Spirit of Hven – Seven Angels – St Raphael 40.9%

Our last Spirit of Hven dram was their most recent – St Raphael – which is the first of their new limited edition Seven Angels series.

The folks at Spirit of Hven love their myths and stories. For this whisky, they were inspired by the tale of the archangel St Raphael sent to heal Abraham and Lot, becoming the patron for doctors, apothecaries and medics.

Hence St Raphael is :

a homage and thank you to everyone within medicine and healthcare. They have fought brave and hard with the Covid pandemic. It is also a tribute to blue light personnel by their side.

They go on to share that the Archangel St Raphael is also the patron for happy meetings, travelers and marriage.

Surely, during this pandemic, we have missed our physical meets, with hugs and human touch. Surely, we long for to travel again, to meet our friends, family and colleagues all around the world. And how huge is not our longing to gather family and friends, and finally be able to celebrate our postponed weddings, to commit, with love, closeness and joy.

Let this whisky be a tribute to the healing, to be able to travel again and meet like we once did. To enjoy the wonders of spring, each other, and a remarkably good whisky.

So what did we think? In short – we loved it! Definitely the right note to wind down our afternoon tasting…

Seven Angels – St Raphael (2010/Mar 2021) 40.9%

  • Aroma – A quick sharp whiff of varnish then it settled down and started to open up, becoming floral, wine, cinnamon and honeysuckle, summery, cloves, dessert confection
  • Palate – Unexpected! Lots of oak tannins, spice, the red wine cask is quite pronounced, while the aroma was floral the palate was a heavier creamier almost fudge like dessert with rich red wine
  • Finish – Long and warm

We could clearly taste the influence of the Italian red wines from Veneto – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Vespiola. We understand six casks in all were used – including one which previously held Spirit of Hven vodka!

Whilst we found it took a bit of time to open up, but when it did – worth it! There was a delightful dessert quality without being overly sweet. The contrast between summery aromas and spicy almost autumnal palate was quite enjoyable. Lots going on but it worked!

What do they have to say? Whilst you may not find the factsheet on their website, the kind folks sent it to me with oodles more details!

Here’s what they have to say about how they made this whisky:

St Raphael is a marriage between six casks from 2010. Five of these casks, made from air dried Quercus Petraea from Allier, have previously held wine from one of the most merited winemakers in Italy. A family-owned winery with many generations. Geographically they are situated just south of the alps in northern Veneto. The blend of the five casks is two previously holding Cabernet Sauvignon, two previously holding Merlot and one that have held a sweet wine made from the grape Vespaiola. The sixth cask, to balance the stringency from the French oak, is made from American Quercus Muehlenbergii. This cask has previously held the unique Hven Vodka that is oak matured prior to last distillation.

And what about their official tasting notes?

Scent and taste without water

  • the first scent is enticing, a wonderful marriage of ripe, well matured red wine on a sunny terrace. Both Merlot and Cabernet show themselves without becoming intrusive. A lovely fudge aroma from the Chinkapin oak makes a soft base. The end is elegant and fruity with notes of honey and apricots, a clear contribution from the Vespaiola.
  • Taste is soft with elegant stringency in the closure. Balanced acidity and a light sweetness. Long, warming aftertaste with round body. No fixated balance point on the tongue, it rolls over all the tastebuds, full palate, with small exclamations. Alcohol is clear but fine-tuned.

With water, just a couple of drops, as the alcohol is initially low, the whisky becomes even more flirtatious. It releases light notes of honeysuckle and ripe, dark fruits. Oak character grows with the notes of herbal French oak. Lovely, elegant hints of liquorice and flowers.

With these couple of drops of water, smoothness reach perfection. Velvet smooth over the tastebuds. The stringent taste that was felt before water is transformed to honey and vanilla.

Considering my tasting companion typically prefers a peatier dram, this one was perfect for a summer afternoon.

What else did we try at Spirit of Hven?

