Smögen Whisky AB was established in the small community of Smögen on the picture-postcard beautiful west coast of Sweden by whisky enthusiast Pär Caldenby. Armed with extensive knowledge and a vision of what he intended to achieve, he built his company around ideas about how Swedish whisky could carve out a place for itself by its merits alone. Heady stuff with high proof and lots of smoke, while still showing elegant notes courtsey of the diverse and inventive methods of manufacture and storage. In many ways a perfect whisky for the advanced and nerdy connoiseurs of international whiskies and Swedish ones in particular. While some releases were easily available most of them could only be accessed by the privileged that could cough up the fairly steep amounts needed to get one or two bottles. New releases being sold out in seconds at the national alcohol monopoly Systembolaget didn´t do much to help. The basic economics of supply and demand, applied on a high end hipster product.
Primör 63,7 %.
Optic malt, >45 ppm phenol.
Light gold colour. A strong and powerful nose with some fleeting hints of fruitiness and citrus at the end, very well integrated with the dominant malt, peat and smoke which hits you at the first whiff. The high alcohol content is a bit too much for me if tasted straight out of the bottle, so a small amount of added water is in my opinion needed. What you get is an explosion of taste, with peat and spice in the foreground, strong and clear without being overpowering. Apart from the spice and smoke there´s a sligth salty edge, and a long and lingering finish which is more malty than smoky. A very fine first bottling done with love and great attention to detail.
Sherry Project 1:1 – 1:4.
A set of whiskies playing around with sherry vats, guided by the vision of leading man Caldenby. Experimentation coupled with inspired knowledge, making a series of products urged on by curiosity and inventiveness. Not easily accessible in any way but so worthy of scrutiny by enthusiasts.
1:1 Optic, 50+ phenol.
Deep golden colour. A rich nose with malt and peat playing second fiddle to a more fruity side and a handful of nuts thrown in for good measure. There are hints of caramel and vanilla, however not as strong as you´re used to find in for example a bourbon. With a little water in a tasting glass the peat is present but not dominating, instead showing light sherry nuttiness and distinct vanilla notes. Lingering aftertaste where malt and smoke slowly takes over.
1:2 Optic, 50+ phenol.
Deep golden colour, very similar to the 1:1. Also rich on the nose, but decidedly smoother and with more obvious sherry character. Mixed with the underlying malt and peat are clear notes of hazelnuts and lemon zest. Also quite high in it´s alcohol content some water is needed to get the full experience of the slightly more complex taste. Underlying everything else is distinct malt and smokey peat, overlayed by nuts, citrus and some hints of sweetness. A long and quite complex aftertaste that lingers and changes from fruit and nut to mild smoke.
I haven´t tasted 1:3 and 1:4 yet. Nowadays more or less impossible to get hold of and my bottles are from a previous auction by the company of all the initial sherry variations. Not something I will try anytime soon, but rather keep for my bucket list. This is rare stuff existing in limited editions with steep price tags. Well, money is only money isn´t it?
“Heavily peated Optic malt”. 975 bottles.
Golden amber in the bottle but lightly strawcoloured in a glass. Basically a variety of the Primör whisky that´s been kept in barrels slightly longer. There´s still strong malt and peat on the nose, but with spice and hints of wood and what I can´t describe as anything but pine needles. Some water is needed for an enjoyable tasting. What I taste is spice, pepper and oak which are quite strong initially and then mellows into a sort of sweetness. Under it all is the bedrock of peat and smoke, which makes up much of the aftertaste. Very nice and balanced, and with lots of character.
Single Cask no 4.
“Heavily peated Optic malt”. Cask filling date 28/3 2012. American White oak, fresh bourbon barrel. Bottled 6/5 2017. Cask 18/2012. 362 bottles.
Light straw colour. On the nose you first get an almost fruit-candy like sweetness, followed seamlessly by deep peat aromas and autumn leaves burning in the back yard. Even tasted with a splash of water there´s a slowly developing alcohol burn. The palate is hit with something quite complex, and as we´re becoming used to by now there´s the solid foundation of smokey peat that lingers and dominates the aftertaste. This time, however, we´re also getting sweetness, vanilla, aromatic coffee and dark chocolate. While all of this might sound like it´s going off in a variety of confusing directions, this whisky has a cohesive character and all it´s notes are very well integrated. Without a doubt one of their best this far.
“Heavily peated Optic malt”. Cask filling date March 2011. European oak, Sauternes barrique. Bottled January 2017. Cask 5-6/2011. 882 bottles. Triple distilled, and as far as I know the first Swedish triple distilled whisky
Golden straw colour. The nose is definitely milder on the peat than their previous products and quite complex with sweet treacle notes, vanilla, berries and milk chocolate. As usual a splash of water is needed to fully enjoy the taste, which is complex to say the least. There´s a sweet beginning of caramel and vanilla, milk chocolate, fruits and berries, which slowly blends into drier spice territory with a mild but delicate and lingering peat finish. Wow, this one was really good. So glad that I´ve got an additional bottle in storage for later. Very unlikely that I´ll ever get to taste this one after the second bottle is finished.
