The Belgian Owl

Sometimes one thing leads to another… What was originally intended to be a Bombay ‘bar night’ with various whiskies lying around turned (thanks to the wonders of modern technology and curious connects) into a special feature on The Belgian Owl together with the founder and master distiller – Etienne Bouillon – and brand ambassador – Frédéric Senet.

Alas I was already back in Germany so could only experience Identité ‘vicariously’ via the descriptions of the others – which were incredibly positive! Even from one who was a bit skeptical from his earlier brush almost a decade ago – however distilleries and palates evolve and the sincerity of the enthusiasm was clear.

How did this evening come about? Well, one of our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents currently splits his time between Belgium (where his wife lives and works) and Mumbai (where he lives and works).

On a recent trip to Mumbai, he was contacted via a consulate connect asking “Don’t you do whisky tastings? The folks from The Belgian Owl are interested in getting some feedback from an Indian perspective…” Which is a bit amusing considering the gent in question is actually British! However, like myself, has lived for decades in India, adopting Mumbai as home so not so strange after all.

He was so impressed with the bottle shared in Mumbai that our intrepid introducer made the trek to the distillery on his next trip to Belgium, determined to bring the full range to Mumbai.

As for myself? Courtesy of the fine folks we virtually met, I now have this very tempting quintet to explore…. not today but sometime soon when a similar set makes its way back to Mumbai so we can join together virtually in a Belgian quest!

  • The Belgian Owl Origine Pot Still unaged spirit 46%
  • The Belgian Owl Identité 36 months, first fill bourbon 46%
  • The Belgian Owl Passion 36 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538337 46% Bottle 29
  • The Belgian Owl Intense 40 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538452 72.7% Bottle 177
  • The Belgian Owl Evolution 48 months, first fill bourbon 46%

Nice to have something to look forward to in the coming months.

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

Peaty persuasion – High Coast Hav “Spiced Oak” 48%

What’s in a name? Well… apparently a lot! Back in 2010, a distillery was founded in the Höga Kasten or High Coast of Sweden…dubbing itself  “Box Distilleri”.

Fast forward to 2018, a few years after Barcardi gained a stake in Compass Box, a potential ‘brand conflict’ was raised and Box CEO Thomas Larsson acquiesced, changing their name officially to “High Coast“.

Our previous brushes with this Scandi distillery were quite positive – from samples of The 2015 Festival and a special Shareholders 3 year dram in 2016 to a full bottle brought from Sweden to Mumbai –  Dálvve – in 2017.

Here is what I found…

High Coast Hav Spiced Oak 48%

  • Nose – Light smoke, youghurt, malty, sweet spices of clove… started to open up more sweet grass peat, candies, then malty mocha, chocolate, almond biscotti, vanilla icing sugar, a light citrus twist
  • Palate – OK that has some kick, a bit harsh at first, spicy peat, some dry oak, then becomes friendlier, fruitier, sweeter… almost flowery
  • Finish – Black peppercorn, cinnamon brown sugar chaser, vanilla

More punch on the palate than the aromas initially indicated, but becomes more fun and tasty. I was struck with how the freshness also had a nice complement of character depth – considering “Spiced Oak” rather apt, particularly appreciating the light peat.

Somehow I found myself sipping and enjoying and… well.. not really thinking about creating detailed tasting notes as I was simply liking it!

What more do we know?

Lots! Thanks to the transparency in sharing the recipe and process…

I’ve reproduced content from their website below, starting with the overall description and tasting notes… however for the geeks, I encourage you to read on!

Here is what the folks at High Coast have to say about Hav:

Hav is a lightly peated single malt whisky from High Coast Distillery (formerly Box Distillery) in Sweden. It has been matured in both ex-Bourbon barrels and small 40 litre casks made from Swedish and Hungarian oak. ‘Hav’ means ‘sea’ in Swedish and is part of The Origins series celebrating location, history and geography of the Swedish distillery.

