Archive for the ‘European whiskies’ Category

From the Land of Fire and Ice

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

author-eric-strandIf you want to know what makes a whiskey a bourbon, you can look it up. Scotch? Look it up. Canadian? Look that up.

What about Icelandic whisky? Well, if you’re Egill and Hali Thorkelsson, two brothers from Iceland, you have to make it up. Being the first producer of whisky in Iceland gives them the crare opportunity to define a whole new category of national whisky. Founded in 2009, the Eimverk Distillery has set out to do just that.

Being first offers many advantages, but it also brings with it some specific challenges. Iceland has no malting facilities, no proven yeast strains, no native mash bills. While understandably tight-lipped about their yeast sourcing, they are eager to talk about their mash bill. One of their main goals was to produce a traditional-ingredient spirit, and they use 100% Icelandic-grown barley. A hardy, dense grain, the cold climate concentrates the nutrients and flavors into a smaller package than warmer climate varieties. Another major challenge is that Iceland is, according to Egill, a vodka and schnapps nation. Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city and capitol, has just one whisky bar.

Hali and Egill Thorkelsson

Hali and Egill Thorkelsson

A tour of the distillery shows that this is definitely a labor of love. From the repurposed milk chillers to the custom-made still (named Elizabeth, after their grandmother), the whole operation takes place in a space the size of a large garage. They store their barrels off-site in the Icelandic countryside. They currently run at about 30,000 liters per year with the capacity to double that. Every third week the process is shifted to make a batch of gin, again using only locally grown ingredients. When asked how they learned to make whisky, they both laugh, “YouTube!”

They do, however, have years of experience home brewing their own beer, and just as importantly, they have the Icelandic spirit of adventure. It is appropriate that their single malt expression will bear the name of one of the island’s first explorers, Hrafna-Flóki (Floki of the Ravens); Flóki to his friends.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

At this point, it might be tempting to wonder about their ability to be a serious entrant into the whisky marketplace. It might be instructive to note that their gin, Vor (Icelandic for spring), recently won “Double Gold” at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year. It’s more tempting to think they may be on to something, Iceland being perhaps the best place for such a micro-distillery. “How many micros in the US can have a bottle in every store in the nation?” Egill asks.

Careful not to rely too much on the instructive merits of YouTube, their niece, Eva, is finalizing professional training in Scotland. Formal training can only get you so far, however. The rest comes from a lot of trial and error, or as Egill calls it, “playing.” Experimenting with over 160 recipes, the process was to “taste a lot of whisky, get a lot of opinions, and make a lot of mistakes.”

So sometime in 2017, the first bottle of Icelandic single malt whisky, “Flóki,” will hit the shelves. Their standard expression will be a 3 year old aged in bourbon barrels that is “not complex, with a few key ingredients to make it very drinkable.” It will also be organic and eco-friendly. All their power is geothermal, and the only pesticide used is a little thing they like to call “winter.”

Sara at the Dillon Whiskey Bar with a cask of Floki

Sara at the Dillon Whiskey Bar with a cask of Flóki

But what about the defining of a unique, Icelandic expression? “I like smoked,” Egill admits, and Iceland has plenty of native peat. He notes that traditional Icelandic methods of smoking usually are, er…dung-related. This might be one area where he’s willing to deviate from traditional practices, but he rules nothing out. The normally straightforward master distiller becomes ambiguous when pressed for more details, but hints that something might be bottled before the single malt is introduced.

For the curious, adventurous, or just plain impatient world traveler, you can try some slighty-aged Flóki (1-12 months in virgin oak, medium plus char) from their pre-release 4.5 liter mini-casks at Dillon Whiskey Bar in Reykjavik.

Finnish whisky (not a whisky finish)

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author - Ian BuxtonOne of the very great pleasures associated with this ‘job’ of mine is finding new whiskies—good ones—in some very unexpected places, made by interesting and engaging people. But I would never have expected to find an exciting new distillery in a small provincial town in the east of Finland. As it turned out, “new” was a misnomer because the fine folk at Teerenpeli have been making their whisky since 2003. Only now they are ready to share it with us.

