Sweden’s Agitator’s early start

Sometimes the whisky fabric leads to special ‘sneak peaks’ into what is coming on the horizon. When The Box whisky became High Coast and more changes in the Swedish whisky industry happened, it lead to Nordic Whisky Capital… from which Håkan Jarskog became CEO of a new venture – Agitator – together with Distillery Manager  Oskar Bruno. Enter a fellow whisky aficionado from London / Bombay who just so happens to know these folks and a couple of early experiments made their way to us… to finally be opened one fine day in 2022.

Truthfully we just did a light touch exploration however it was enough to get a sense of something rather promising indeed!

Agitator’s 7 months (2018 – 9/27/2019) “Ny am ek” 46%

  • Nose – Custard apple, hay, citrus
  • Palate – Hint of heat, light spice, sweet
  • Finish – Hot

And what happens with a few more months in the barrel – throwing in some Sherry and Peat?

Agitator’s 11 months (2018 – 05/19/2019) “Sherry” 30 ppm 46%

  • Nose – Wow! Clear sherry stamp, a hint of iodine, milky caramel
  • Palate – Smooth, toffee, tobacco peat
  • Finish – Light

A rather good start! Way more going on than one would expect from maturing for under 1 year! I couldn’t wait to see how Agitator is with a couple years in a barrel!

Thankfully, I didn’t need to wait so long… in December 2022, we could experience how Agitor evolved with the bottles brought from Sweden by a lovely Whisky Lady for sampling during our Whisky Ladies of Mumbai session! We tried two core expressions: Single Malt 43% and Rök 43% plus a limited edition small batch expression Argument: Småfat 46%.

Curious to know more about their process and approach? Check out this informative feature in Distiller magazine.

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Sweden’s Agitator Single Malt Rök 43%

We closed our exploration of three expressions from a new Swedish distillery – Agitator – with the “smoky” one, anticipating it would overwhelm the other expressions. Turns out this had a much more subtle approach. Matured in a combination of ex-Islay and Chestnut casks, this smoky Agitator expression is worth checking out!

Agitator Single Malt Rök 43%

  • Nose – Smoked apples by the seaside, shifts into milk chocolate malt balls, light leather, fresh sea breeze, some herbal or vegetal elements… one lady described it as red cabbage and also found some bacon too!
  • Palate – Burnt sea wood, seawater, damp embers, walnut, dark chocolate, smooth and balanced, some vanilla custard in there too, followed by salt-water taffy
  • Finish – Nice walnut bitter then cinnamon candy, a hint of ginger

Overall this was yummy! This had the character of a friendly sailor… More of a ‘late night’ whisky with some “pep”! The more we sipped, the more it grew on us.

Interesting! We increasingly see the use of ex-Islay casks to add a gentle peat element. Whilst I couldn’t tell from the distillery information if they also used some peated barley, based on the character would suspect some (just don’t quote me on it!). Bottom line, there was a gentle “hand” at play – making this a balanced lightly smoked dram instead of a bold peat monster!

Here is what the folks at Agitator have to say (with the help of google translate from Swedish!):

In the aroma, a flattering smoky tone appears, which is accompanied by light herbalism and straw, as well as balanced fat notes. The taste, just like the smell, has a very balanced smokiness that lingers for a long time without becoming dominant. There are also notes of the vegetable found in the fragrance and a clear note of dried apricot. The finish has a certain saltiness, which probably comes from the fact that we used casks that had previously stored whiskey from Islay.

Pairing suggestion: Flavorful cheeses like blue mold, dark chocolate, oysters or smoked fish, such as salmon.

