Tag Archives: Swedish

Box Whisky – Festival 2016

The latest Festival bottling from Box distillery – a relatively young “craft” malt whisky distillery from Northern Sweden that I recently introduced in my Box 2nd Step Collection 02 review.  Check out that review for more information about this distillery, including their interesting approach to cask management.

Box has organized an annual whisky festival for the last ten years, with a distinctive festival-only bottling since 2014. As I understand it from their website, these bottlings are true limited editions that can only be acquired by actually visiting the festival. The Festival editions are meant to showcase the character and quality of the distillery – but at the same time, provide a unique bottling that stands out in some way. My sample of the most recent Festival bottling comes from Thomas Øhrbom of Whisky Saga.

As usual, the Box website has a full breakdown of the cask and whisky mix that went into this 2016 Festival edition. Scroll down that page to see the 2016 specs (in Swedish only at the moment – it seems the English-language website version hasn’t caught up to this 2016 edition).  But to summarize, this is an unpeated 5 year old whisky. The total production run produced 1012 official 50 cL bottles, with an additional 385 “non-official” bottles used at the festival for tastings. Bottled at 53.9% ABV.

The most interesting thing to me is that it was initially matured in 200 L ex-bourbon barrels, then finished for 7 months in heavily charred 40 L virgin Swedish oak casks (having undergone medium toasting before charring). It’s not often one gets to sample something matured in Swedish oak around here (outside of a small proportion of Mackmyra’s malt whisky mix).

I don’t have enough reviews of this edition to include in my Meta-Critic Database, but here are how some other Swedish whiskies do:

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 ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Obviously this Festival-specific bottling is not something you will be able to obtain now, but I thought you might find my tasting notes interesting – as an example of what to expect from this distinctive Swedish oak finishing.

Colour: Reddish golden hue

Nose: Sweet red fruits – plums, currants, and cherries. Chocolate, cinnamon, and chilli peppers. Leather and toasted oak. Quite a sweet and spicy nose – I’m getting a lot of virgin wood notes, almost bourbon-like in fact (i.e., a medium-aged wheater). A confectionery note I can’t quite place – something you would eat on a fairground. No off notes really, despite the young age.

Palate: Holy cow, what a liquid confection – a melted caramilk bar!  Sweet, oily and rich. Tons of butterscotch, caramel and chocolate. Turns more malty towards the end (liquefied Malted Milk bar?). Cinnamon, pepper and dried chilli notes return after the initial blast of sweet nougat. I would not have guessed this was 53.9% ABV – surprisingly easy to drink neat.

Finish: Medium short.  The sweet notes dominate initially, but then some oaky bitterness creeps in. Also a bit astringent (drying) in the mouth. Cinnamon and chilli spiciness lasts until the end.

Not as much going on as the 2nd Step Collection 02 (i.e., not as complex) – but still a fabulous dessert whisky. Water doesn’t change much on the nose, but oddly seems to increase the heat in the mouth (?).

It is a wild ride – I don’t know if all this spiciness is coming the small cask Swedish oak, but it is not like anything I’ve had before. Probably the closest thing in my experience would be a mix of W.L. Weller 12 yo and some of the 66 Gilead products in Canada (like Crimson Rye, although with a lot more chocolate and less cinnamon here).

A hard one to score, I would probably give it a slightly above average rating for its distinctiveness (and surprising maturity, despite the young stated age). So, I would say an 8.6 on my typical Database scale of 10.

You aren’t going to find many reviews of this one online, but you can check out Thomas of Whisky Saga. Whiskybase also has a few scores.

Box Whisky – The 2nd Step Collection 02

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.

 

 

Mackmyra The First Edition

The First Edition (or Första Utgåvan) was the first major release by Mackmyra, an independent distillery in Sweden. Although a number of additional expressions have been released in recent years, the First Edition is still widely available around the world (including here at the LCBO in Canada).

