Wood, wood, wood. Wood is the new age statement. That’s just the way of the world at the moment. Instead of age being the hundred-year benchmark of quality, we are now informed more about the wood to give some idea of what to expect.
Just as with the age statement, a little information can be a dangerous thing. A whisky can be 12 years old, but what quality cask had it been in? A battered old thing that’s been used three or four times and should really be used in garden centres? That would be a world away from fresh oak, which will have more influence on the spirit. Yet for a century we’ve been led to believe age is everything.
Fashions change. With the hyper-commercialisation of whisky, we are now firmly in the era of wood types having replaced the age statement. The difference here is not the often fallacious arguments about age = quality, but rather the more exotic the wood(s), the more of a hook there is. And the thing about wood is that they’re superficial, false short-hand to flavour. Something’s matured or finished in a rum or port cask, one quickly translates that into a mental flavour profile. It’s possibly just as easy – and nonsensical – as the age statement shorthand because again I’ve no idea of the quality of the wood. Just how shagged were the casks before a whisky was finished in something else? The worst is the laziness around sherry wood, which many people believe is sweet as pudding – yet a shit-ton of sherry is dry (oloroso, for example) and something quite different. The thing I hate most about wood fetishization is that it’s not too far a leap to say, well let’s just mix the whisky and be done with it. (I don’t mean to sound grumpy about it – I find such information useful to some very limited degree.)
Which makes this offering from Box less of a thing then perhaps it should be. Box Quercus (oak) II Alba (white oak). American White Oak. Nothing particularly outrageous here, nothing too exotic. The casks used here were 200 litres (first-fill barrels) from Kentucky, US, and 140-litres first-fill quarter casks from the Speyside Cooperage. The youngest whisky included in the vatting is 5 years old.
So because we’re stubborn sorts of Malt, some might say facetious (others might say worse), and because Box makes all of the information available, then I’m going to very quickly talk about all the other inputs instead. They use a yeast called Fermentis Safwhisky M-1, which is a yeast designed specifically for whisky making. The malt is a Pilsner-style malt that comes from Vikingmalt in Halmstad, Sweden. This type of malt gives a lower yield, but Box suggests more flavours – and much more body to the spirit.
The whisky is made up of four barley types: Tipple, Scarlett, Rosalina and Quench. Quench is an award-winning, high-yielding barley type grown extensively across Europe. Rosalina is one of the varieties not used that widely in whisky production, and indeed for Vikingmalt it represents only 6% of the barley grown. (I gather Box does not have too much influence over the malted barley that gets delivered – i.e. they’re not specifying what barley to use, or show too much interest in where it is grown, which I think is a shame given how much care goes into the rest of production. Why not the prime ingredient?)
Not quite sure how much it costs, but I reckon in the UK it’ll be somewhere between £70 and £80 a 50cl bottle.
Box Quercus II Alba – Review
On the nose: wow, the sandalwood and coconut elements are massive on this. Surprisingly so. A little bit of aniseed, fennel, with sage and then plenty of red fruits and jammy notes. Jammy Dodgers, in fact. Strawberry, raspberry, cranberry. Give it more time and it all merges into one highly perfumed whisky.
In the mouth: massively different to other Box whiskies. It isn’t oily, the texture is rather thin, but it brings a beautiful sweetness, with just a hint of tannic bitterness and sourness to balance it out. Headier than the nose: heather honey, redcurrant tartness, raspberry jam. The woodiness becomes more prominent, with some sour notes in the form of grapefruit juice, perhaps a touch of pineapple. Black tea, moments of earthiness with the wood, and the herbal notes from the nose return.
Very interesting stuff as always from Box, and a little to the other side of the flavour spectrum. It’s different. Differences are good. Differences are to be celebrated in whisky.
It’s not the best release of theirs that I have tasted – indeed, none of those I’ve reviewed here on Malt is as good as those I enjoyed elsewhere (such as for Whisky Magazine, last year).