What an interesting trio! Our introduction to Agitator also included:

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Sweden’s Agitator Single Malt 43%

Like other European whisky distilleries, Agitator turns to chestnut wood to augment the standard oak. For their “core” expression simply called “Agitator Single Malt” they have aged their whisky in four casks: ex-bourbon casks, new American oak casks, ex-sherry casks, and chestnut casks. It makes for an interesting combination…

Agitator Single Malt 43%

  • Nose – Quite spirited at 1st, then mellowed to reveal crunchy green apples and pears, joined by tart pomegranate or mosambi (sweet lime), some fresh-cut wood, slight hint of dried fruits, however overall it was summery – fruity and sweet. We also caught teasing tastes of tropical fruits every once and a while as a contrast with the orchard fruits.  And all this before the 1st sip! After quaffing, we also found vanilla custard, red apple strudel, a hint of bitter cinnamon
  • Palate – So soft, delicious apple sauce, with some spice burn at the back, that shifts into white peppercorns, silky smooth on the palate, joyfully fruity, some salt water taffy
  • Finish – A bit bitter, and resinous, yet also soft and creamy, closing quite sweetly

We could describe this as a Swedish summer – frolicking in the sunshine-kissed fields. When we returned to revisit after an hour – it was like sipping sweet honey water!

We tasted this after the complex small cask/batch Småfat so obviously found their Single Malt less complex. That didn’t stop us from enjoying its sweet, easy-drinking, uncomplicated happy character. We thought this would be the perfect whisky to ease into an evening.

For my part, I couldn’t help but wonder what if it was bottled at 46%? I suspect it would be even more interesting. However, given Agitator cask at a much lower ABV – only 55% instead of the more common approach in Scotland of casking at 63.5% – it must be more challenging to reliably produce higher ABV expressions. Additionally, playing around with four casks, yet still quite young (above three years but likely not too much above that!), means that some of the casks could still be quite “active”, hence achieving the smooth amiable character at a higher strength could also be tricky.

Here is what the folks at Agitator have to say (with the help of google translate from Swedish!):

The aroma has a lovely and light note of fruitiness which is dominated by citrus, red apple and pineapple together with some dried fruit which primarily comes from the Sherry and Chestnut casks. The taste has some saltiness and a slight smoky undertone, which comes a lot from our choice of smokiness on the grain. This is well accompanied by a fruity element where you can also find some apple and citrus here. The finish has a note of sweet vanilla toffee, mostly from Bourbon casks and American oak, and it lingers pleasantly for a long time.

Pairing suggestion: Why not try it with an apple cake?

Our introduction to Agitator also included two other expressions. Now… if you were to also explore this trio together, there is no doubt you should start with this expression first! Then explore the smoky Rök before settling into Argument: Småfat. At least that would be our humble recommendation!

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Sweden’s Agitator Argument: Småfat 46%

Kicking off our evening exploring a trio from the new Swedish distillery Agitator was an interesting expression from their small batch and small cask series. In this case, it was a mix of whisky matured in three different quarter casks: ex-Islay to add a gentle smoke, ex-Sherry for a dash of Christmasy sweetness, and chestnut wood.

It was an impressive start – we immediately appreciate the different qualities the cask combination brought and how remarkably complex it was for a whisky that must be only around 3-4 years!

Agitator Argument: Småfat 46%

  • Nose – Is that Benedryl cough syrup? A bit musty then shifts into a lovely hazel nuttiness, some grain mash, switching to sweet marzipan, then tropical fruits, which was quite inviting and warming. After the 1st sip we detected some hints of leather, black licorice, and some cayenne that then shifted into crisp green capsicum
  • Palate – Love it! Velvet, leather, caramel, cinnamon (a bit like chewing “Big Red” bubblegum), bitter almond, very Christmasy with sherry influences – marmalade, dried fruits with sweet spices, warming and complex, full and fab!
  • Finish – At first we thought little of the finish, but by the 2nd sip, remarked on how it lingers, some black pepper, a hint of salt, a touch bitter, like chewing on meethi ladkri

Overall it was really rather interesting and contrasting – a delicious and shifting nose, so enjoyable on the palate – one to relax, sip and enjoy like a warm embrace, and a finish that sparked a debate.