It is distinguished by the use of Swedish oak for a proportion of the casks used for aging, resulting in 5.4% of the final make. Indeed, I note on the Mackmyra website that this expression has recently been re-labeled as Mackmyra “Swedish Oak” (Svensk Ek). But the specs seem otherwise the same as the original First Edition, so I suspect this is mainly a re-branding exercise. As an aside, I can see that highlighting the use of Swedish oak may be more impressive to the typical whisky consumer – but since the relatively low percentage of Swedish oak casks hasn’t changed, it may also be a little misleading.

Mackmyra uses a range of cask sizes for this whisky, and my bottle specifies that 46% of the make comes from quarter casks (100L). The use of smaller casks is a way to “accelerate” the aging of a young spirit, as explained on my source of whisky flavour page. You commonly see this practice with new distilleries, while they wait for the standard size casks to mature at the typical rate. It is bottled at an impressive 46.1% ABV.

I note that it is labeled as being non chill-filtered, with no additives (i.e., no artificial colouring or flavouring). Both statements are believable, as it has a light and bright yellow colour, and I can see small dark particulates floating in my bottle (which I suspect are just barrel char).

I must say, I like this level of label specificity on both the bottle and the outside packaging box.  It is great to know what you are getting ahead of time. I also personally like the funky modern design aesthetic to the packaging – but as always, it is what’s inside the bottle that counts.

Let’s see what the Whisky Database meta-critic scores have to say for some of the recent Mackmyra expressions available locally:

Mackmyra The First Edition: 8.78 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews
Mackmyra Special 08: 8.38 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews

The average meta-critic score of 8.78 for the First Edition is very impressive for a young whisky with a relatively light flavour profile (i.e., not peated or wine cask-aged). Coupled with a very low typical price world-wide, this makes the Mackmyra First Edition one of the best deals in the GH flavour super-cluster.

I bought this bottle at the LCBO for $67 CAD – which seems like an excellent deal. Availability is limited, however.

Here’s what I notice in the glass:

Nose: Some vanilla sweetness, and lighter-color fruits (i.e., pears, plums, crisp apples). A bright herbal quality, with fresh pine or juniper – definitely something coniferous. Citrus. A faint touch of something smokey, but it’s hard to place. I get black licorice as well (i.e., a sweet anise aroma).

Palate: Now this is interesting – I get a very prominent tip-of-tongue tingle within seconds of the first sip. This characteristic is sometimes referred to as “peppery” by other reviewers, and I find it to be relatively rare outside of smokey whiskies. I don’t get much smoke here – but like on the nose, there is something lurking in the background. Definitely herbaceous, with the conifers turning more toward eucalyptus and menthol. Otherwise, the main characteristics are light sweetness – with a touch of honey, caramel and marshmallow. I get the same fruits as the nose, maybe a touch of berry as well.  And the black licorice is unmistakable now. Mouthfeel is very smooth, I would almost say creamy.

Finish: A clean finish, with no untoward notes emerging. Given the complexity of the palate, you always risk unpleasant surprises as the different characteristics fade out at various rates – but no problem here. The fruity notes do tend to disappear before the herbal ones, though.

I can see why this whisky is so highly ranked in this flavour cluster. Although it has many of the typical light and sweet “aperitif-style” flavours you’d expect (e.g., honey), it also has a surprising depth of complexity. The peppery and herbaceous/coniferous notes in particular are interesting. They make it somewhat “woody” without being “earthy”, if you get my meaning.

Mackmyra.FirstIn any case, if these later notes are not your cup of tea, you can try adding a bit of water to the whisky. I find this tends to subdue some of the spicier notes, and brings up the sweet fruity aspects. I like it fine neat, but at 46.1% ABV, you definitely have room to play with water.

As an aside, I am beginning to wonder if the presumed younger age may have something to do with the peppery “tongue-tingle.” This is something that I have also found quite prominent on the original Stalk & Barrel Canadian whisky (11+1), by Still Waters. That was a very young whisky (indeed, 1/11th of it was new make that couldn’t legally be called whisky on its own at the time of release). While not as complex as the Mackmyra First Edition, it did share a common youthful vibrancy.

For more opinions on the Mackmyra First Edition, I recommend you check out Ralfy’s informative video review, as well as the full team at Quebec Whisky. Thomas at Whisky Saga has a good review of the new “Svensk Ek” edition of this whisky.