BOX is a malt whisky distillery that I suspect relatively few of you know – but one I think you will want to. Located in Northern Sweden, Box destilleri has been producing whisky for the better part of a decade. A relatively small producer so far, they make a little over a hundred thousand liters of whisky per annum (so, I suppose you could consider them still a “craft” operation).
They are located in a relatively remote location (their website happily points out that the 63rd parallel goes straight through their property). Given their non-temperature controlled warehouse, this location means that they experience colder overall temperatures – and wider temperature variations – than just about anywhere else in the whisky-making world. This is something they point to as a relative advantage, as they feel the temperature variations “enhances the exchange of flavours between the whisky and the oak vat.”
They are also distinguished by their use of cask management. Like many European producers, the casks they use for whisky maturation are mainly ex-bourbon, made from charred American Virgin Oak (typically 200 L size) and sherry casks (up to 700 L size), in this case previously holding Oloroso sherry. But what is unusual is what they do with some of the barrels – they take first-fill 200 L ex-bourbon barrels and rebuild them into a traditional Swedish size they call “Ankare” (39.25 L).
These small casks have a much greater surface-area-to-volume ratio, thus producing an ‘accelerated aging’ of their spirit. This explains how they are able to get a relatively young product on the market so quickly, given the low temperatures in Northern Sweden. As they say on their website, they “find that this size is ideal as it gives a relatively quick maturation period but isn’t so small that there is a risk the product matures so early that it can’t be called whisky.”
This second release in their The 2nd Step Collection (02) is one of their most recent products, released in Sweden about six months ago. I am not sure if it has started branching out to wider markets, but I know Master of Malt carries it (currently in stock, at the time of this posting). My sample came from Thomas Øhrbom of Whisky Saga.
As an aside, the Box distillery website has the most extensive information I’ve ever seen for each of their releases (right down to fermentation times, still cuts, proportion and age of the casks down to the week, etc, etc.). I won’t repeat everything listed for this expression here, but some key points: This second release is a lightly peated mix of ex-bourbon (48.15%) and sherry casks (51.85%). The main barrels going into the mix include 4.72 year old first-fill sherry (115 L), followed by 4.91 year old sherry cask (250 L originally, later reduced to 55 L casks), 4.73 year old peated whisky (115 L) and 5.16 years old first-fill ex-bourbon (200 L casks). It is neither chill-filtered nor coloured, and bottled at a respectable 51.2% ABV.
There are few reviews of Box whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database at the moment, but here’s a how it compares to a few other Swedish whiskies:
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.92 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.95 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.43 ± 0.62 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol: 8.14 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 9.03 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.75 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.72 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.64 ± 0.37 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smögen Primör: 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Keep in mind these are a relatively low number of reviews, so you should treat the averages as very provisional.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Colour: Golden, with a slightly brown hue, suggesting some sherry casks in the mix
Nose: Apple juice sweetened with brown sugar. Sultanas and raisins (from the sherry casks), with caramel and vanilla (from the bourbon casks). There’s honey too, but more like dried honeycomb than fresh. A bit of cereal. Has an earthy quality, with a bit of old-sweat-sock funk (likely coming from the small amount of peated whisky in the mix). This actually complements the sweetness nicely. A more complex nose than I was expecting for the age, without most of the usual tell-tale signs of youth (I think the peat is helping obscure many of these). Water brings up the sweetness, but doesn’t add anything new. I suggest nosing it neat.
Palate: Fresh pear and apple and dried darker fruits – again, a good mix of sherry and bourbon casks. Vanilla comes through strongly, mixed with that honey note. Quite spicy, with cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Some ethanol heat, as expected for the 51.2% ABV. Slightly oily mouthfeel. A bit of smokiness appears at the end (which is nice). With water, the burn is tamed, and the brown sugar sweetness from the nose re-asserts itself. If you like your whiskies sweet, definitely try adding a bit of water.
Finish: Longish and lingering, with that typical bourbon cask sweetness initially. The fruits turn to a lighter style (think Juicy Fruit gum). The earthiness turns more to peanuts now, with a pronounced nuttiness that persists throughout the finish – very distinctive (makes me wonder if they are using Jim Beam casks?). Some of the spices also linger a long time (surprisingly so, for such a youthful whisky). This is much more of a finish that I would have expected for the age. Water adds a milk chocolate note.
Ok, I would never have guessed that the majority of casks going into this whisky were between 4.7 and 5.2 years old. The complexity on the nose and finish suggests a much longer aging. It seems their cask management and extreme temperature variation is having the desired effect. And I suspect the small amount of peated whisky in the mix is deliberate, to help balance out the flavours (and hide some of the signs of youth).
If I could get it locally or in my travels, I would happily pick up a bottle of this one. My only recommendation to Box would be to increase the level of peated whisky in the mix further – I think it would benefit from a little more smoke. Apparently, the first release (01) was more heavily peated.
While there aren’t many reviews of this whisky online, I think the Meta-Critic average is reasonable (i.e., I personally give it an 8.8). It is a very well done single malt. Check out Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Thomas at Whisky Saga for reviews included in the Meta-Critic. For additional reviews or tasting notes, you can try Whisky Magazine, WhiskyBase and Master of Malt.