With a logo that looks suspiciously like a grouse, production that they freely admit was inspired by Highland Park, stills built by Forsyths, and the plant commissioned with the help of William Meikle (formerly manager at Glen Ord) you might expect to find Teerenpeli in a Scottish glen somewhere.

But no, it’s in the basement of a restaurant on the main street of Lahti, a quiet city of around 100,000 some 60 miles north-east of Helsinki. A pleasant train ride of about an hour will get you there from Finland’s capital, and it’s well worth making the trip.

Owner Anssi Pyysing began by brewing beer in a micro-brewery in 1995 but has long been interested in whisky. First he imported casks of it from Scotland, which were finished in Finland and then bottled. Demand and interest grew and in 2002 he took the first steps to creating the distillery, one of the very first micro plants constructed by Forsyths of Rothes.

052038_MG_4672On a trip to Scotland he had met William Meikle, who encouraged him to believe that distilling was not only possible but could be done well. By 2003, Teerenpeli was in production. But they didn’t tell anyone except a few locals, and the very small quantities of whisky they sold and bottled were in effect test products, only available in Pyysing’s restaurants and a bar he owns in Lahti. So, outside of a very small group, no one knew.

The plant is relatively straightforward. A mash tun of 350 kilos capacity feeds a single pair of stills with the wash still holding 1,500 liters and the spirit still a modest 900 liters per charge. At full capacity, Teerenpeli could theoretically produce around 15,000 liters of spirit annually. Fortunately for the distillery, Lahti is a major center for malting and from the start the distillery has used locally-sourced Finnish malt, currently peated to a modest 7 ppm of phenols.

Early output was modest and, as befits a patient and painstaking self-made man, Pyysing was in no hurry to release the spirit before he was entirely happy that it was ready. After all, as he says, though they “needed something warming in the winter” his goal was to produce a whisky that was “inspired by Highland Park but with a taste of its own: truly Finnish whisky.”

2013 saw the release of Kaski, a 6 year old expression which has been exclusively matured in specially-coopered small sherry casks. There are also plans to experiment with some more heavily peated malt to achieve smokier notes in the whisky. Limited quantities of a delicious 8 year old are also available.

I’m told that Teerenpeli means “flirtation” or “dalliance” in English. Well, there is nothing flirtatious about this whisky: it is serious, well-made, and an inspiration to other craft distillers.063070_MG_4517

In fact, significant expansion is now underway. Pyysing’s brewery business continues to prosper and the brewery is being enlarged. That will make available space to install a new still room within the brewing complex, increasing spirit production tenfold to around 150,000 liters annually. The original distillery in the restaurant will continue to produce and the new stills at the brewery will be modeled as exact copies of the originals. The order for equipment has been placed and, before long, the stills will start to take shape at Forsyths.

The expansion means that Teerenpeli will start to look at expanding its international marketing efforts over the new few years, looking for distributors in Russia, a number of European markets, and possibly the U.S. A U.S. launch might even begin in Upper Michigan, where a good number of inhabitants can trace Finnish ancestry; plans remain to be decided. It will always be a premium, niche product but, because of Pyysing’s patience and long-term view, I feel sure that the quality will be maintained.

Highland Park may have been the inspiration but this pioneering Nordic spirit is rapidly making its own way and, once better known, seems set fair to occupy a distinguished place in world distilling. Enthusiasts will have to make room for another distilling country, but one which can hold its head up in distinguished company.