So what was the discussion about? It was around the dimension described as मीठी लकड़ी (meethi ladkri) which translates into sweet wood – a stick that you can chew to freshen breath, help a sore throat, settle your stomach, and more. A bit more research and we burst out with laughter – it isn’t some exotic desi root – instead we were talking about licorice which is quite common in many parts of the world! However, it is true, chewing a stick differs from the processed licorice one normally finds.

One lady remarked how it reminded her a lot of Caperdonich. I quickly flipped through my whisky-tasting notes and read impressions from a recent experience at Paris Whisky Live from La Maison du Whisky – would absolutely agree! Especially the nutty character!

We rarely have such an enthusiastic reaction to the 1st whisky of the evening – which just goes to show how much we enjoyed this expression! For most, it was the favourite of the evening.

Here is what the folks at Agitator have to say (with the help of google translate from Swedish!):

Tasting Notes: 
  • Aroma: In the aroma you will find a nuanced smokiness with a clear barrel character, hints of vanilla, butterscotch, red apples, tropical fruit and dry leather.
  • Taste: The Islay casks contribute to the taste with distinct smoky tones and a fine-tuned saltiness. Sherry and chestnut casks contribute fruitiness of red apples, tropical fruit and a dry finish.
  • Finish: Light to medium-long finish with hints of some salty licorice.
Pairing suggestion: Blue cheese, chocolate, seafood, and snacks such as pistachios and almonds

Our introduction to Agitator also included::

Curious about more Swedish whiskies? Well…. you are in luck! We’ve had quite a few interesting explorations, so you can take your pick of:

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Sweden’s Agitator Trio – Single Malt, Rök, Argument: Småfat

Welcome to Sweden and say hello to a new distillery – Agitator! Thanks to the travels of a Swedish Whisky Lady, we had an opportunity to explore a trio from the latest “kid on the block”.

I’m still learning what makes this new entrant distinctive but a few things already caught my attention. Agitator do vacuum distillation – to give a gentler treatment to the raw materials and reduce energy consumption. They also have a casking strength of 55% ABV – which is much lower than the standard 63.5% ABV by Scottish distillers. And, much like some German distillers, they also use chestnut casks to augment traditional oak. You can read more about their approach here.

Our introduction to Agitator included::

What an interesting introduction to a very promising new entry into the world of whisky!

And what a lovely December evening in Mumbai – kicking off with the flavourful Swedish mulled wine, an impressive spread of snacks, it was a fabulous way to close another calendar year of tasting adventures with the Whisky Ladies!

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Scandi Whiskies – High Coast Berg “Pedro Ximenez” 50%

Our Scandi evening had a lovely light summery dessert quality with both the delightful “appetizer” dram Isle of Lime Sangelstain from Gotland and the delicate yet entrancing High Coast Alv 46% river-inspired single malt.

For our last whisky of the evening, we turned from the river to the mountain with the “Berg” expression from the High Coast’s Origin Series. This made it the 3rd expression for me – having tried the sea-inspired High Coast Hav “Spiced Oak” and the 4th for the Whisky Ladies who also sampled their timber-inspired High Coast Timmer “Peat Smoke” two years earlier!

So what did we think of their Sherry expression?

High Coast Berg “PX” 50%

  • Colour – Bright copper
  • Nose – Sherry and how! All the butter rum raisins and nutmeg spice you would expect from a Sherry cask…. however it also had a strong almond paste aroma, toffee, Alpen Lebe cream candies
  • Palate – Spiced ginger, coffee candies (think Kopiko!), had some spunk and character, mellowed into bitter almond, as we continued to sip, rich sherry fruits emerged – raisins and dried fruits, perhaps even a hint of marmalade
  • Finish – Pink peppercorns

As delicate as the High Coast Alv expression was, this one had a wonderfully robust character that demanded attention – in a very good way! It was a terrific contrast – warming and envigorating. What we particularly appreciated is that it had some of the typical “Christmas” sherry elements but in a non-Christmasy way (ok you have to try to know what we mean!). It was somehow fresher, cleaner, and less cluttered or overwhelming the way a heavy sherry can sometimes be.

What do they have to say about High Coast Berg?