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Spirit of Hven – Seven Stars 6.2 Alcor 45%

Sunshine, warm breeze, nicely relaxed after a long walk around the island, distillery tour and grub, we started the serious business of whisky tasting. As an appetizer, we started with Spirit of Hven’s MerCurious Corn Whisky and then moved on to this expression from their limited edition Seven Stars series.

If today you wanted to try each of the Seven Stars series, I suspect you may need to visit the distillery itself as most are near impossible to track down. However for those fortunate few who make their way for a wee island adventure, you may find out experience edifying!

Seven Stars 6.2 Alcor 45%, Chateau Margaux Cask, 3642 bottles

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Aroma – very full, lush, rich coffee, a bit of leather and cream, loads of fudge, some licorice, very sweet, mocha, coffee cream, dark cherries, salted caramel brittle covered in chocolate
  • Palate – Flavourful and complex, clear follow through on the palate from the nose joined by red wine tannins, curiously thin, the peat comes through on the 2nd sip
  • Finish – Stays on the coffee note with a bit of smoke
  • Water – While didn’t think it would be needed, given the intensity of the aromas and flavours, gave it a try. What did it do? The coffee quality reduced and a nice nutty element emerged with brazil nuts, a bit woody and dry

Overall quite an interesting whisky. A little too “concentrated” or “intense” to have on a regular basis, however it was certainly one worth trying!

What do the folks at Spirit of Hven have to say?

Alcor is number 6½ in the Spirit of Hven “Seven Stars” series. It is the most unique so far amongst the releases. A fantastic marriage of American and European oak. Presenting a wonderful combination of traditional whisky lactones with herbal freshness and younger, vibrant and enticing wine cask character. The whisky has a mesmerizing scent- and taste palate with a delicious balance between freshness and maturity, sweetness and acidity, bitterness and texture.

The Alcor recipe was meant to be a longer finish of Mizar on Chateau Margaux casks. Unfortunately the result was not fully what we hoped it to be. So to improve the recipe, whisky matured on wine cask from Italy, Olorosso and Hven Vodka casks was added. The final result became so good, it made our master distiller cry, happy tears.

The mashbill is the same as with 6:1 Mizar; 58,8% lager malt, 35,3% peated malt (38ppm), 5,9% chocolate malt. This single malt whisky is a blend of seven casks. Three casks made of Petraea oak from Allier that previously held chateau Margaux; one cask made of Faginea oak from Portugal that previously matured Olorosso sherry; two casks made of Muehlenbergii oak from Missouri that was used to mature Hven Vodka; and one cask of Burgundy Robur oak that used to mature Maculan Torcolato.

Scent and Taste Undiluted:

  • First scent impression is raisins, then followed by a light liquorice smokiness. Rich nuances of dark chocolate and coffee combined by a distinguished scent of leather. Dried plums in the background. Mature and elegant, yet full of life.
  • The taste is surprisingly round even at 45 %vol. Delicate bitter notes that do not overpower the sweet oak lactones and wood sugars. Lands mid-back-tongue. Long, sweet aftertaste with soft tannins. Great, big mouthfeel, wins on not being chill filtered.

Diluted: With water 1:4

  • The elegant notes from the wine casks evolves, and gets to dance an intimate dance with the herbal maltiness of the whisky. Together they create a lovely fond of chocolate, coffee and liquorice complemented by spicy raspberries.
  • The taste is sweet yet full of texture and life. Balanced mid-tongue. Medium long aftertaste with round oiliness and slight acidity. Perfect to balance an after dinner espresso.
  • This whisky is almost unnecessary good. You would like it to last forever.

What else did we try from Spirit of Hven?

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Spirit of Hven – MerCurious Corn Whisky 45.6%

It is a curious thing at Swedish distilleries… you can pay to taste whisky however if you actually want to BUY a bottle, you need to go to a state-owned “off-license” Systembolaget or order online from an authorised distributor.

Additionally, this small island distillery Spirit of Hven specialises in mostly small batch experiments, so aside from their “regular” expressions like Tycho’s Star, what you try today will not be available tomorrow, let alone via the liquor store.