Whisky Advocate’s Fall Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

John HansellHere is your sneak preview of Whisky Advocate’s fall issue Buying Guide: the top 10 whiskies reviewed. We begin with #10 and end with the highest rated whiskey.Few Rye

#10: Few Rye, 46.5%, $60

Solid, chunky bottle with idiosyncratic whiskey inside. Straightforward rye crisps out of the glass in no-nonsense style; dry grain, sweet grass, and light but insistent anise almost wholly drown out the barrel character. The mouth is as dry and spicy-medicinal as the nose hints at, laying down character like a winning hand: rye SNAP! heat SNAP! light tarragon SNAP! oak SNAP! and a warm wrap-up finish SNAP! Full house, flavors over sensations. Clean and interesting. Nicely played.—Lew Bryson

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 89
Special09_SV_frilagd_cmyk_300dpi

#9: Mackmyra Special No. 9, 46.1%, $90

Mackmyra continues to play a far more sophisticated game than it is given credit for, releasing pleasant and easy drinking mainstream malts, and then packing a punch with one-off oddball single casks. So this is an utter delight and among the very best Mackmyras released. Vanilla, banana, sweet jellybeans, and some toffee all playing Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde pops up with earthy salt notes. Medical gauze and pepper for a savory finale.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#8: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, 45%, $30

An elegant bourbon, and very drinkable too! Its flavors are clean and tight, with bright fruit (nectarine, tangerine, pineapple), soft coconut, honeyed vanilla, cotton candy, and subtle gin botanicals. Polished leather and a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. Great anytime. (Exclusive to Capital City Package.)John HansellGlen Grant 5 Decades

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#7: Glen Grant Five Decades, 46%, £115

Created by Dennis Malcolm to celebrate his half century at Glen Grant, this uses casks from each of his five decades. Pale it may be, but this is no dainty little thing. There’s lots of buttery oak before classic Glen Grant lift and energy emerge: green apple, fruit blossom, William pear, and yellow fruits; lemon butter icing and nettles with water. The palate is vibrant and energetic, but holds to the middle of the tongue. A suitably celebratory dram. Congratulations!—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#6: Caol Ila Feis Ile Bottling 2013, 56.5%, £99

Although aged in refill, then active hoggies, and finally sherry, there’s more smoke than oak here, a smoke like the aroma of a fire clinging to a tweed jacket. A note akin to wilting spinach gives way to more conventional strawberries and cream, but always mixed with seashore breezes. This is Caol Ila in deep and bold mood with green fig, banana, and a sweet center. Water gives greater integration. You might (just) be able to get this. Do it. (distillery only)Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91
ArdbogBottle&Pack_WB

#5: Ardbeg Ardbog, 52.1%, $100

The follow-up to last year’s Ardbeg Day, here’s the cult distillery in its funkiest guise with a nose that’s reminiscent (I’d imagine) of a frontier trading post: all pitch, furs, and gun oil. Some mint hangs around in the background alongside eucalyptus. This is an earthy, in-your-face Ardbeg with a hint of box-fresh sneakers indicating some youthfulness. The mouth is thick and chewy: wild mint, oily depths, and the slightly manic energy typical of Ardbeg’s young years.—Dave Broom
Nienty 20yr
Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#4: Ninety 20 year old, 45%, C$48

Tucked away in the small Alberta town of High River, Highwood distillers has made large volumes of Canadian whisky and dozens of other distilled beverages since 1974. Undaunted by recent flooding and with more than three decades of aging whisky on hand, the owners recently decided to emphasize premium whiskies. Ninety, the latest of these, is simply gorgeous. Crispy clean oak, dark fruit, butterscotch, corncobs, and nutmeg precede candy cane, sour fruits, cinnamon, ginger, and citrus pith. (Canada only)—Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#3: Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013 bottling (distilled 1995), 51%, £99

Though quiet to start, the impression is of a fog of smoke, balled up within a dunnage warehouse, ready to erupt to add itself to the cool spearmint and oxidized nuttiness. The palate is where it shows its class: mature, slowly unfolding and layered, with Latakia tobacco, menthol, nori, white pepper, pear, and a massive, tarry Bohea Souchong tea element on the finish. Everything from Lagavulin is touched with gold at the moment. Try to find a bottle. (distillery only)Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#2: The Exclusive Malts (distilled at Laphroaig) Cask #10866 22 year old 1990, 47.1%, $250

