With the Andes Mountains in the background and Andean Black Corn as the lead grain in the recipe, the Peruvian distillery Don Michael SAC has created the 7th best whiskey in the world and the most awarded dram in South America – Black Whiskey.
If you are a whiskey hunter, and are always willing to try unique expressions, you cannot miss a taste of this Andean Whiskey. Primarily, because it’s the first Andean Whiskey ever produced and commercialized. Secondly, because the main grain is not usual at all – the distillery uses Andean Black Corn to produce the mash. Thirdly, because a whole new whiskey category has been created based on this Peruvian whiskey which is Andean Whiskey. And, finally, because it has already won 12 awards since it was launched in late 2019.
Keep reading the article to learn more about Black Whiskey, the Don Michael distillery and what makes them truly special.
Table of Contents:
- Black Whiskey – A one-of-a-kind Andean Black Corn Whiskey
- Don Michael Distillery – Between Innovation and the Andes Natural Landscape
- Final Thoughts
If one thinks about the different kinds of whiskeys in the world, there are several categories worth representing. Most of them were created to represent a whole country, region, or a different type of production. Contrary to what happened with “Japanese Whisky”, that became too big of a market for not having its own category, Black Whiskey relied on being a true pioneer and, inevitably, the whisky world needed a whole category to differentiate it from the rest. What started as a kind of bourbon whiskey made in Peru, ended up in the category of “Andean Whiskey”.
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Because this Peruvian whiskey expression is unprecedented and its character is so complex, it already is the most awarded whiskey in South America. In total, this Andean Whiskey has won 12 awards and has the 7th place in the Top 100 On-Premise Spirits.
Among other awards Black Whiskey has won:
- Double Gold Medal at the 2021 Bartender Spirits Awards
- Gold Medal at the 2021 USA Spirits Ratings
- Silver Medal at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
- Silver Medal at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
- Platinum at the 2021 Las Vegas Spirits Awards
- Triple Gold – 2021 Micro Spirits Awards
- Double Gold – 2021 San Diego Spirits Awards
These awards already tell you that this is whiskey worth tasting, but it’s not only because of the medals. Black Whiskey has a unique feature that makes it stand out from all the other whiskies – the use of Andean Black Corn as the main cereal in the mash.
Andean Black Corn is one of the fifty-two types of corn one can find in Peru. Despite the other existing ancient grains only one produces a whiskey full of character and complexity like Andean Black Corn.
Also known as Maiz Negro de Junin or Maiz Negro INIA 601, this kind of corn only grows 10.000 feet above the sea level and is less sweet than the usual yellow corn. Besides, it also has a strong connection with south America’s ancient history since Incas used to grow it over 2000 years ago.
Nowadays, the black corn is still used in popular Peruvian dishes and drinks such as Chicha Morada.
To make Black Whiskey out of Andean Black Corn, the Don Michael distillery mixes it with malted wheat and malted barley. It is milled and mashed with another unique ingredient: Glacial Water from the Andes.
Water is key to producing a good whiskey. After the cereals are milled, glacial water that runs directly from the Andes is added to the mix, resulting in a purple mash that comes from the anthocyanins in the corn.
That water, however, needs to be purified before being added to the mix. The Don Michael distillery is placed above the Lurín Aquifer in order to tap into the underground water flow. The water is then filtered to remove any local impurities and then stored for immediate use.
If you know something about whiskey, you might already know that the colour and most of the flavours are provided by the barrels in which a spirit age.
The Don Michael distillery imports new white oak barrels from the USA. These barrels are charred and heavily toasted allowing Black Whiskey absorb the spicy and smoky notes into its body. This Andean Whiskey is then left to age for 3 to 5 years before bottling.
In the last three paragraphs we presented you three different stages that impact positively the character of this Peruvian Whiskey expression. However, there are some other crucial phases:
- Selection of Black Corn and the addition of malted wheat and malted barley to mill.
- Adding the Andean water to the mix so the fermentation to form the mash.
- Once the fermentation of the mash has started, yeast is added resulting in the transformation of sugars into alcohol. During this phase, the mash changes in colour from purple to red.