Official tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Fruity, Spicy, Cloves, Light Peat Reek, Nutmeg
  • Palate: Well balanced, Fruity, Spicy, Peat aroma
  • Finish: Oak, Cloves, Vanilla

Recipe:

Hav consists of 76,82% unpeated whisky and 23,18% of peated whisky. 66,85% has matured in small casks of Hungarian and Swedish oak up to 5 months then transferred to Bourbon barrels for an average of 6,09 years. 30.84% has matured solely in Bourbon barrels and 2,67% has been finished in 40 liter Hungarian oak casks.

Casks used:

  • 200 liter Bourbon barrels (Quercus Alba), delivered empty direct from Kentucky
  • 40 litre Swedish oak casks (Quercus Robur), made by Thorslundkagge
  • 40 liter Hungarian oak (Quercus Petraea), made in Hungary
  • Until October 2014, our casks have matured in a damp warehouse, where they lost slightly more alcohol than expected. Since October 2014 until bottling, the casks have been maturing in a dry environment in warehouse number 3.
  • 14/03/2019 48 Bourbon barrels containing 6610,5 kilos of whisky, with an average strength of 61,69% abv, were emptied into our blending tank. There we added, 2154,7 kilos of water to reach the desired strength of 48% abv.

Ingredients:

  • Yeast: Fermentis Safwhisky M-1
  • Unpeated malt: Pilsner malt from Vikingmalt in Halmstad.
  • Peated malt: Pilsner malt from Castle Maltings in Belgien as well as peated malt from Scottish maltsters.
  • Peated to a phenolic level of 31 and 46ppm with peat from Scotland
  • Barely types: Henley, Sébastian, Rosalina, Scarlett, Quench, Tipple, Barke
  • Process water: From Bålsjön, filtered through sand and carbon filters
  • Cooling water: From Ångermanälven
  • Batch size: 1200 kg malt / 6300 liter wort
  • Average fermentation time: 80 hours in stainless steels washbacks.
  • Distilled between: 09/01/2012 – 12/12/2013

First Cut:
Unpeated spirit: 13 minutes head (foreshots)
Peated spirit: 30 minutes head (foreshots)

Second Cut:
Unpeated spirit: 67 % ABV (20°C)
Peated spirit: 60 % ABV (20°C)

Key facts:

  • Strength ABV (alcohol by volume): 48 % ABV
  • Age: 5,24 – 7,12 years (Average: 6,26 years)
  • Phenol content PPM: 0, 31, 46 ppm (Average: 11 ppm)
  • Cask: 40 liter Hungarian oak, 40 liter Swedish, 200 liter Bourbon barrels
  • Number of Bottles: 11 614 st
  • Bottle Size: 700 ml

Gotta admire the passion, precision and creativity that goes into such an approach…

And the other drams sampled in this Peaty Persuasion trio?

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Peaty persuasion – Sprit of Hven “The Nose” 44.9%

Last in a Peaty Persuasion trio was “The Nose” from Spirit of Hven…. This wasn’t our first introduction to this Swedish distillery, however it had been some time – nearly five years since we sample Tycho’s Star! With further explorations clearly overdue!

Clearly with a name like “the nose”, it is a nod to the critical role of nosing to determine which cask is ready and how it is to be used…

So what did I think?

Spirit of Hven “The Nose” 44.9%

  • Nose – Sour mash, solvent? over ripe fruit, cinnamon spice, yes there is some smokiness, cinnamon oatmeal with brown sugar, something quite “chaotic” in the aromas – some malt, some spice, some smoke, some sour, some sweet….
  • Palate – Cinnamon, oaky spice, raisins, a hint of listerine? more bitter oak, with a kind of resin…
  • Finish – Bit of bitter coffee

Well…. there is an oaky spice, however it is a bit peculiar. To be honest, I’m not so sure about this one and struggled with it… Setting it aside, I decided to come back… and just before doing so added a few drops of water, hoping it would help balance this somewhat imbalanced dram.

This time I could tease out more of the overripe fruit, stewed apples, herbs, faintly floral perfume.. but it was still remarkably ‘shy’. And the palate? Hmm.. much improved. Now the oak spice has settled in nicely.