With Master Distiller Henric Molin’s foray into Corn whisky, there are indications this will  remain a regular expression – simply with different batches where subtle differences may be found. Named after the planet Mercury, known in Greek and Norse mythology as Hermes and Oden respectively. According to the folks at Spirit of Hven, this god “ruled over wealth, fortune and commerce. His favorite activity was to rule the corn trade.” 

After enjoying a relaxing lunch post distillery tour, we settled down with a rather large book of whisky options… and thought why not start by trying this before getting into the “real” aka barley whiskies!

MerCurious Corn Whisky 45.6%

  • Colour – Bright orange
  • Aroma – Sugary sweet, vanilla, bright fruits, buttery, sweet corn starchy sweet
  • Palate – Young, raw but not harsh, more of that buttery quality, sweet and almost a bit grassy
  • Finish – Limited

We didn’t really know what to expect however it was… curious? What struck is was the smoothness and the extremely orange colour!

We set it aside and on the revisit it was pure candy floss!

And what did the folks at Spirit of Hven have to say? Quite a bit!

Every batch comprises of 14 casks, all playing an important tune in this masterpiece; all casks are made of American air-dried virgin oak. MerCurious is velvet smooth and enticing while still challenging with rich character. The recipe is 88% corn, 5% wheat, 3,5% barley, 3,5% rye. Maturation is between 3 and 8 years depending on cask recipe.

Scent and Taste

  • Undiluted: the first notes attracting the nose are light, sweet candy aromas surrounded by scents of fresh fruits; apples and cloudberries. MerCurious has a distinct character of mature whisky combined with vanilla and cocoa balanced with a delicate spirituality. The corn is evident and if you close your eyes you feel yourself teleported to the kitchen with the nose over a casserole with new boiled sweet corn. A fine note of menthol contributes with a nice freshness, a clear provenance from Hven.
  • The taste is exiting and unique. First it is almost sparkling, fresh and vibrant then it transforms into a full bodied sweet and sour pie. It lands mid-back tonngue. Via the mouth it reaches the nose with a sweet corn aroma. The small addition of barley to the recipe gives a lively and fresh taste with light menthol and green notes.
  • Diluted: With water 1:7 (≈40%) the scent changes; the distinct spirituality fades a bit and promotes the light candy notes. It scents of jellybeans, wine gums and chocolate cake, mature blackberries and sweet pie dough. Vanilla and fudge in the background.
  • With water the taste becomes velvet smooth, green notes of sweet corn, asparagus and pear. Sweetness balanced with delicate acidity and light bitterness from American oak. This is happiness in a bottle, soft and smooth mixed with integrity and personality.

What else did we try from Spirit of Hven?

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Spirit of Hven – MerCurious, Seven Stars Alcor, Seven Angels St Raphael

Travel is a precious commodity these days… even more so when somewhere completely new in the company of a good friend. Without a fellow whisky lady explorer, I doubt Sweden would have made it on my COVID times travel list… and certainly not an amazingly packed few days which included not one but two distillery tours!

Our first was Spirit of Hven on a small island between Sweden and Denmark. It is one of those distilleries that takes COMMITMENT to reach. In my case it meant a couple of planes, taxi, bus, train then another car, bus, train, ferry and many kilometres walk to reach! Once on the island of Veen, we took the scenic stroll around the east coast of the island – most enjoyable and well worth doing. However the signage was limited so there was a time or two when we wondered – are we going the right way? It was only as we returned along the ‘main’ route that we suddenly saw signage a-plenty!

I’ll share more about our distillery tour another time, however for us the whisky fun really began after lunch. The owners have quite a remarkable collection of whiskies in their bar – tempting as the range was we were ladies on a mission to explore more of Spirit of Hven creations.

The distillery whisky menu was chock full of options – while some of the limited expressions were out of stock – it was remarkable how many were still available.

What did we try?

