continent or country. As a result, different whiskies may be preferred by consumers in different countries.


What is it and why is it done?

Some companies that export their drinks products to different parts of the world practice flavour profiling based on country or continent. They adjust their recipe to cater to the taste of a particular market in order to attract a specific customer base. This method is not only used by the drinks industry, but also by the food industry. For example, the sugar content in American cereals is typically higher than in Scandinavia to ensure the product's popularity.

This approach also applies to the spirits industry, particularly for blended whiskies, if a company wants to make a specific brand successful globally. It would be unwise not to adapt to the tastes of different regions.

Another way to target a market is to create a blend that is only available in a particular region and designed to suit the local taste. Identifying continental and country-specific flavour profiles is also crucial when targeting single malt brands in certain markets. In some cases, consumers' preferences are closely linked to the flavour profiles of the local cuisine.

Whisky flavour wheel

Image by Whisky Magazine

The role of a Master Blender is to adjust a whisky recipe to meet customer preferences. It's worth noting that most blends will change over time as each Master Blender takes over. As a result, a whisky bottled in the 1980s will differ significantly from one bottled in 2020. Additionally, techniques and wood quality have evolved over the years.

To help understand differences in consumer tastes, a very rough flavour profile can be identified for each country. However, it's important to note that these profiles are not concrete and merely serve as a guideline. Furthermore, not all citizens of a particular country will necessarily enjoy the same flavour profile, as taste preferences are subjective.

Country specific flavour preferences for whisky

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The UK is the world's largest producer of whisky and home to many large drinks companies. As such, its palate is often seen as a benchmark for many whisky characteristics.


Popular Whisky Brands by Country

Different blended whiskies and single malts are rated differently across the globe. However, several brands owned by Diageo (Johnnie Walker) and Pernod Ricard (Chivas Regal) are widely available. These large companies invest heavily in customer surveys to ensure product success and to keep their customers engaged and satisfied.

Whiskey enthusiasts worldwide enjoy the sweetness in their drinks, varying from delicate fruitiness to malty notes. Brands that meet these criteria have the potential to thrive.

Sometimes, when a brand has achieved success in multiple markets, the Master Blender has been busy at work. Some brands adhere to their recipe, regardless of the market they are targeting. It is impossible to determine which brand falls into which category, as companies tend to keep these adjustments under wraps. The best approach to verify this is to travel and make the comparison first-hand.

Popular whisky brands per country map

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

We have carefully chosen the whiskies mentioned in this article by comparing the information provided for each country. Our aim is to highlight the popularity of whiskies by region and to understand how tastes differ across the world. It's worth noting that advertising can also influence popularity, but that's a topic for another article.


The UK

The United Kingdom is a great place to test the market for diversity in whisky. Various types of whiskies are available on the shelves without the difficulties of exporting goods overseas. As a result, consumers have a wider range of options to choose from, and whisky drinkers have diverse preferences ranging from those who enjoy smoky flavours to those who prefer more delicate ones.

Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan are some of the top-selling single malts in the UK, while Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker, and Bell's are among the popular blended whiskies. Jack Daniel's and Famous Grouse have been competing for the top spot in whisky sales for years. Jameson and Maker's Mark are also widely popular and easily accessible.

UK best selling whisky brands

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The US

The typical American whiskey drinker favours a sweet taste with hints of caramel and vanilla. Those with a sweet tooth in the US tend to gravitate towards brands such as Glenlivet, Macallan, and Speyburn, which have targeted the American market.

Blended whiskies like Johnnie Walker, Dewar's and Buchanan's have a strong presence in the US, but they face stiff competition from homemade brands like Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam. Surprisingly, the sweet and smooth Canadian whiskey Crown Royal is also quite popular among American consumers.

US best selling whisky brands

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The Swedes are known for their love of smoky whiskies with a briny and complex palate. However, only around 10% of Swedish whisky drinkers enjoy these types of whiskies, while the majority prefer light and soft whiskies that create a contrast.

Some of the best-selling single malts in Sweden include Laphroaig, Talisker, and Glen Grant. At the top of the blends are Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker and Bell's. Jack Daniel's is also extremely popular, along with Jameson and Jim Beam.

Sweden best selling whisky brands

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



India is one of the largest consumers of whisky in the world. They not only produce their own popular whiskies such as Amrut, but they are also the hub of exclusive designer whiskies. Several brands like Imperial Blue and Royal Stag, owned by Pernod Ricard, can only be found in India. Other popular names include Officer's Choice, MacDowell's, Original Choice and Peter Scot.

The Indian flavour profile is characterized by bold, rich, and sweet spice notes. However, many whisky enthusiasts can also find Johnnie Walker and Glenfiddich in their whisky cabinets, provided they can afford them due to the higher cost of imported spirits.

India best selling whisky brands

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Brazil and Venezuela are developing a growing love for whiskies. The Brazilian whisky profile is known for being robust, fruity, and bold. Brazilian consumers are adaptable to single malts such as Glenfiddich, and Diageo's classic malts (Talisker, Lagavulin, Glenkinchie, Cragganmore, Oban, Dalwhinnie), which are widely available. For several years, Teacher's has been the top-selling whisky in Brazil, followed by Chivas Regal and Grand Old Parr blends.

Brazil best selling whisky brands

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Although Japan has a thriving whisky industry, many popular brands are still imported and enjoyed by consumers. Some of the most popular imported brands include Macallan and White Horse, which are highly sought after. Japanese-owned Beam Suntory produces several popular whisky brands, such as Hibiki, Bowmore, Laphroaig, and Jim Beam.

While a smoky whisky may occasionally be enjoyed in Japan, the most popular cocktail is the highball. This cocktail is best enjoyed with a whisky that has sweetness with dried fruits or vanilla and delicate and/or light characteristics.

Japan best selling whisky brands

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Cardhu, Aberlour and Glenfiddich are among the most popular single malt whiskies in France. Despite being one of the busiest whisky-producing countries in the world, France also imports well-known brands such as Jack Daniel's, Jameson and Four Roses.

William Peel, owned by Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits, is a blend that is mainly available in France. Other popular blends, such as Clan Campbell and Label 5, are also favoured by French consumers due to their sweet and easy-to-drink flavour profile that may include hints of dried fruits or fudge. However, some French whisky drinkers also enjoy oaky and young whiskies, showcasing the diversity of taste preferences.

France best selling whisky brands

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In Italy, the taste profile of whiskies is described as 'aperitif' which refers to light, delicate, and fruity sweetness. Among the best-selling single malt whiskies in Italy is Glen Grant, which was purchased by the Italian-owned Campari in 2006 due to its immense popularity.

Other famous whisky brands that are also popular in Italy include Glenmorangie, Macallan, Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker, Ballantine's and Jack Daniel's.

Italy best selling whisky brands

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Have you encountered a whisky that tastes different in another country? Let us know down below or by #thewhiskyardvark #whiskyardvark

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