So while the initial experience didn’t tempt me to try water, I’m glad I did.

What more do we know?

The distillery shares that it is an October 2020 release, matured in a variety of casks – more precisely 21 casks! The ‘base’ is 14 French Quercus Petraea casks that previously held wines such as Petrus, Margaux and Latour. These were supported by 7 American Quercus Muehlenbergii casks with a mix of virgin oak and ex Spirit of Hven Vodka casks – yes vodka! These were further ‘married’ in Spanish Quercus Robur ex Oloroso sherry butts. As for age, Spirit of Hven share that the youngest cask is 8 years old and the oldest 12 years – from their distillery’s first year of production.

Here’s official tasting notes:

Without water,

  • The whisky is pungent with balanced elegance, it has a clear note of oak and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are scents of vanilla and caramel combined with coffee and sweet wine. Top note is French oak with a light spiciness.
  • The taste is powerful and lands mid tongue. It shows a menthol sweetness balanced by a slightly acidic bitterness. Elegant and full flavoured.
  • Medium long aftertaste.

With water,

  • The whisky opens up and reveals scents of light, floral herbs, lavender and ripe plums. The scent is caressed, probably as traces from the angels, by a nose of vanilla and apple. This is how the garden of Eden must have scented like.
  • With a little water, the taste becomes velvet smooth and enticing. Balance shifts towards the lid of the mouth with a counterbalance point mid tongue.
  • The aftertaste prolongs with water and the sweet notes extends. Lovely.

I’m sorry… garden of Eden? Not exactly… at least in my experience.

What else was included in an evening of Peaty Persuasion :

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vomFASS – Mackmyra Duo + Teeling

Back in the days that I regularly travelled to Singapore, I heard about an interesting store – vomFASS – where you could find specialty spirits, oils, vinegars and more!

A friend in Indonesia even purchased one of their whisky blends which we enjoyed one fine evening in Jakarta! However I somehow never made it to their Singapore shop… I was certainly curious, but there was always some other work or play priority…

Fast forward several years and now I – remarkably and conveniently – live nearby a vomFASS shop in Nurnberg, Germany!  For those who haven’t yet encountered these folks, over the last 25+ years, they’ve grown far beyond Germany with franchises scattered around 20 odd countries. The concept remains – purchase both bottle and liquid, return to refill your bottle from the cask you liked – if still available – or try something new.

Naturally I couldn’t resist and found myself picking up a trio!

So what made it into a wee 100 ml “barrel to bottle” vomFASS experience?

  • Mackmyra “Valbo” 42.5%
  • Teeling Reserve Small Batch Sherry 16 year 43%
  • Mackmyra “Kungstorv” Peated 47%

Curious? Read on… Continue reading

Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Aveux Gourmands

Our absolute favourite from Maison Benjamin Kuentz is their Aveux Gourmands – launched late 2020.

Aveux Gourmands 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Mmmm….. bubblegum, toffee, salty caramel, a nice nuttiness with roasted hazelnut, fudge… then all combining together in an indulgent salty caramel hazelnut chocolate fudge… as it opened up further came a caramelized banana, pineapple upside down cake, buttery brioche, strawberries and cherries
  • Palate – Buttery salty toffee, spice, fudge, more of that buttery brioche,
  • Finish – Nutty fudge, salted butter toast

Pure decadence! We loved this one! Aromas were yum! A melt in your mouth fudge on the palate, rewarding finish… In short it was luxury… like an indulgent incredibly high calorie desert that you just – must – have!

And what happened when we added water? Just dampened everything – it simply wasn’t the same. And who wants decadence diminished?

And with the glass we left ‘as is’? We let it rest for some time and returned to be rewarded by salty buttery toffee fudge desert in a glass! Who could resist?

Zero doubt this was our favourite of the evening!

What else do we know?

It is aged between in ex Sauternes Grand Cru barrels from Chateau Rayne Vigneau, Bretagne.