BERG – is a sherry matured whisky which has the same natural colour as the Nordingrå granite which can be seen protruding the dramatic landscape of the High Coast. The casks have previously held the flavoursome Pedro Ximénez sherry.

Origins is a series where we celebrate our heritage. We have embraced our location, history and geography and created four whiskies that reflect these aspects. The Origins quartet is released in selected Systembolaget stores as well as in the ordering range and in selected international markets. Berg is so far our most awarded whisky in international shows.

“Berg” is the swedish word for mountain, a tribute to the Nordingrå granite which can be seen protruding the dramatic landscape of the High Coast.

  • Nose: Raisins, butterscotch, orange chocolate
  • Palate: Rich vanilla sweetness, ripe pear, dried apricots, sultanas
  • Finish: Dried fruits

What more do we know? Lots! High Coast is generous in providing loads of details about their whiskies. A synopsis is that Berg is aged between 5.5 to 6.6 years, no peat, matured in first-fill Bourbon barrels and then finished in first-fill sherry casks – primarily PX – to produce 13,000 bottles, retails in Sweden for 499 SEK (approx EUR 48).

What else did we explore in our Scandi whisky evening?

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This tasting was part of the Mumbai Whisky Ladies club which you can separately follow here: Whisky Ladies of Mumbai

Scandi Whiskies – High Coast Älv “Delicate Vanilla” 46%

After the rather delicious Isle of Lime “Sangelstain” whisky, we continued our evening of Scndi whiskies with a duo from High Coast Distillery. It is part of their Origins expressions:

Origins is a series where we celebrate our heritage. We have embraced our location, history and geography and created four whiskies that reflect these aspects.

We started with Älv – the Swedish word for River.

High Coast Älv 46% (Bottles 8257)

  • Nose – Oh yum! Delicious ripe bananas, caramel, lemon poppyseed muffin, banoffee pie – in short, tropical sunshine and dessert! As it evolved, we found fresh wood, honey, even sweet Neem leaf… more of that dessert – sweet cakes
  • Palate – A delightful contrast – mild, subtle, and delicate.. one even thought of chamomile… with the 2nd sip we found some spice, lights cloves, buttery, becoming fruitier and that sweet vanilla too
  • Finish – Initially sweet followed by a bitter almond

The nose was exuberant and effusive, the palate more restrained and yet it had a lovely balance. In short – we were most impressed and really enjoyed trying this whisky!

What do the folks at High Coast have to say?

Outside our front door runs the beautiful river Ångermanälven, the heart of the High Coast region and essential to our distillery. We are able to make such elegant whisky thanks to the naturally cold, crystal clear water sourced from the river.
Älv — a well-balanced soft single malt with vanilla tones. Älv is our most elegant whisky.

The official tasting notes:

  • Aroma – Vanilla, coconut, sponge cake
  • Palate – Sweet vanilla, mature pear, apple
  • Finish – Long sweet vanilla notes

With further details on the recipe and casks used:

Älv consists of 100% unpeated whisky which has matured in first fill Bourbon barrels;

  • 68.51% – 24 barrels of 200 liters Quercus Alba delivered empty direct from Kentucky
  • 31.49% – 11 quarter casks of 130 liters repaired by Speyside Cooperage 

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.

12/04/2019 35 Bourbon barrels containing 4670 kilos of whisky, with an average strength of 61,64% abv, were emptied into our blending tank. There we added, 1787 kilos of water to reach the desired strength of 46% abv.

In early 2022 this retailed in Sweden for 500 SEK (Euro 48). We were quite happy with this one and excited to try the sherry “Berg” expression next!

This wasn’t our only High Coast (Box) exploration:

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Scandi Whiskies – Isle of Lime Sangelstain 46.3%

Every once and a while, a completely unexpected treat joins our whisky tastings – the Sangelstain expression from Isle of Lime distillery was a perfect example!

You won’t find this in any duty-free or even in your reasonably well-stocked whisky store. So far, it is only available in Sweden’s Liquor stores – Systembolaget – and that too if you are lucky to catch a limited expression!