Clean and complex, showing a matured, somewhat restrained personality for Laphroaig: less medicinal, but more rounded. Tar, pencil shavings, anise, honeyed citrus, Spanish olive brine, and a hint of seaweed and white pepper on a bed of creamy vanilla, caramel, and light nougat. Lingering, satisfying finish. Frustrated by a dearth of 20-plus year old distillery-bottled Laphroaigs? Look no further. Delicious!—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92
Four Roses/ 070

#1: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel, 60%, $90

Thirteen years old, but it shows its age nicely. It’s peppered with complex dried spice notes (mint, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla), yet it also has interwoven sweet notes (maple syrup, caramel, honey) to keep the whiskey from being too dry. Hints of dark chocolate and berried fruit add complexity. Dry, spicy, tobacco and leather-tinged finish. Great complexity!—JH

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

 

 

Coming in May: daily whisky reviews

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The Summer issue of Malt Advocate will be out June 1st. (It will be our 20th Anniversary issue!) In it, we have a record number of whisky reviews too: almost 90! Nearly all are new releases.

I’m going to share with you a sampling of these reviews before they are published in Malt Advocate. (It’s my way of saying “thank you” for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in here.) I’ll post up at least one new review every day for the entire month (including weekends).

Stay tuned…

New whiskies heading to the U.S.

Friday, March 11th, 2011

For all of my United States readers, I thought you might like to know that there’s a bunch of new whiskies heading our way. I listed them below.

(I apologize in advance for not knowing the answers to the questions you are going to ask, like: When is it coming? Where will it be available? How much is it going to cost? With any luck, the importers will chime in here.)

For those of you coming to WhiskyFest Chicago in April, some of these whiskies will be poured there. You can find the complete WhiskyFest list here.

The new whiskies

Armorik Breton whisky (from Brittany)

Lark (from Tasmania): Single Cask, Cask Strength, Distillers Selection Single Cask

Samaroli (from Scotland): a bunch of them!

Tomatin “Decades”

Glen Garioch 1991 Vintage (extra smoky!)

Ardmore 10 year old Cask Strength

Glenmorangie Pride 1981 Vintage

Bruichladdich: “Laddie Classic”, Port Charlotte “An Turas Mor”

Michael Collins 10 year old Irish single malt

Plus something new from Dalmore (shhh!)

Guest Review: World Whisky – France

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Glann ar Mor NAS, 46%, £55
French whisky encompasses a wide range of approaches and flavors, from the hugely aromatic P&M from Corsica to the understated Alsace whiskies of Elsass, Meyer’s, and Uberbach. There is a trio of whiskies from Brittany. Guy le Lat’s Eddu uses buckwheat to create a whisky that out-ryes rye. Distilerie Warengheim makes the most widely-seen whisky, Amorik. But for this writer the one to watch is Glann ar Mor (‘by the sea’), established in 2005 by Jean Donnay. A traditionalist approach: direct fire, wooden washbacks, wild yeast, and worm tubs yield a single malt whisky that, though barely over the 3 year legal limit, is already complex: think barley sugar and apricot. The fire and the worms give the mid-palate some real weight (boding well for longer-term maturation), but the slow distillation has added floral notes that dance on top. (Dave Broom)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 90

Kornog, 57.1%, £60
Donnay also makes a peated variant. Again, the distillery’s ability to mix the heavy (in this case smoke) with the lifted is demonstrated. Think sage and rosemary, mixed with nuts and a really salty tingle that brings to mind eating samphire while the smoke wreathes the palate. Make no mistake, this is one important new whisky. (Dave Broom)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

Hedgehog, 40%, €37
It’s not compulsory to follow a Scottish way of whisky making. M. Olivier Perrier in the village of Herisson the middle of the Auvergne has taken a bourbon base (65% corn with malted barley and rye) and distilled it in a Cognac-style alembic before aging it for three years in Troncais oak. Any thoughts that M.Perrier is digging deep into his terroir can be quickly dismissed: the recipe is one for moonshine extracted from a South Carolina musician! His whisky (or should that be whiskey?) is fat and oily, with lots of corn and the scented note that these French whiskies all seem to share. It has a palate where the deep and the savory dance around each other that, while not exactly controlled, would be perfect to accompany an evening of blues in the middle of France.  (Dave Broom)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 80