The team kindly provided us with further details… Please excuse the rough translation from French:

Gourmet, exotic, salty

Like a confession that you will remember at the tip of your tongue. This whisky is the admission of a small sin of taste. Gourmet on the nose with this mishmash of hazelnuts, honey and cooked fruits. The balance is even more succulent… the fullness of this single malt gently delivers its exotic bouquet. This is perfectly balanced by the salinity of a Breton brandy… making a delicacy that we never tire of. Simple pleasure, sweet complexity. Quiet.

Notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Gourmand, notes de noisettes, de miel et de fruits cuits
  • Bouche – Ample, ronde, saline, notes de noix de coco, d’ananas et de caramel au beurre salé
  • Finale – Amande et noisettes, notes de miel se dissipant sur l’équilibre salin final
  • Pairing suggestions – Gâteau praliné, beurre de cacahuète, carpaccio d’ananas et coco séchée, que de la gourmandise pour un moment d’exception.
It is available in Europe directly from Maison Benjamin Kuentz for EUR 52 for a 500ml bottle. I will confess, I snapped up two bottles – one for our lovely ladies back in India and another for a friend in Canada. Who knows when I will be able to bring either bottle to either country, but at least these bottles will be ready when travel becomes feasible.

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Fin de partie

The end of the party is often that time of the evening when most of the guests have gone, just a few remain… often the close friends who also pitch in for the clean-up before you settle down for a final dram, desultory conversation before finally bidding good night. Or at least this is what it (historically!) has been like for us!

So what does this “Fin de partie” from Maison Benjamin Kuentz bring to us?

Fin de partie 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Soft gold
  • Nose – Raw cashews reminding us of Goan feni, which began to shift to maple bacon, cured meats, tropical fruits – particularly baked pineapple, then shifted again into floral sweetness, then into cloves, light red chilli oil, cherry chocolate
  • Palate – Initially confusing, intense, spice, cocoa, fruity, a hint of honey glazed ham
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice

For me, the cured meats kept returning however for others, it subsided as our tasting progressed. We really enjoyed how it had such a quixotic character – a little of this, a little of that… elements which contrasted and then combined.

We decided to see how it was with a bit of water…

  • Nose – More prunes and plums, fruitier, now a sherry influence was clearly discernable
  • Palate – Initially spicier, warming and then settled in to become quite rounded
  • Finish – Still has that cinnamon but now slightly bitter, peppery and smoky

Above all, this is one you should let linger… whether with water or without, it really came into its own the more time it spent in the glass.

What else do we know?

It is aged between 6 to 7 years in ex Cognac, Bourbon, Oloroso and PX  barrels, from Lorraine.

And what do they have to say?

Sharing greedy notes with a touch of pepper to make the evenings endless.

Fin de Partie marks the end of the day and celebrates the beginning of happy gatherings. The ones one wouldn’t want to end. This generous single Malt, intense and elegant explodes gourmet flavours. Its nose intrigues with a wood bouquet, chocolate, dried fruits and a touch of pastry with custard notes. Prunes, spices and pepper finish make this Lorraine whisky a little less disciplined than it first appears.

Notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Complexe et intrigant, bonne rondeur Fleuri, fruité (fruits cuits), pâtissier Epicé et boisé
  • Bouche – Epais, gourmand, belle sucrosité Epicé, fruité, cacaoté
  • Finale – Fruits secs, écorce d’orange Epicée et poivrée, céréales torréfiées
  • Pairing suggestions – Les chocolats de chez Carré Victoire ou le Jambon Bellota 5j de la Maison Barthouil

Our sample was purchased from Paris and dispatched to each home. Currently a 500ml bottle sells directly from Maison Benjamin Kuentz for Eur 59.

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – (D’un) Verre Printanier

We began our explorations with (D’un) Verre Printanier... having every indication of being the lightest of our Maison Benjamin Kuentz trio with its glass of springtime.

