During 2018 we’ve been looking further afield than Scotland for some of our whisky delights. The hotbeds of action and real interest are European destinations such as Sweden and Switzerland. The latter has been dominated by Langatun but now we’ve considering another contender in Säntis.
My first encounter with this distillery came during the Whiskybase Gathering event in Rotterdam. Whilst the locals were chasing and enjoying whiskies from Scotland, I was ushered into a corner by our resident Dutch expert Noortje and told in no uncertain terms that I should experience Säntis. Their range is predominately based on the 50cl size and the stall also offered an impressive array of Langatun to make me feel at home. Trusting my colleague’s opinion when it comes to whisky – and Jenga – matters, the Säntis whiskies proved a fruitful experience and a new discovery.
The danger with these festival discoveries is always that your palate and memory have become slightly detached with the vast quantities of alcohol and food that you may consume. Fortunately, we’re starting to see Säntis arrive in the UK and for those wishing to experience something different with the usage of beer casks, it’s a viable option. For my own sanity, seeing a bottle of the Säntis Malt Edition Sigel open at the splendid Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar meant a brief encounter in a more familiar setting.
Säntis like Langatun can trace its roots back to brewing beer and way back to 1886. This is when the Locher family acquired a brewery in Appenzell, which still remains in production today along with the addition of distilling whisky. However, as we’ve seen during our Swiss voyage the whisky scene only truly began in 1999 when the law banning the distilling of spirits was lifted. This relaxation offered the Locher family a new potential use for its beer casks and its first single malt debuted in 2002. Since arriving on the scene their whiskies have received numerous awards and the distillery utilises a 450 litre Holstein copper still for its production needs.
The beer casks form one part of the equation ranging from 70-140 years in age and on the whole are used exclusively by the distillery. These are traditionally much smaller than the casks we see in Scotland and rely on thicker staves to cope with the explosive nature of maturing beer. Säntis also relies on barley grown locally in Switzerland. The high altitudes and harsh weather conditions have over time created robust strains of barley and using a fresh Alpine water source means a bottle of Säntis is very much a representation of its environment – unlike many Scottish whiskies we see today. It’s food – or whisky – for thought particularly as we settle down with this entry-level release in their current range.
Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander – review
Colour: a golden toffee.
On the nose: a well worn leathery quality, mingling well with an apricot jam. A robust sourdough, creamy fudge, chocolate and a touch of smoke prove there’s some life but it feels timid.
In the mouth: it possesses a beer influence amongst the elements of milk chocolate, raisins and a touch of spirit on the finish. Memories of soot are revived alongside cinder toffee but little else.
This represents a very safe footing in the Säntis range if somewhat disappointing. I can see it finding favour with beer enthusiasts who maybe felt a little let down by the Glenfiddich IPA botched experiment. Texturally it’s light and approachable, but lacks the funk and outrageous nature of the Säntis I recall. A higher strength would have been far more beneficial.