...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Whisky 600: Box Whisky Advanced Masterclass Number One

The Box Whisky Distillery is located way up at the 63rd parallel in Sweden.  To give you another idea of how north it is -- the most Northern distillery in the world, they claim -- the 63ºN runs through the center of Alaska, the top of Hudson Bay, the bottom of Greenland, and the center of Siberia.  Whisky drinking climate indeed.

They do not control the temperatures in their Norrland warehouse, which must allow for some interesting maturation being that the temperatures outside can have up to a 100ºF span (-20ºF to 80ºF) during the year.  They use two types of casks, first-fill American oak and ex-Oloroso sherry from Spain.  After importing both cask types, they re-cooper them all down to 39.25 liters.  They use Pilsner Malt, the unsmoked stuff from Sweden, and the smoked from Scotland (wherever the hell that is).  They use French distiller's yeast and ferment for "unusually long periods".  I know that "" part sounds vague and questionable, but if you've drunk any Swedish drink or eaten any Swedish food (no, IKEA's Äppelkaka doesn't f***ing count) then you know they really like to ferment stuff. Filmjölk in da house!

You knew this was coming.
In 2013, Box released a boxed set of five 200mL bottles called Advanced Masterclass Number One - Toasting.  Along with the set is the class text, a website which actually anyone can view.  It's very informative (data heavy!) and I recommend anyone interested in whisky to give it a read.  Google Translate does a good job with the Svenska, though I do like the part when "the spirits are walking in and out of the oak". Spooky!

The distillate is the same in all five bottles, having been from one distillation run.  It was all barreled (the site even has data on the trees that were felled for the barrels) on April 26, 2011 and then bottled on November 1, 2013.  From the site, here's the meat of the set/class:
The contents of this box is stored for 30 months in 100-liter barrels of new Swedish oak with five different roasting degrees. It is not old enough to be called whiskey, but it does not matter in this case since the purpose is merely to understand how different roasts affect the odor and taste.
Five whiskies.  Five levels of cask toasting/firing/charring: Light, Medium, Medium+, Heavy, and Charred.  (Yes, they share the data behind these levels too.)  The student is to read the text, then nose and taste the whiskies and guess which one (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) was from which toast level.

Six of us split the cost of the Masterclass bottles (thank you, Andy, for initiating this opportunity).  Everyone else took the test almost a year ago, I think.  I just got around to doing it last week.

Visually, one can begin to sort the whiskies out.  Whiskies 2 and 4 have the lightest color.  Whiskies 1, 3, and 5 are noticeably darker.  Since they all spent the same time in the casks, the darker the tint, the heavier the toast.  And this proved correct on the nose and palate.


NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Golden raisins, yeast, cocoa powder, twigs and leaves. With time, some more caramel arises along with a hint of orange peel, and big chocolate croissant note. With water (~44%abv) - Caramel, milk chocolate, and grassy, with a hint of new make.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - Salted caramels, barrel char, malt, cigar tobacco, and a nice peppery zing to lift it all up. With water (~44%abv) - Curiously hotter.  Peppery, lightly sweet, lightly bitter. Some toffee.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Sweet, caramelly, with toasted grains. With water (~44%abv) - Grass and herbal

NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Lemons, mangoes, leaves, and spicy basil leaves.  With time, notes of underripe peaches and pine sap show up. With water (~44%abv) - Loses the fruits except for a little bit of lemon.  Cardamom, curry powder, burnt butter, and grains.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - New make.  Confectioner's sugar, heat, slight floral note.  Some caramel and almond paste to give it a little depth. With water (~44%abv) - Sugar, vanilla, sourness, raw spirit.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Not much other than sharp new make and caramel. Maybe some salt and pepper. Plenty of heat. With water (~44%abv) - Drying, bitter, with some vanilla.

NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Caramel, vanilla, nougat, mint and marzipan.  Then vanilla fudge and cherry lollipops. With water (~44%abv) - Caramel, vanilla, fresh wheat bread, lemon, and malt.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - Very nutty.  Cashews, almonds, pecan pie.  Caramel and a hint of prunes. With water (~44%abv) - Caramel, vanilla, creme brulee.  Very desserty.
FINISH -  Neat (56%abv) - Caramel, almonds, and toasted oak. With water (~44%abv) - Sweet and creamy.

NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Burnt grains, burnt paper, black raisins, and agave nectar.  The rawest of the bunch. With water (~44%abv) - Burnt, vegetal, and yeasty with cilantro and saltines.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - All grain at first.  Hay, mild tartness, very drying, a hint of vanilla. With water (~44%abv) - Toasty, mildly nutty, light on the vanilla.  A decent bitter bite.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Drying with hints of sweetness and barley. With water (~44%abv) - Tart, bitter, and sweet. All of which barely show up.

NOSE - Neat (56%abv) - Milk chocolate, menthol, and tree bark.  Then big note of Three Mustketeers candy bars. With water (~44%abv) - Very rich, almost sherryish. Toffee, malt, pepper, and milk chocolate.
PALATE - Neat (56%abv) - Marzipan, sugar, rosewater syrup, and caramel sauce. With water (~44%abv) - More complex. Milder sweets, nice toasty oak.  Hints of vanilla and nuts.  Malty and peppery.
FINISH - Neat (56%abv) - Mellow sweetness and caramel, with a cooling zip at the end. With water (~44%abv) - Vanilla, nuts, chocolate malt, and mint. Very aromatic.


Whisky 2 and 4 do prove to smell and taste the least oaky; while 1, 3, and 5 feel more oaky...
WHISKY 1 - My second favorite of the bunch.  With all this wood spice and caramel, I'm guessing this is Charred.
WHISKY 2 - Excellent fruity nose, but that's all from the spirit.  It's not the roughest of the bunch so I'm going with the second lightest toasting, Medium.
WHISKY 3 - My favorite of the bunch.  A nutty dessert.  I'll go with the second heaviest toasting, Heavy.
WHISKY 4 - Too sharp and unformed for me.  Raw.  Thus, Light.
WHISKY 5 - This one swam the best.  I'd say it even improved with added water.  Some oak on the nose, but much less in the palate, so I'll go with the middle setting, Medium+.

Before I show my test results and spoil the whole thing, I'll conclude here with my final comments and rating.
photo source
This was an excellent whisky experience.  Not only was it informative and often delicious, but these were legitimately five different whiskies.  I wish more whisky companies (especially those who claim to be committed to their fanbase and experimentation) would offer something like this.  Buffalo Trace does stuff like their Single Oak project and Experimental collection, but no one's doing this in Scotland.  Maybe one of the legion of new distilleries could try this, thus setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack.  I highly recommend this set, though I also recommend you split the cost with friends because it's very expensive.

Availability - 
Europe only

Pricing - $200 and up
Rating - 92


Well, I got them all wrong.  But!  At least I was only one-off with all of them, save one.

Whisky 1 - Medium+
Whisky 2 - Light
Whisky 3 - Charred
Whisky 4 - Medium
Whisky 5 - Heavy

In hindsight I should have known #3 was Charred since it was all gooey and chewy rich with non-spirit notes.  Should have gone with my gut there instead of studying the text's charts.  Meanwhile, the difference between the Medium and the Medium+ was drastic.  While their toasting levels were relatively close, the resulting whiskies were completely different.  Curiously, Medium+ is the one toasting level that the website doesn't give specifics, but the results are much closer to Heavy than Medium.  In fact, Whisky 4 (the "Medium" one) smelled and tasted almost unaged.  Perhaps their actual unaged spirit is pretty good on its own (the "light" one smelled great) and needs more than a Medium toast to come into its own.  In any case, I'd be happy to purchase a full bottle of 1, 3, or 5 if it were at a reasonable price.