- The fermented mash is ready for its double distillation process in copper pot stills, and, by the end of this stage, it becomes clear as water.
- The liquid is barrelled at less than 120 proof, which requires a shorter period of maturation, and the addition of less water in the final stage.
- The whiskey is matured in 10,25 and 50-gallon barrels. Due to the temperature fluctuations of Peru, the aging of this Andean Whiskey takes less time than others.
- When fully matured, the Black Whiskey is filtered and then bottled.
The whole production process and the high-quality ingredients Don Michael distillery uses to produce this Andean Whiskey culminate in a state-of-the-art dram, with a complex character and full of flavours and aromas worth discovering.
How it looks
Don Michael describes Black Whiskey as dark amber, caramel and bright.
How it smells
The Andean Whiskey has toasted corn and vanilla aromas and ends with hints of smoke. One can also smell dried apricots and raisins when the spirit breathes a little bit longer.
How it tastes
Black Whiskey has a powerful and complex character with flavour notes of oak, vanilla, and some dried fruits. It is also possible to taste spices, such as cardamom and cinnamon, and coffee. Caramel corn is also present.
When talking about an award-winning whiskey expression, it is impossible not to talk about the distillery and person who created such an unprecedented spirit.
Michael Kuryla is the name behind the Don Michael Distillery and the mastermind that orchestrated how to use Andean Black Corn to make state-of-the-art Peruvian Whiskey. His initial idea was to produce a kind of bourbon whiskey, the reality went further than expected. Black
Whiskey was born, and with it, the category of Andean Whiskey was created.
Being in Peru since the 1950’s, Michael’s father knew the territory well and created his first batch of Peruvian Vodka when he was 16. Although that didn’t last long, the taste for distilled spirits stayed with the family. History leaps forward almost 60 years to the Michael
Kuryla who built the Don Michael distillery in Lurin, Peru. The distillery now produces Whiskey, Rum, Vodka, Cream Liqueur, Gin, and Brandy.
By now it is not necessary to say that Don Michael’s is the only distillery in the world producing whiskey from Andean Black Corn.
To make Black Whiskey, Don Michael uses only the highest quality ingredients, from organic corn to glacial water from the Andes. However, these are not the only factors that make the production process of this distillery quite amazing – their “From Grain to Glass” approach is key to make one of the best whiskies in South America. That means every ingredient is sourced specifically for the distillery and every stage of the process is done at Don Michael’s.
As the production grows, the distillery grows with it and, nowadays, it already has three different production lines – one for testing new products, one to make gin and another to produce Black Whiskey and Andean Vodka. Don Michael’s also has four stills that are busy day and night producing high quality spirits.
The Don Michael Distillery is truly concerned about environmental issues and the impacts a distillery may have. That pushed the distillery to create a series of strategies to have safe sourcing of materials, proper water management and waste disposal. And it doesn’t stop with the sustainability issues, the Peruvian distillery also promotes healthy work environment and benefits for its employees.
The distillery also makes sure that the corn used for Black Whiskey is produced organically and by farmers who truly respect the environment.
Besides these strategies, the Don Michael Distillery has also partnered with the Ulcumano Ecolodge and contributes a percentage of Black Whiskey’s sales to support the conservation and reforestation all over Peru.
It is usual for a spirit this good to receive multiple awards and accolades. What is very unusual, is that a single whiskey expression becomes the kick off for the creation of a new whiskey category. That is exactly what happened with Black Whiskey. Because it is the only whiskey made from Andean Black Corn and because it has such a complex character a new class of whiskey has been recognized by the Peruvian government and the international community: Please Enjoy “Andean Whiskey”.
This spirit is the most awarded whiskey in South America and, inevitably, it elevated the Peruvian and South American spirits production to a higher level.
Although Black Whiskey may not be so easy to find in usual liquor and online stores, you can find it on our next batch of Whisky Tasting Boxes. Sign up here and taste this exclusive expression: https://www.whiskyflavour.com/shop/whisky-subscription-tasting-box/