And the best thing? Relaxing outside after a day of travel including our MANY kilometres of walking!

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Celt 41%

I really enjoy exploring expressions from a single distillery – it enables one to discern underlying commonalities whilst at the same time the variations that come from different elements – be it maturing in different casks, periods of time or use of peat.

Even better is when you have a trio packaged conveniently in 200ml bottles – perfect to share with a few folks without needing to host a party!

Celt was the last in our trio – the only one that used peat. What did we think?

Penderyn Celt 41%

  • Nose – Is that dried apricot? Then shifted quickly into briney sea salt (reminiscent of Talisker?), then apples and vanilla, with the smokiness also joining, sweet caramel, smoked bacon, sponge cake… delightfully evolving and shifting between different elements
  • Palate – Mmmmm…. buttery, smokey, well rounded whisky with that oily quality that properly coats the palate, nice warm fire
  • Finish – From sweet to bitter, lingering to leave a subtle smokey tail

This one caught our attention – most enjoyable and held up very well even after some time. For some – it was the clear favourite! Though the ex-bourbon matured Myth without peat was also a winner.

As we sat back and considered all three in the Dragon Range – Legend, Myth and this Celt – we recognized some common threads…. each had apples and vanilla on the nose and a nice bitterness on the palate. Interesting!

And what do the folks at Penderyn have to say?

Celt is a single malt whisky finished in ex-peated quarter casks, bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA). This whisky has a Kosher certificate.

  • Nose: Mild aromas of peat smoke, early morning at the rocky seaside and warm marmalade on toast all compete for our attention.
  • Palate: It begins with great sweetness before the smoky, slightly medicinal flavours descend.
  • Finish: Slight bitterness follows that leaves a long and lingering freshness in the mouth.

I bought this tasting set of 200 ml bottles for EUR 37. Then hand delivered samples to my tasting companions in Sweden and France.

Here is the convoluted tale of how we came to taste the Penderyn Dragon range:

What about our earlier Penderyn explorations?

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Legend 41%

While not called Legend, a few of us have tried Penderyn’s Madeira finish over the years. It proved to us that this Welsh distillery has got the balance right – affordable, enjoyable with just enough interesting going on to make us happy to repeat! My most recent revisit was at the close of 2020 with my Advent Calendar malty marathon.

The Madeira finish is a core Penderyn expression and a bottle sitting in Mumbai was intended to anchor an exploration with our desi tasting companions. Which we will get to… one of these months or years…

However in the interim, “Legend” – also a Madeira finish – beckoned as part of the Dragon range tasting set.

Penderyn Legend 41%

  • Nose – Apples, touch of citrus, subtle, vanilla cream, as it warmed up a hint of rum raisins and cream
  • Palate – Some spice, a bit of woodiness, later we wondered – was that a touch of grapefruit? It also had that bitter quality
  • Finish – Spicy at the back – black peppers then ginger

After the delightful Myth which had fruit in abundance in the nose and considerable substance on the palate with a satisfying finish, the Legend came across as… dare I say it… a wee bit flat?

We speculated perhaps we should have started with the Legend – with fresh palates, perhaps this would have made a better ‘appetizer’ before moving on to the bourbon. A bit counter-intuitive but may have resulted in a more harmonious progression.

We set it aside and carried on with the Peaty Celt… then returned to revisit. No major transformation however did detect some red currents, some spice and bitterness.

And what do the folks at Penderyn have to say?

Legend is a Madeira-finish single malt whisky, bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA)

  • Nose: Aromas of fresh apples and citrus fruits intermingle with cream fudge and sultana raisins to create a complex yet fresh, clean and well-balanced whisky.
  • Palate: Incredibly smooth and both fresh and rich dried fruits abound. Delicate and sweet on the palate with just a hint of bitterness to remain refreshing.
  • Finish: A long aftertaste of Madeira cake and sultanas.

