Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Sigel
On my recent trip to Zurich, I brought back a number of sample bottles of Swiss single malt whiskies to try. First up is Santis Malt Edition Sigel.
Switzerland likely doesn’t leap out to you as a major whisky producer – and that’s because whisky production has only been legal in Switzerland since July 1999. So by definition, much of what they have produced is still quite young. Note that like Scotland, Swiss law requires that a distillate made from malt has to be aged for at least three years in wood barrels before it can be called whisky.
Like with many new malt whisky producers across the world, Appenzeller Säntis Malt (“Swiss Alpine Whisky”) is an offshoot of a brewery (Brauerei Locher). In my travels, I was impressed with the quality of two US malt whisky distilleries that grew out of craft breweries (Copperworks and Westland), and slightly less so with a Belgian one (Gouden Carolus). So I was naturally curious to try these Santis malts.
A signature feature of Santis is their use of old beer barrels for aging, imparting a distinctive character to their malt whisky. Santis has been distilling since 1999, and they are currently one of the largest malt whisky producers in Switzerland. Since 2003, the distillery reports using only locally-sourced barley, grown in Switzerland’s mountain areas. They have won a number of awards, and Jim Murray declared their Edition Dreifaltigkeit his “European Whisky of the Year” in 2010 (my review of that expression is coming soon).
There aren’t a lot of reviews of Swiss whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database, but here is what you will find right now:
Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.93 ± 0.87 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Here is how they compare to some other European malt whisky producers, outside of the UK. Note that most of these are fairly recent whisky producers as well.
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02 (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014 (Sweden): 8.94 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Gouden Carolus Single Malt (Belgium): 8.09 ± 0.17 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan) (Sweden): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky (Sweden): 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol (Sweden): 8.14 ± 0.72 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Midvinter (Sweden): 8.55 ± 0.52 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (Sweden): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak (Netherlands): 7.96 ± 0.65 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask (Netherlands): 8.95 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Primör (Sweden): 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smögen Single Cask (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.15 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus (Sweden): 8.61 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star (Sweden): 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
As a general rule, the Santis malt whiskies are not faring well in this comparison. With the exception of the various premium wine cask-finished Alpstein expressions, the standard Santis expressions are getting relatively low average scores in my Meta-Critic Database, and higher than typical variance across reviewers.
Note that I had not included Santis in my database prior to sampling their whiskies, so I truly tasted these “blind.”
I have started this series of reviews with the Santis Edition Sigel, which is one of the base expressions available from this distiller. Sigel means “Sun” in old German, and is the likely root of the modern siegel (for seal). Edition Sigel is exclusively “matured in small oak beer casks” (with no finishing) and is bottled at 40% ABV. The 50 mL sample bottle from Zurich cost me ~$8.50 CAD.
Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Colour: Light gold, but with a slightly brownish tint (reminding me of beer, naturally enough).
Nose: Light nose, no alcohol burn. Sweet and somewhat fruity, with red (stawberrry) licorice and candy apples – indeed, candied is the best descriptor. Some citrus. Oak with a bit of wood spice, maybe some anise. Tobacco. Almost earthy in a way – but seems oddly faint, almost as if watered-down. There is a strange effect of the beer cask aging, adding a slightly skunky note (like beer that has long since passed its expiration date, or where the bottle seal has failed). Certainly unique, it doesn’t quite seem like a malt whisky.
Palate: Not as fruity as the nose suggested – some pear, with a bit of red licorice. Tobacco. Very sour though. Motor oil? Seems very young, and oddly synthetic tasting. Makes wonder if this is what “Synthehol” on Star Trek – The Next Generation would taste like. Some tongue tingle. That skunkiness from the nose comes back with a vengeance as you swallow – making you wish you hadn’t! This is frankly a bit of a mess, with some definite off-putting notes.
Finish: Short (fortunately). A strong Aspartame-like artificial note, mixed with pear and sour apple. Makes me want to rinse my mouth out with a better whisky immediately (which is exactly what I did, when I was done with this tasting).
I’ll be honest here – I couldn’t finish my standard 1.5 ounce pour of this one. I came back to the rest of the sample bottle a couple of nights later, to see if I had misjudged it. Nope, it was just as bad. And if anything, the nose was even weaker now (which was the best part of this whisky originally, if you could call it that). I’m sorry, but my advice to Santis on this one would be to re-distill it and age it longer, please. Also skip the beer casks, if that is what is producing the unique skunky notes.
Interestingly, I got a very similar candied nose on the Gouden Carolus malt – making me think this is also a consequence of the beer mash or beer cask aging. But that whisky lacked the off-notes present here, so I felt the Meta-Critic average score was justified. In contrast, I wouldn’t score Edition Sigel above the low 7s – putting this whisky in my bottom 5th percentile.
For additional reviews, Jim Murray and Patrick and RV of Quebec Whisky all give it an average score for their respective reviewing ranges. Andre of Quebec Whisky and Dominic of Whisky Advocate give it relatively low scores. The Reddit user cake_my_day gives it one of his lowest scores ever.