You remember me.
Man at the back of the workshop, hitting things with spanners when they break – or whenever, in some moment of weakness, Taylor presses too many buttons at random behind the scenes, the site goes down, I get a DM for help and… well, it gives me some pretence of being involved in Malt shenanigans.
But here I am! Editor of yore, now currently reporting from the Malt retirement home, shaking my cane at visitors – a metaphor that becomes less of a metaphor by the year.
As it turns out, I always had one or two little nuggets cooking away which, because of the pandemic, thanks to lost emails, and of course, thanks to good old fashioned laziness, I have only just transferred into the body of this article. Which is, by way of rambling introduction, my way of saying hello, it’s been too long. I see there are lots of new kids around here, and Malt appears to have gentrified considerably thanks to Kat and Taylor’s redevelopments, so I can’t grumble. How are you all? Considering the winter shortages, fuel prices, Brexit and the dregs of the pandemic, that is.
The article with which I had been tinkering was on Langatun Distillery, that charming little Swiss operation – a brewery that morphed into a distillery and has for some time now continued to release flavoursome whiskies. I have covered Langatun in the past, quite a bit – since 2016 in fact. Though these days I tend not to find too many reasons to bash the keyboard in response to a spirit, I actually like the general profile of Langatun – I like that it is distinct, and robust. I like the oak they use. I like the flavours they deliver, with regularity. All in all, Langatun has been consistently pleasing. So when Highfern, the UK importers of Langatun reached out with another wave of samples, I thought why not? (Note: Highfern also distribute the excellent Smögen – I’m always interested when they have some spirits to share.)
But on what was I to hang the thrust of the article? I’ve written loads about them, and given the language barriers there isn’t an awful lot more information to glean. That said, I noted that the distillery had undergone a few changes of late. It started some time ago, before the main thrust of the pandemic, but during these rather bleak times I was able to wave a few questions under the nose of none other than Christian Lauper, the CEO at Langatun Distillery.
(These answers are below, then south of that are some tasting notes. Indeed the answers are perhaps a shade less expansive than the questions. Anyway, lots to be said about being a man of few words – something of which I know very little.)
Malt: Langatun was established as a whisky brand back in 2007 I believe – and you have recently brought out a second edition of the 10 year old whisky. With the current wave of craft distilleries, Langatun now feels like a veteran brand. In 2018 there was more investment – and investors – if I understand that correctly. Can you tell us how that has helped the distillery in the few years since that moment? What has the new investment brought to Langatun – was it in production processes or brand development?
Christian: Yes, Langatun was officially founded in 2007. however, the founder Hans Baumberger already started producing whisky on a small scale in 2005. the first attempts, so to speak. Among other things, we also got an additional still. This enabled us to increase production, but we also invested in marketing and hired a graphic designer. We are still developing at the moment.
Malt: You were originally – and have been for a great many decades – a brewery. What processes from your tradition of brewing have you brought into the whisky-making process? Do you still brew beer and how is the brewing side for beer and distillation kept different? I’m intrigued to see how the two cultures influence each other.
Christian: No more beer is brewed. Beer production has been discontinued for years. Hans Baumberger is a master brewer and has naturally incorporated this knowledge into the production of the beer from which we then distil our whisky. If the basis of the beer from which the whisky is distilled is of excellent quality, then with the right distillation and then with the right casks used for maturation, an outstanding whisky is also produced.
Malt: In terms of fermentation, this has always been intellectually considered more important for brewing that has been the case for whisky – historically at least. But this is of course where the flavours – derived from the grain – are really created. Can you share a little more light on your fermentations? How many hours are they and do you change the processes much?
Christian: So we see fermentation as very important. We usually ferment between six and seven days. It also depends on the season. In summer, too high temperatures can have a negative effect on the fermentation process.
Malt: If I recall from the past, you import your barley. Where does it come from and have you any plans to source more locally? In fact, can you share more about the varieties too?
Christian: We source most of our barley from Switzerland. Here we use a special type of malting barley. For the Old Bear we use beechwood smoked malt. For the Old Crow we source peated barley from Scotland.
Malt: You have always had a trademark wine cask influence to your whiskies, which I think works very well. Assuming in Switzerland you are not bound by tight regulations in the same way as Scotch whisky for example, are you planning many radical experiments with wood types or are you planning to continue with the wine casks in general?
Christian: Most of our whiskies are first matured in Chardonnay casks. Then, depending on the variety, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Sherry casks. For our single cask bottlings, we have a wide range of casks – from classic Sherry, Port and Rum to casks from exceptional vineyards. Radical cask experiments are not planned, as we prefer to follow the classic line.