The Isle of Lime Distillery was established in 2012 in Gotland – an island on the far eastern part of Sweden. They use barley from local farms and produce five expressions -from unpeated (like the one we tried) to peated.

So what did we think?

Isle of Lime Sangelstain 46.3%

  • Nose – Delicious from the start! Really summery – warm and inviting. Fruity and fresh, amber perfume, vanilla sponge cake… as it opened up further the oak base became more prominent, topped by jasmine… over time it shifted with pine needles or spruce transporting us to a verdant forest
  • Palate – Fresh wood, spice…nice buttery mouthfeel, countered with green peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, cloves with orange rind and marmalade… this may sound Christmasy yet was still summery
  • Finish – Carried on with similar elements – equally pleasing… at one point we thought it was a bit nutty, another a hint of anise

As we sipped, the nose remained joyful…. it was enchanting summer dram prompting us to think of wandering in a fresh forest peppered with flowers.

This was exactly the kind of whisky to get one in the “mood” for an enjoyable evening… light, refreshing, inviting and far too enjoyable!

I came back to it and enjoyed its mellow character – yet with enough substance on the palate to keep it interesting. I’d happily like to explore more from this distillery.

What do the folks at Isle of Lime have to say about this expression? Rather a lot!

On a remote field on the northern part of the limestone island Gotland, lies a hidden anomaly.
A large phonolite stone, transported by the hands of gods to this alien place far from its volcanic origin.
So this stone was worshipped for having extraordinary powers. And if you hit it with a stone, it sang. That’s how it got its name Sangelstain – Gotlandic for clinkstone. Pour this fifth edition of Isle of Lime, and listen to the clink of your glasses and let it resonate through your body as you toast a friend.
The sound of the Sangelstain belongs to this mild malt whisky, stored and matured in oak casks giving it a unique character.

For official tasting notes:

  • Colour – Deep Copper
  • Nose – Fruity, oily, prunes and thyme
  • Palate – Fresh jam, salty, lively with a little licorice
  • Finish – Medium long with a sweet, vinous and peppery mouthfeel

TYPE OF BARLEY: Propina Tipple ekologiskt odlat på Gotland
FARMS: Halner gård, Bro och Sigdes gård, Rone
MATLTING: Mältas på Sigdes gård i Rone, Gotland. Malten röks med torv under nio timmar
WATER: Gotlandic hard water
YEAST: Torr jäst för Maltwhisky. DistilaMax MW
CASKS: Bourbon barrel, American oak medium, American oak char. Sherry hogshead och Ungersk Ek
CASK SIZES: 96, 200 och 250 liters fat
BOTTLING: 2021 April

And if you are really a whisky geek? They even share the barrels used – Sangelstain!

Bottom line? We loved it and found it a perfect way to kick off our Scandi evening.

We continued with:

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Scandi Whiskies – High Coast and Isle of Lime

Last summer I had the distinct pleasure of spending a few days in Sweden visiting a Whisky Lady. Naturally, we prioritized exploring distilleries and made it to Spirit of Hven on the West Coast near her family home followed by the mighty Mackmyra outside of Stockholm.

Years before we had tasted a few expressions from High Coast (mostly from when it was still called Box!) and also a couple drams from Smögen. So I was exceedingly curious to see what she chose to bring back to Mumbai for the Whisky Ladies.

Happily, it was two contrasting expressions from High Coast and our first ever experience with Isle of Lime from Gotland.

What did we explore?

Then two from High Coast’s Origins Series:

What an incredibly special evening… just a few Whisky Ladies experiencing three unique and exceedingly enjoyable whiskies!

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Mackmyra Smokey – Reserve Bourbon, Oloroso and Svensk Rök

The folks at Mackmyra distillery clearly know what they are doing. There is a subtle yet notable fresh “Scandi” style that comes from their use of Juniper which we’ve started to look out for as a signature element.