Guest Review: World Whisky – The Netherlands

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Whisky making is no longer restricted to the old countries of Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, and Japan. These days, it seems as if every country in the world has a whisky distillery or two hidden away. Dave Broom’s new book, The World Atlas of Whisky, takes a look at this phenomenon examining the question of how the new distillers create a flavor which is authentically their own. Here are some of his top picks from the ‘New World’ of whisky.

(I’ll be traveling all week on business. While I am away, I thought we could focus on various countries each day for the rest of the week. Dave’s reviews will also appear in the next issue of Malt Advocate.)

To quote Dave: “The scores reflect all these whiskies in their own context — as young spirits from different countries with their own individual personalities.”

Millstone 8 year old, 43%, £59
Based in the village of Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands, the Zuidam distillery was built by genever distiller Fred Van Zuidam in 2002 and is now run by his son Patrick, who started distilling at the age of 14. His single malt is made from windmill-ground barley, given temperature-controlled fermentation, distilled in Holstein stills, and aged in new oak for a period before being racked into older casks. A rich amber color, this expression is ripe and fruity with plenty of red cherry, a little hint of fig, and a little sweet spice. Balanced and rich with a fresh citric farewell this is a classy arrival on the world scene. (Dave Broom)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87

Zuidam Dutch Rye 5 year old, 40%, £46
Patrick van Zuidam uses rye as part of his genever, but when a farmer phoned up saying he had a surplus, he figured he might as well try a 100% rye whisky. Of similarly deep hue to the 8 year old, but a little more ruddy, this has a more waxy aroma, but with fresh rye sourdough penetrating. The spiciness which typifies rye here has a North African edge: cumin, cinnamon, coriander seed. The palate is less explosive and dusty than American examples; this is more of a slow-burning fuse that passes through orange and smooth, sweet oak before the spices return. (Dave Broom)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 86

21 year old Czech single malt? Really?

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Every once in a while, something comes out of the clear blue–like a 21 year old Czech single malt, reported today by Drinks International.

Apparently, when a company bought the distillery, they found the whisky. And it’s not a small amount that will sell out soon.

I wonder what Czech whisky, made with Czech water, barley and aged in Czech oak tastes like?

“Hammer Head” will sell for £34.99 in Travel Retail.

Mackmyra, the United States, this Spring!

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

We just heard from our contact at Mackmyra, the impressive distillery from Sweden. Although they have been delayed by governmental red tape here in the U.S., they are still planning on launching their whisky in New York this Spring. This is great news! Representatives from the distillery will be in New York in early May.

I will also have some good news very soon on Kilchoman, the newest Islay distillery, and their launch here in the U.S.  Stay tuned.

A few tidbits on Mackmyra whisky

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Here’s some news we recently received from Lars Lindberger at Mackmyra distillery in Sweden. Their whiskies aren’t in the U.S. yet, but soon…

We’re bottling Mackmyra Whisky – The 1st Edition in one liter bottles with US labels right now (I don’t have any photos yet), and we are just about to close a deal with an importer. We visited New York a couple of times last year and met stores, restaurants etc. There seems to be great interest for our product.

I talked to our sales manager and, according to him, it’s more likely that the bottles will get to the shelves in April or May, than in March. 

But there’s more happening at Mackmyra: We’re growing out of or current distillery and visiting facilities at Mackmyra bruk (Jim Murray wrote about it in Malt Advocate in 2002) and it’s time for something better and bigger.

In April our plans for the new distillery will be more concrete. Right now the plan is to start building June/July. The project is called Mackmyra Whiskyby (Mackmyra Whisky Village) and will contain a distillery built for visitors, other visitor facilities, warehouses, etc.

 

I’m looking forward to having their whiskies available here in the U.S.