Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask 7/2011

Smögen is an example of the new breed of “craft” whisky distillers setting up operations in Sweden. Established in 2009 by a young couple in the coastal region of Bohuslän, it is of course only recently that their whiskies have become available for sale (well, “available” is a relative term – available for those in-the-know in that part of the world).

BOX distillery (which I recently reviewed several whiskies from) is another Swedish craft distiller that has produced enough to start supplying some international markets (i.e., I’ve spotted them recently in Switzerland, and are even starting to show up here Canada). Smögen currently only has capacity for about 35,000 litres per year. So it will be some time before these show up more widely, I expect.

Check out their website for more info on their whiskies (Swedish-only at present). Thanks to Chrome’s auto-translate feature, I know that their focus is on whiskies that will be “powerful, smoky and of great character”, focusing on “quality in small batches, with full manual manufacturing and direct monitoring.”

While I’m generally not a fan of young whiskies, I was very impressed with what BOX has managed to do in a similar amount of time. I suspect part of the reason for this is the “accelerated aging” that comes from using smaller barrels (and in some cases re-constituted quarters casks or smaller), along with more extreme local temperature fluctuations.

I received a couple of samples of Smögen whisky from Whisky Saga’s Thomas Øhrbom is a swap earlier this year.

First up is a Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask, laid down in 2011 (#7/2011). Bottled at cask strength of 57.3% ABV. This 4 year old Smögen whisky was fully matured in a first-fill Sauternes barrique cask. Sauternes is a French sweet wine made from white grapes of the Bordeaux region. Barriques (also known as Bordeaux barrels) are relatively tall and have a capacity of 225 litres.

The Smögen website has lots of info on this bottling. The malt batch for this barrel was based on the Optic barley strain, dried to at least 45 ppm phenol content. The whisky was distilled on March 11, 2011, and bottled on March 28th, 2015.  It was released in August of 2015, with limited Nordic/UK distribution (and immediately sold out). The total out-turn was 429 bottles of 500 mL size (so, not a lot of share for the Angels here!).

There aren’t many reviews of Smögen whiskies in my database, but here’s what I have so far (including for this single cask), relative to some other Swedish whiskies:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (various casks): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.82 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.85 ± 0.13 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Single Cask 4yo 7/2011: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Urania: 8.55 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)

As an aside, all the information above was compiled after I did my tasting of the Smogen whisky samples. I didn’t even know Smogen used peated malt until after I opened the bottle (i.e., I like to approach these tastings blind).

Here is what I find the glass:

Nose: Sweet peat with a slight medicinal twist. Wood smoke. Main fruits are dark-skinned plums and grapes, plus some tropical “green” notes (papaya in particular). Very woody, but with dried spruce, juniper and other conifers in addition to the usual oak. Menthol, camphor. Reminds me of some Mackmyra expressions (i.e., very Swedish presentation, especially of the oak). Salt and pepper, with some exotic spices (miso?). Mild off notes, reminiscent of Islays (i.e., a bit funky). It is clear that this is a heavily peated whisky that has spent time in a concentrated sweet wine cask.

Palate: Very honeyed sweetness in the mouth. Honey is really the overwhelming initial characteristic (must be from the sauternes casks). This is followed by rich caramel and peat (producing an almost burnt caramel taste, thanks to the smoke). Those dark-skinned plums and grapes show up next. Chocolate. Traditional wood spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Anise. Pepper with a touch of chilli powder. Very luxurious mouthfeel, almost syrupy at 57.3%. But you can surprisingly still easily drink this one neat. A bit of bitterness creeps it after a few sips, but it is mild. Impressive presentation, lots going on here.

Finish: Long, with the woody characteristics coming back and lingering. A mix of chocolate and caramel, with the wood smoke there to round out.  Quite pleasant.

With water, the fragrant conifer notes are enhanced on the nose (frankly, it becomes a bit too woody, if you ask me). In the mouth, water doesn’t have much of an effect on the flavours, but it does lighten the mouthfeel. On the finish, it seems to enhance the burnt caramel. As a result, I recommend you drink this one neat for best effect. If do you try adding any water, go very sparingly.

An old trick I learned once is to hold a mouthful of water and then take a sip of whisky (all without swallowing). This tends to reveal the most dominant note, as the whisky immediately dilutes and warms in your mouth. In this case, honey was the key characteristic that I found here, followed by the peat. Goes to show you how a cask can dominate a distillate, even in a fairly young peated whisky.

A real in your face, balls-to-the-wall kind of whisky, with a few rough edges – but still very enjoyable. Not exactly an everyday sipper, but a great experience – and one that has me curious to try other Smogen whiskies.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun are both extremely positive on this single cask whisky. Thomas of Whisky Saga is more moderate in his score. My own assessment is somewhere in the middle of these three. Worth seeking out any of their single casks, if you get the chance.

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