Malt: Everywhere I look, many markets are really, truly, open-minded to world whisky in a way that wasn’t the case a few years ago. I’m intrigued to know what the reception has been like – culturally and in retail terms – to Swiss Whisky. Are there parts of the world that are less open-minded than others to trying your products?
Christian: We have noticed that customers from other countries are very open-minded about our Swiss whisky. It tends to be seen as a special, high-quality exotic, and that makes people curious about the Swiss product.
Malt: Finally what will the recovery from the pandemic bring for Langatun in the next year and beyond? Have these events altered your business plans – or indeed, your general philosophy – and feeling – on what to do with the brand?
Christian: We are still constantly working on improvements in the production process, the expansion of our warehouse and the logistics centre. The expansion of the German market is also a major goal for us. Our philosophy is, of course, to further expand the Langatun brand and our associated products and to strengthen our market position.
Mark again. Not exactly Frost vs Nixon, that one, as I’m sure you’ll agree – we’re hardly kicking around the nuances of mashing or fermentation, and it took a long time to get to just these brief answers, so many thanks to Christian for his time. I’m sure folk have better things to do than respond to internet trivialities – there’s a big wild world out there, after all. (If you want some extra exposition, here’s an older interview.)
Onto the whisky.
Langatun Aged 10 Years (2nd Release) – Review
This is a Pinot Noir Single Cask bottled at 49.12% ABV. (Where the cask came from, I am not sure.)
Colour: Burnt umber.
On the nose: Blackberries, morello cherries, hints of liquorice, warming stem ginger and apricots. Plum jam, hints of damsons, touches of lavender and some rose-like perfumed notes.
In the mouth: Yes much of what we find on the nose again: blackcurrants perhaps, with the cherries, liquorice, but also tobacco spices, a warming, clove-like feel. Not as mouth-filling as I recall earlier Langatuns, but still pleasing to behold. Chewy raisins, burnt toffee, chocolate fudge with a rich mince pie-filling vibe on the finish. Lots to like here, and sherry bomb enthusiasts will find much to enjoy.
Langatun Old Crow – Review
This is I assume a vatting at 46% ABV.
Colour: Burnt umber, again… though leaning into henna.
On the nose: A different, tarter, more astringent affair, with heavy notes of cigar ash and sweet tomato ketchup. The smoke is heavy on the ash in fact, but outside of that the tarter fruits do indeed rise to the fore: redcurrant, some slightly briny notes; glazed ham, a little bit of burnt bacon. Don’t be thinking you’re in Ardbeg territory here though, this does its own thing.
In the mouth: Cigars are very much the order of the day here. This doesn’t translate as a sweet peat. Light of texture, doesn’t have much persistence of flavour, but quite a nice malty undercurrent. A few rich date-like notes, drifting into dried apricots. Jam tarts with bitter orange on the finish. I don’t personally dig the integration of the flavours here. As with any whisky, your mileage will vary.
Langatun PX Sherry Cask Finish (Cask 564) – Review
49.12% ABV, again; why finish in PX? Did the previous cask not have enough life? Many questions, though I’m not sure I’d get a robust answer.
Colour: … And burnt umber.
On the nose: Now that is more of the juicy, plump, tempting Langatun I recall. Darker dried fruits, figs and raisins, with some peppery wood notes leading into cherries and ground coffee. Hints of toffee and all spice.
In the mouth: Fatter, oily, just a shade too woody, but this is hearty stuff: raisins, rich upper layers of Black Forest gateau – that lovely chocolate and cherry combination. Blackberries. Very autumnal. The vanilla comes on fairly late in the day, and brings lots of tannic warmth with ginger and pepper. It isn’t complicated, but it’s absolutely delicious stuff.
I have a habit of not giving scores more recently; historical baggage (plenty of that around here as it is), but the long and short of it being how do you assign a number to how you feel, and also I am egoistical enough to force everyone to read my words and not gloss over everything to get to the number.
We’re generally looking at between £70-80 for most of the Langatuns. In short, the only one here I wouldn’t splash the cash on is Old Crow, but the other two are absolutely the sort of cold-weather treat I’d recommend you’d stock up on before we run into Johnsonian winter shortages. I feel more with those. There’s more fullness, more harmony between the spirit style and the cask; I don’t really think peat works as well with the spirit style, or rather – not that particular peated spirit.
Indeed, when you’re toasting to the nothing you’d find under the Christmas tree this year due to the lack of lorry drivers, fuel, and general post-Covid supply chain shenanigans, and you can’t afford the gas prices to keep your bones warm, I would suggest both the Aged 10 Years and PX Sherry Cask Finish would be excellent company as you slide deeper into this Dickensian nightmare in which we find ourselves. (And on that note, it’s probably a good thing I don’t write too much, eh?)