(D’un) Verre printanier 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Light honey
  • Nose – Well hello pear! Followed by fresh cut grass, light hay, a nice fruity floral vibe… notes of bergamot, then cereals, shifting from pear to white nectarine, rounding things out with white and green peppercorn
  • Palate – Hmm… more of the cereals – think barley, a bit bitter even
  • Finish – There but…

If this whisky had a ‘colour’ it would be a fresh verdant green! Truly quite ‘spring-like’, comes across as young and fresh.

We were tempted to skip adding water as it is already 46%, but thought, why not try? And thank goodness we did. Wow!

  • Nose – Lots of pear returns, dripping with honey, and the floral? Think dew on honeysuckle. Vanilla custard, marshmallows
  • Palate – Delicious! Yes there is a bright pepper yet also toffee
  • Finish – Sweet pepper

Without water, it came across as a bit ‘young’ or ‘raw’… with a splash of water, the cereals  disappeared into the background, allowing the sweet fruity floral elements to really shine.

Overall we found this whisky fresh and fun. A brilliant way to whet the appetite for more!

What else do we know?

It is aged between 5 to 7 years in ex Cognac and ex Bourbon barrels from Lorraine.

And what do they have to say?

A sunny, fresh, supple and surprising whisky.

(D’un) Verre Printanier will surprise you with its lightness and freshness. Such as nature when it rises, this Single Malt from the Mirabelle plum country will awake you to new fragrances and colors. It distinguishes itself with a well-defined taste between rough flavour and fragrance but keeps its secrecy that will keep you on tenterhooks. The dominant feature is fruity with subtle notes of white fruits and fresh cereal with a spicy finish and a nice softness. An open air olfactory promenade off the beaten track.

Tasting notes (rough translation)

  • Nose – White flowers, orchard fruits (pear in particular). Notes of cereals and fresh herbs, slightly spicy 
  • Palate – Crunchy attack, very supple. Fruity (pear again, but also notes of yellow fruits, such as plums), vegetal
  • Finish – Malty, slightly spicy, airy, which whets the appetite. Maintained tension, which makes you want to come back
  • Pairing suggestions – Baltic salmon from Barthouil or oysters from n°3 de la Maison Legris

Original notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Fleurs blanches, fruits du verger (la poire en particulier) Notes de Céréales et d’herbes fraîches, légèrement épicé
  • Bouche – Attaque croquante, toute en souplesse. Fruité (poire encore, mais aussi des notes de fruits jaunes, comme la mirabelle), végétal
  • Finale – Maltée, légèrement épicée, aérienne, qui ouvre l’appétit Une tension maintenue, qui donne envie d’y revenir
  • Pairing suggestions – Saumon baltique de chez Barthouil ou les huîtres n°3 de la Maison Legris

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Introduction

Late 2020 we kicked off a series of virtual sessions fuelled initially by my acquisition of some bottles from North Star and Chorlton. As brilliant as these were, we were hungry for new experiences. Given one of lovely ladies relocated from Mumbai to Paris, it seemed only natural to want to explore more from France.

The host of our 5th session decided to get creative and reached out to Mangali at Maison Benjamin Kuentz to purchase a trio for tasting. Very kindly, these samples were instead sent to us only with the cost of shipping.

As for what we thought? We were so impressed in December that we requested an opportunity to re-taste with the folks from Maison Benjamin Kuentz, curious to have all our questions answered!

Here is our intro to the core trio from Maison Benjamin Kuentz

What we discovered is a philosophy, a clear vision behind the approach which goes beyond selecting an interest cask, instead to evoking a certain thought for aroma and flavour profile, then experimenting until a recipe achieves that result.

Anything we speculated was overshadowed by the experience. Particularly the Aveux Gourmands was pure indulgence in a glass….

Enabling more bottles of limited liquid, Maison uses 500ml bottles – with prices ranging from EUR 52 to 75. I purchased a bottle of Aveux Gourmands for Mumbai and it was the 1st whisky I sipped and enjoyed in the new year – from my quarantine hotel room overlooking the Arabian sea…

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Germany’s Stork Single Malt 43%

There I was in Neumark in der Oberpfalz, having spent a wonderful day exploring… from Schloss Rosenburg, Ruine Rabenstein, Burg Prunn, Wellenburger Kloster to the Danube… True it was cold and snowy. True, everything was shut, so we could only tromp around the outside… but it was still such an invigorating distraction after weeks of being shut in.

