I ask myself when did things all change for European distilleries? The moment when they were respected for their whiskies and not shunned simply just because their location was outside of Scotland.
Indeed, there was a time when many European whiskies were of dubious quality, despite all of the enthusiasm that went into the product, the final result was somewhat adrift. Things have somewhat changed in recent years. Respect cannot be bought or influenced, it is a precious commodity without a label or physical form. When you have such respect then it opens up all sorts of new avenues and is much like a newly acquired superpower.
For Malt, we’ve been trailblazing European distilleries for some time now. In 2018 it formed our focus for the year – taking these oddities from distant shores and highlighting their wares and why we were excited. From memory, and my memory banks are a little hazy nowadays. 2018 seems a long time ago, but we did kick off the year with an interview with the distillery manager of Box, which is now known as High Coast, backed up with a review of the Box Dálvve. We won’t go down the avenue of the name change or the disappointing heavy-handed tactics that forced it all, but I’m pleased the distillery has continued to prosper while a boutique bottler has struggled to regain its previous form.
The fight for respect is one that many English distilleries will acknowledge. Those young whippersnappers from south of the border. The kids daring to actually make whisky that at times is equal or better than many drams from the home of whisky. Even to the West and Ireland. The home of sourced product and branding. New distilleries now striving to raise the bar, establish themselves and revive a slumbering giant. Let’s not forget the new wave in Scotland itself: armed with varieties of yeast, barley and fermentations. Eager to show up what they can do compared to the comfortable dinosaurs that dominate Scotch.
Even at Malt, we don’t pursue respect or actively seek it. There’s no gold medal on the site or some meaningless glass trophy that is handed out annually to friends of the industry. We’re here daily to offer an opinion. One that doesn’t rely on freebies, PR lists or secret handshakes. In 3 years, we’ve achieved a great deal and sacrificed more time than I’d like to remember. Building this resource that many frequent and enjoy. Top of the pile on some rankings and while figures are fine and dandy, respect is harder to harvest and, in some situations, will never be forthcoming. And that’s ok in my book, as you can never please 100% of the people all of the time. Anyone involved in a service will understand this. The whisky industry is a service industry after all. Providing enjoyment and satisfaction. To some a means of profit, interest outside of our daily predictable lives or just to scratch that collecting bug.
If you don’t enjoy something then you move on. And I’d just wish that more distilleries actually consider the service that they provide. After all, there’s a glut of average whiskies, official releases or single indie casks in the market right now. Have we ever had it so good? I know that it is more difficult than before to find an excellent whisky if you can beat the flippers and investors to it. So, who can blame any of us for looking beyond Scotland, England and Ireland, to other nations who are seeking respect and challenging preconceived notions…
High Coast Älv – review
An entry in their Origins series, this is matured in 1st fill bourbon casks and bottled at 46% with an outturn of 8,259 bottles. This is available via Master of Malt for £48.95.
Colour: pino grigio.
On the nose: delicate vanilla? Pancakes with a dusting of flour, green apples, pear drops and almonds. Cotton sheets, mustard seeds and marshmallows. There’s also some lemon, icing sugar memories of daises.
In the mouth: a pleasant mouthfeel texture and more of that light vanilla. Delicate, creamy with white chocolate on the finish. Banana leaves ands a touch of smoke.
High Coast Timmer – review
This is around 6 years old and matured in 1st fill bourbon barrels, quarter casks and uses heavily peated malted barley from Belgium. Bottled at 48% strength and formed part of the distillery Origins series, with an outturn of 12,764 bottles.
Colour: cheap white wine.
On the nose: lot’s of wood with fresh planks, vanilla, green apples and crackers. There’s peat on that mixes with peppercorn and dirty dishwater. Adding water reveals memories of apple dunking and toffee.
In the mouth: a little one dimensional with peat mostly, white pepper and salt. There’s popcorn, vanilla and a chalky aspect. The prospect of water delivers more smoke and coastal vibes.
High Coast Sixty Three – review
63 madness! Bottled at 63%, matured in 63 litre bourbon barrels for 63 months, 63 decimeters above the ground and of course, the distillery is 63 degrees north. A limited expression of 6,854 bottles.
Colour: light gold.
On the nose: a little smoke, a mineral note and some gentle cask char alongside bacon. There’s cloves, pine cones, driftwood, meringues and cream soda.
In the mouth: full grown! A solid balance of peat and the wood. Embers and kindling persist with a good mouthfeel. Wood bitterness does come through towards the end when an earthy note takes over.
A promising trio, noting the age and what the distillery is trying to showcase with these releases. I’m impressed to want more and also to pay attention in the coming years. Frankly, whatever the name on the packaging doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. It all comes down to the liquid and Box/High Coast are delivering on that promise. In doing so, not charging the earth for their releases. I particularly like the clean-cut emphasis of the labels and the desire to try new things. So, embrace our European friends and their whiskies, as who knows what’s going to happen in 2021.
Thanks to Francis for the samples and bottle. There are commission links above if you so wish to explore the world of Swedish whisky, which is far more entertaining than a Boutique blender and a lot more affordable.