Sherry Octaves, Sherry Project 2:1.
“Heavily peated Optic malt”. Cask filling date April 2013. American white oak, Fresh Sherry Octaves. Bottled 6/5 2017. Casks 18-35/2013. 1 382 bottles.
Golden colour. A wonderful nose hitting you with sweetness, nuts, dried fruits and the whole sherry experience. So aromatic that you could be fooled into thinking that you´re smelling a dark rhum rather than a whisky. While we would be expecting peat it´s really well hidden under all the pleasantries that evaporates from this wonderful distillate. As always best enjoyed with a splash of water the taste is a sublime variation of the by now classical Smögen heavy peated whisky, with layers and layers of finesse. Initially very fruity with an enjoyable sweetness completely and almost magically transformed into dry spice and very delicate peat that lingers for a long time, while still mixing with the aromatics. Simply sublime. So good it feels like a crime to finish the bottle.
Sherry Quarters, Sherry Project 2:2.
“Heavily peated Optic malt”. Cask filling date May 2013. American white oak, first fill Sherry Quarters. Bottled 12/5 2018. Casks 36-45/2013. 1 725 bottles.
Darker in colour. Definitely less Sherry characteristics on the nose than the previous release. There are of course the hallmarks of a whisky with final ageing in Sherry casks, but to my mind less sophisticated and with more of an alcohol whiff, through which nuts, fruits and vanilla can be detected. Tasted with an added splash of water I find this one slightly less complex than the Sherry Octaves. More of an alcohol burn (perhaps not so surprising considering the higher alcohol content). Richer but perhaps slightly less refined than its predecessor. If forced to choose between the two I would definitely go for Sherry Octaves, while both are still remarkably good.
“Heavily peated Optic malt”. Cask filling date 6/6 2011. Swedish oak from Småland, first fill Barrique. Bottled 6/10 2017. Casks 18 & 19/2011. 840 bottles.
Amber colour. A quite powerful nose with the by now expected hard peat and smoke notes. Under that I find spice and pepper as well as a dry oak tone. Always cask strength these whiskies needs some water to be fully enjoyable. This is a heavy and powerfull blend of malt and peat, with spice and oak coming into the fore. A not very subtle aftertaste of smoke and oak lingers for a long time. A nice whisky, but definitely a brew you should drink when you´re interested in something al dente.
“Heavily peated Optic malt”. Cask filling date sept – dec 2010. French oak (Quercus robur), and finalized in Bordeaux Barrique casks. Bottled 8/1 2018. Cask nr 4 & 23 – 25/2010. 1 685 bottles
Dark amber colour. A nose that attacks you with peat, smoke, wood and earthy notes. A real assault on the senses, hitting you hard. With their usual high proof, enjoyable tasting needs a generous dollop of water. Smoke, leather and peat dominates, ending on pepper and a lingering smoke. So much going on that you can go back endlessly and still get something new.
Definitely a whisky with lots of character, and an outlier even by Smögen standards. I have learnt to expect variations on their basic style, but this one is really something to chew on. Unique and adventurous, getting to taste it is a true blessing.
Single cask no 5, 64%.
Aged in an Oloroso Sherry hogshead cask from American white oak, from the 23rd of October 2011 to March 18 2018, this is one of only 422 bottles. For the first time made from locally sourced barley and as usual bottled at cask strength.
Deep golden colour. A nose beginning with strong but soft peat notes, followed by citrus and orange, as well as some hints of vanilla and spice and ending with lingering soft smoke. A splash of water is needed to really enjoy tasting a whisky of such high proof, rather than just anaestesizing your taste buds. I get malt, peat, and astringent oak, followed by citrus fruits, and ending with a long aftertaste of soft oak, smoke and peat.
Just happy to have been able to aquire two bottles of this extraordinary whisky. Sell-outs within seconds upon release are the rule, and an ordinary non-billionaire customer like myself is severely disadvantaged when it comes to the procurement of these rarities.
Smögen in the future.
The good thing is that Smögen distillery hasn´t shown any signs of adapting to market forces, instead continuing their voyage of nerdy experimentation. While the vision of leading man Caldenby is highly commendable it would be expected to crash against real world economic concerns pretty soon, ending in compromise and ultimately inferior products. Lets agree to hope that this never happens. So far no signs of this has been seen, and the product line continues to develop along the lines of an extraordinary savant mastermind.