That’s one of the remarkable things about the area I now live in Germany – castles and fortresses, ruins and monuments… oh my! There is so much history and such variety in relatively close proximity.

So too is the whisky industry… there are apparently now over 200 whisky distilleries in Germany. Without the guidelines / limitations of the Scottish Whisky Association, quite a bit of experimentation takes place…. often in quite small / micro distilleries.

And on that particular evening in Nuemark, I was introduced to one such new player – Stork Club Whisky from Spreewood Distillers, 60 KM south of Berlin.

So what’s their story? Steffen Lohr, Bastian Heuser and Sebastian Brack apparently were on a road trip in 2015 to buy a barrel of whisky… and found themselves inspired to take over Spreewood Distillers. Dedicated to Rye Whiskey, focusing on small batch, triple cask aged – ex bourbon, ex sherry and ex white wine – using two distillates – malted and unmalted Rye, primarily from the Brandenburg region.

What did we find from this distillery primarily dedicated to Rye?

Stork Single Malt 43%

  • Nose – Chestnut, a bit of varnish then settled down, becoming sweeter and sweeter,  fruitier, beeswax, honey, almond, a bit of green grapes – the white wine cask influence perhaps?
  • Palate – Fresh, fruity, surprisingly creamy, a dash of cinnamon spice… it was a very ‘drinkable dram’ with no harsh notes

We found it was a terrific ‘sipping whisky’…. friendly and easy going yet had enough character that you knew it would also make a great cocktail base.

Talk turned to quintessential “Lufthansa cocktails” famous in the 50s and 60s… pre-mixed and bottled yet served with a certain panache and style. Speculation that this Stork whisky     would be terrific in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan… perhaps someone should suggest this to the folks behind reviving these cocktails?

What do the gents behind The Stork have to say about their Single Malt?

  • Flavour Profile: Fresh Hay, Honey, Tropical Fruits
  • Cask: Ex-Bourbon, Ex-Sherry, Ex-White Wine Cask
  • Occassion: One for every evening
  • Raw Ingredient: Barley malt
  • Beer Accompaniment: Pilsner, Wheat Beer, Pale Beer

Now outside of Germany or perhaps parts of the US fond of a “boilermaker”, listing a ‘beer accompaniment’ for a whisky may frankly seem a little strange. But in a land known for its beer and more recently whisky, why not?

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Vita Dulcis 24 – Sweden’s Mackmyra 5 year Rök 46.3%

Unbelievable but true! I have managed to taste all 24 minis within one month. Something I have never imagined I would accomplish. Now… admittedly, I wasn’t tasting every day. Nor was I even completing each mini. Instead I grouped them in trios and quartets, settling into  a sniff, swish and consideration… mostly on weekends. Curious to know more? You can read about all of the minis here.

As for my penultimate dram? Fittingly, it closed on Europe with a single cask of a Swedish peaty Mackmyra, bottled specifically for Vita Dulcis.

Sweden – Mackmyra 5 year Rök Oloroso Cask Finish 46.3% Exclusive single cask bottling for Vita Dulcis

  • Nose – A bit dusty, then smokey, a dash of honey, fresh and woodsy, a dash of caramel, cinnamon, then shifted into maple chased by vanilla, cured meats
  • Palate – OK now we have peat, delicious, peaking behind was fruits, then baked goods
  • Finish – Bitter sweetness, cinnamon, nicely lingers…

I must say, the more I sipped, the more I enjoyed it. Even after finishing the last drop, came back to my empty glass just to enjoy the aromas. A nice way to wind things up…

As a single cask, I wasn’t able to find specific tasting notes, however I checked out my previously experience with Svensk Rök 46.1%. I’d agree it is certainly in the same vein.

You may also find other encounters with Mackmyra of interest:

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