When I was in Switzerland last year, I managed to try a number of local single malt whiskies. Whisky production is a relatively new thing there (having only been legally allowed since 1999), and most of the early producers were already long-established brewers. I’ve seen this pattern before in a number of countries, as there are a lot of similarities in brewing beer and distilling malt whisky.
While most of the young whiskies I tried were fairly mediocre (and one was absolutely dreadful), the best of the bunch was Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt. Produced by the brewer Rugenbräu, this no-age-statement (NAS) malt whisky is aged in American oak ex-Sherry casks (presumably refill casks, given the relatively light colour). This is a step up from many of the other brewer/distillers, who tend re-use beer barrels (something I personally find rarely benefits a malt whisky).
I would have passed this unassuming whisky by, in favour of a few limited age-stated releases of other makers – until a knowledgeable bartender directed me to try it. He explained that Jim McEwan, previous Master Distiller and owner of Bruichladdich, was so impressed with the production of Rugenbräu that he immediately decided to become a patron and advisor to the distillery. Indeed, it is his personal tasting notes that adorn the backs of all their bottlings.
Bottled at 46% ABV. This Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt was awarded a Silver medal at the 2017 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London. MSRP is 81 Swiss Francs (about ~$106 CAD) for a 700mL bottle.
Here is how it compares to other Swiss and central European malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Gouden Carolus Single Malt: 8.27 ± 0.36 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.74 ± 0.64 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.96 ± 0.63 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Alpstein (all editions): 8.58 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Santis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.14 ± 1.66 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.80 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Santis Edition Säntis: 7.55 ± 0.83 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.65 ± 0.40 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Nose: Hmmm, that’s different. There’s something very vegetal at play here. Mushrooms? The earthy funkiness reminds me of a lightly peated whisky (but I’m not getting any smoke). Leather. some Oloroso notes coming through, including some golden sultanas and raisins. I’m detecting a bit of acetone at the end, but it’s pretty well hidden under the funk. I like it.
Palate: A relatively light palate, almost watery. Bourbony wood notes come up first – vanilla, caramel. Not much fruit, mainly prunes and a light berry. A bit candied as well (candy canes). Oloroso notes come back at end, with some cocoa. A bit of cinnamon, and some tobacco. Not overwhelming, but no real off notes either. A fairly subtle experience – but pleasant.
Finish: Short. Mildly sweet. The cocoa turns more to chocolate now, and includes some bitter dark chocolate notes. Again, no real off notes.
Easy drinking, I could see this doing well as a standard, everyday sort of pour.
Jim Murray is a big fan of this whisky. It gets an average score from Jonny of Whisky Advocate. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from cake_my_day on Reddit. I would give it an average score overall, and so find the Meta-Critic composite score reasonable. I’d be curious to try more from this distillery.