Our fabulous tour and tasting guide – Ingemar – chose to split our tasting broadly  between:

For the 2nd part, we explored the Smokey style through two “Macmyra Reserve” expressions (available only through purchasing a cask) and one standard expression:

  • Macmyra Reserve Bourbon Rök 3.5 year Fatnr 7765 (2018-11-13) 50.3%
  • Macmyra Reserve New Oloroso Rök Fatrn 38740 (2014-1010/2018-10-10) 57.3%
  • Mackmyra Svensk Rök 46.1% WL (2021 distillery visit)

Here is what we discovered….

#4 – Smokey transition… restrained elegant sweet peat

Unlike the punchy peat of Islay, we’ve found Mackmyra’s Scandi peat much more restrained and nuanced. Our first foray into the “Smokey” side was a perfect example of this.

Macmyra Reserve Bourbon Rök 3.5 year Fatnr 7765 (2018-11-13) 50.3%

  • Colour – Light bright straw
  • Aroma – Mmm… leather, bacon, honey with a citrus twist, had a lovely clean sweet peat aroma with a hint of juniper, restrained and elegant
  • Palate – Light sweet peat, very smooth and well balanced, easy drinking
  • Finish – Delightful cinnamon, long and strong

What a treat! Lovely, uncomplicated… truly stellar. By far one of our favourites of the entire tasting – remarkable at a mere 3.5 years! Narry a drop of this one remained….

#5 – Smokey and Sweet

Switching gears from a restrained elegant peat, we jumped into a more robust peat and sherry combination.

And what did we think?

Macmyra Reserve New Oloroso Rök Fatrn 38740 (2014-1010/2018-10-10) 57.3%

  • Colour – Copper
  • Aroma – Butterscotch toast slathered with butter, malty then becomes faintly floral after some time, shifting into Christmas spices oops and then hickory sweet maple bacon
  • Palate – Very dry, the most pronounced sweet spices – clove, cinnamon, nutmeg… marmite, oak and wood
  • Finish – Very warm finish – which stays, and how!
  • Water – At first, water mere cranks up the spice however didn’t add or reveal anything new… and then a light cinnamon spice with nutmeg and malt

The “Christmas-y” quality was even more pronounced with the New Oloroso Rok than its Elegant avatar.

#6 – Smokey juniper

Last was from their standard line – one we’ve had before many years ago! What do they have to say?

Svensk Rök (Swedish Smoke) is the only smoky single malt whisky made from Swedish ingredients only. In Sweden, we have used juniper to season our food for generations. Now you can enjoy the timeless flavour in a golden form. The aroma is slightly smoky and spicy, with a much smokier flavour and peaty juniper notes.

As for what we found?

Mackmyra Svensk Rök 46.1% WL (2021 distillery visit)

  • Colour – Light gold
  • Aroma – Juniper wood, sweet peat, tobacco, sour mash with an organic or agricultural quality which warmed to become even sweeter with vanilla notes
  • Palate – Much lighter than expected, more of the tobacco leaf, more juniper smoke, lightly salted too
  • Finish – Certainly there yet also not as much “oomph!” as we anticipated – quite dry, oaky with more herbs than juniper

As the only “core” expression tried, it was nice to check out what they had to say in their official tasting notes?

  • Nose: Slightly smoky and spicy with aromas of peat, juniper and vanilla fudge. 
  • Taste: Smokier than the nose with smoky, peaty, juniper notes. Dry, oaky aromas found with light tobacco leaves and herbs. A slight saltiness with minerals, anise and green fruits. 
  • Aftertaste: Slightly dry and smoky with notes of oak, salt and herbs.

Not all official tasting notes “jibe” with our experience – in this case it did completely!

What we tried from Mackmyra’s Elegant Style:

So there you have it! Four “Reserve” experiences, one limited edition and one core. Clearly catering to a local audience, it was no surprise that our cab driver on the way to the distillery – like many – have splurged with friends to buy a small cask after such a tasting!

As for other Mackmyra tasting experiences (nearly 20 and counting!)? You can find them here.

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