Would we agree? Not entirely… Could it be my opening and transferring into wee sample bottles a month+ before and distributing dampened the character? Some whiskies are particularly susceptible to losing their “oomph!” with oxidation. Or could it be the recipe for Legend differs from their core Madeira finish?

Either way, we did not find the complexity or the rich dried fruits. Pity…

Here is the convoluted tale of how we came to taste the Penderyn Dragon range:

What about our earlier Penderyn explorations?

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Myth 41%

With no India trips in sight, I decided to go ahead and bring samples from the Penderyn Dragon range trio with me to France and Sweden… which we then decided to taste virtually late July.

Given the Dragon Range trio had Bourbon, Madeira and Peat, we decided to start with the ex-Bourbon finish. If we were to do it again, would start with the Madeira – once we’ve shared our experience with both you will understand why!

So… on to Myth matured in an ex-bourbon cask…

Penderyn Myth 41%

  • Nose – Mmmm…. apples, pears, a bit spicy, some wafts of tropical fruits, fresh grapes, toffee… increasingly sweet with vanilla, fresh baked brioche
  • Palate – More substance than expected, full of flavour with a nice bitterness too… the 2nd sip had a hint less vanilla yet the sweetness remains
  • Finish – Spice that lasts, a bit of bitter chillipepper that mellows into sweet spice

From the start this was a happy, lively summery dram, engaging on the nose, lovely on the palate… an easy enjoyable sipper. We set it aside to try the other. When we returned for a revisit – it remained just as delightful – bright, lively and fresh.

And what do the folks at Penderyn have to say?

Myth is a single malt whisky finished in a range of specially selected ex-bourbon and rejuvenated oak casks., bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA). This whisky has a Kosher certificate.

  • Nose: Fresh and lively, Myth has mixed citrus fruits mingling with apple, pear drops and the merest hint of tropical fruits.
  • Palate: Sweetness dominates then moves over to allow some refreshing bitterness to emerge while the mixed fruits continue to dominate the flavour.
  • Finish: Gradually all the flavours ebb away to leave memories of a lively and light style of whisky that is easy to drink.

Would we agree? Absolutely!

Welcome to the convoluted tale of how we came to taste the Penderyn Dragon range:

What about our earlier Penderyn explorations?

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Legend, Myth, Celt

There we were on a virtual tasting bringing together friends in London, Paris, South of France, Germany, Mumbai… barely finished what was in front of us and already planning the next. Sounds simple enough, right?

Except our merry malty friends are now scattered around the globe with narrow options to coordinate combined virtual sessions between Brexit and Mumbai customs.

However with extremely limited travel and also the limitations of what can be personally brought across borders, purchasing 700ml seems silly! Enter an idea to either build on what was already in India or buy the same set of 200 ml bottles…

That’s what led to our plan for me to purchase a tasting set of 200 ml bottles online in Germany to send samples to Paris. I immediately thought of Penderyn as I knew the Madeira and other was safely tucked away in Mumbai… A quick online search and I found this Penderyn trio – what they call their Penderyn Dragon range:

As this wasn’t quite what was already in Mumbai, our London based malt man decided to pick up the same 200ml trio with every expectation of sharing in his April/May 2021 trip to India.

All excited, I proposed a virtual session with the folks at Penderyn! I contacted the delightful and amusing Aista Jukneviciute, Penderyn’s Blender whom I met at The Village spirits festival in February 2020. It was a resounding yes and the excitement built even further!

For those who aren’t familiar, Welsh distillery Penderyn was founded in 2004 and is headed by Laura Davies, Distillery Manager, who trained with Dr. Jim Swan. We’ve sampled only a few Penderyn over the years but have overall enjoyed our experiences, appreciating how it remains both more affordable and accessible in style.

And then conditions in India worsened with trips canceled with India travels suspended for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, our European situation has improved, so I thought why not open this trio and bring to Paris along with other samples for our Euro ladies? If not today, sometime we  can enjoy a session… with (or without) our desi compatriots.

This followed by a trip to Sweden to meet up with another Whisky Lady… also with Penderyn samples in tow… and a plot to do a virtual session between Laholm, Paris and Nurnberg was hatched!

Even more remarkably… it happened late July! Not with the lovely folks at Penderyn as we’d prefer to ‘reserve’ that privilege to hold together with folks in India… but it still happened!

Convoluted and yet creative… just the kind of connects that weave together the fabulous whisky fabric!

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Whisky Lady – July 2021

My European adventures continued – this time to Scandi country starting on the west coast hopping over to Hven – practically touching Denmark then up to the capital Stockholm on to Gavle with Mackmyra distillery.

What a time to go to Sweden! It was such a fabulous couple of days and well worth the inconveniences of traveling in COVID times.

First up was jaunt from Gothenburg to Laholm to Veen to visit Spirit of Hven where we took a distillery tour and tasted:

Then we popped over to Stockholm and from there to Gavle for a tour of Mackmyra distillery and tasting of:

I managed to catch up on some tasting notes from my June Paris trip… which began with sharing a few drams with our Euro Whisky Ladies:

Then continued with Maison Benjamin Kuentz where we sampled:

(Tasting notes shared in August!)

However I finally got around to sharing tasting notes about a sextet from German distillery St Kilian. The original plan was to go to the distillery in November 2020 – COVID dropped that idea! Then samples were sent to those who were SUPPOSED to be there. Mine didn’t quite make it in time for the online tasting. It then took me MANY months to crack them open with friends – an interesting experience which ranged from promising to a bit perplexing. I then took even more months to try and track down via two folks I knew received the same samples for more insights. As many months had elapsed with both doing such regular tastings that the details were lost. So I hope I can be forgiven for sharing minimal insights… I’m still curious enough to want to explore more – just not the peated drams!

My month closed with a wee Penderyn virtual tasting and a flight home to Mumbai!

Curious to know more? Check out a few more monthly summaries:

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

St Kilian Part 2 – A curious turn

This is the 2nd part of six samples courtesy of St Kilian organized by Whiskey Jason. While the distillery trip was cancelled and I missed the official tasting experience, I was still super curious. 

The initial three were overall promising – particularly the 2nd sample was really enjoyable. We couldn’t wait to dive into the next ones…

4th Sample – Industrial

  • Colour – Quite pale
  • Nose – Oil refinery, heavy peat that was “in your face”, like a chemical processing plant, iodine, hot machine shop, cured leather, oily and very industrial, gun oil, adhesive, wood chips, parsley to strong cinnamon, cured meat and bacon
  • Palate – Embers in a cold fireplace, no balance, hard core metallic
  • Finish – Same

When I looked back on my notes, there was a quote… I hesitate to even share.. but the reaction to the 1st sip was “Ugh! Disgusting!” We really struggled with this one… after the really promising start with the initial three, it was such a shift in gears… a very curious turn…

5th Sample – Briney smoke

  • Nose – Butter fudge, creamy, vanilla, saline, briney fishy peat, cream of tartar
  • Palate – Spice, cinnamon, old smoke, hot buttered rum, such a contrast from the nose to discover such sweetness, heavy cinnamon
  • Finish – And yet the smoke lingers…

In this one the peat sort of snuck up on you… perhaps after the forceful peat of the previous one, this didn’t seem so strong. Yet as we sniffed and particularly after the 1st sip, the peat became stronger and stronger.

6th Sample – Pharmacy

  • Nose – Interestingly, it began light and fruity, then took a decidedly chemical bent… like an organic chemistry lab, shifting to a more medicinal direction, dish water, paper glue, rotten fruit and compost
  • Palate – Really bitter, on the front of the palate some sugars, yet at the back was tar
  • Finish – Slightly sweet

My goodness! How did it go from slightly fruity to compost and full pharmacy. 

We sat there stunned… perplexed… in such a quandary… what could the folks at St Kilian have been thinking? Clearly the direction of these drams was no accident but… why? What would posess pursuing a clearly industrial pharmaceutical bent? 

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