Now that we’re in the era of awarding scores on Malt I imagine there are a fair few readers in the “scroll-straight-to-the-bottom-to-see-how-it-did club”. (No judgement; I do that myself occasionally, and it also – I’m ashamed to say – has applied to a book or two I’ve read in the past.)
So here’s an early Easter Egg for the club members: I’ll get straight to it and say that Tycho’s Star by Spirit of Hven is a bloody good whisky, and you should try it and buy it. But before we dive into the glass I want to spend some time looking at this.
It is, fairly obviously, a breakdown of what the whisky is. Sure, there’s the explanation of where the name’s come from; Tycho Brahe was an astronomer, and the most famous former resident of the tiny Swedish island of Hven, where this is distilled. But where many distilleries, both in Scotland and elsewhere, would give you the cute naming story and leave it at that, Hven have gone on to dissect their whisky in serious detail.
So we have the origins and species of the oak used, and the percentages of each one. We know that it has been malted three ways; pale ale, chocolate and heavily peated, and we’re told what flavours each malt brings to the table. We’re not told what (if anything) the casks held previously, but based on my tasting (and on the fact they describe it as ‘organic whisky’) I wouldn’t be surprised if they were virgin oak.
Elsewhere on Hven’s site they talk about the laboratory analysis that goes into each of their products. They talk about experimentation with yeast strains, malts, wood. There’s not a huge amount about barley, as Mark would probably point out if I didn’t, but the point is this: they want you to know about what goes into the bottle, and what it goes through to get to that stage.
As whisk(e)y lovers we like to know these things. I’m not saying that there aren’t stunning whiskies out there with far less detail available than Hven have given – but why bother to hide the details when they make such a difference? Fundamentally, if you’ve made a great product, you should be trumpeting the considerable lengths you have gone to in doing so. Because your customers care. And “Glengeneric is made with the purest water and the finest oak casks” doesn’t cut the mustard.
Anyhow, Tycho’s Star is Spirit of Hven’s entry-level whisky. It’s bottled at 41.8% (a slightly weird number that I admit put me off a tad initially) and a waxy, alchemical-looking bottle of it will set you back about £50. (Though scaled up to 70cl it’s more like £70.)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star – review
Colour: New pennies.
On the nose: Oh wow, that’s a lovely thing. Beautiful, briny, medium-weighted peat wrapped up in leather, pipe tobacco, allspice, and peppery, clove-speckled oak. Savoury, but there’s a depth of fruit here too – prunes and fig. The peat’s the star though; it’s stunningly balanced, never overwhelming. A touch of smoked bacon. I could nose this forever.
In the mouth: Much of a muchness. Almost a carbon copy in fact, although the spices are reduced, and there’s a little element of dark chocolate that the nose didn’t show. Some sweeter flashes of muscovado and light caramel too. The oils are a touch broken up by dilution though, so voluptuousness and finish are cut slightly. Still very pleasant indeed.
As I say, it’s a lovely thing. There’s a real purity here; a vitality of the elements involved. It’s a real expression of peat and malt and oak; no distracting notes of wine or sherry. It feels, for lack of a better description, natural. A whisky that puts you outdoors.
It reminded me a little of a less intense Paul John Peated Select, and of an experiment I did recently blending heavily peated whisky with bourbon. So I do think there’s virgin oak involved here, but it has been used to very good effect.
The points have been lost for mouthfeel and finish, and because scaled up to 70cl it is maybe £10-£15 dear. But it’s a really cracking whisky, and the nose is sublime. Fans of Bowmore, and particularly of Lagavulin 16, should make a bee-line for it. If this were 48-52% ABV I imagine it would be extraordinary.
I’ll certainly be looking to cover a few more whiskies from this distillery soon. Part of my soul cried out to make a pun about how good this one was. But we’re above that on Malt thank Hvens.
Lead image kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange