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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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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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 brand 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… and for the geeks keen to know all the details, 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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