Category Archives: Food & drinks

…Koval is inventive and unique – American whiskey tasting no 13.

Koval

The Koval distillery was established in 2008 in Chicago, by Robert and Sonat Birnecker. Building on traditions from Robert´s Austrian family the distillery chose to make spirits from locally produced grains, processed and distilled at their facilities. A decision setting them apart from many of the whiskey-boom producers just bottling spirits made somewhere else.

Koval Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, 94 proof (47%).

Koval bourbon

Made from a unique mashbill of the requisite 51% corn with the rest being millet, a grain used for food as well as alcoholic beverages mainly in parts of Africa and Asia. To my knowledge Koval are the only producers using millet for whiskey.

Liquid honey coloured and a nose with light fruit notes, mostly apricot, followed by more subdued vanilla and caramel. Neat in a tasting glass you get initial fruit, more apricot, leading over to some sweetness and ending with pepper and a light burn. Very elegant and sophisticated.

Koval Single Barrel Whiskey Four Grain, 94 proof (47%).

Koval four grain

Made from a mashbill of corn, malted barley, wheat and rye, this is a whiskey with a totally different character from the previous one.

Very similar to the bourbon in colour, but with a nose beginning with pretty powerful banana fudge and treacle, malt, fleeting vanilla and ending on dry spice. Neat in a tasting glass you get a whiskey with a full mouthfeel, beginning with a short burn giving way to caramel, fruit and a closing rye spiciness mixed with oak. This one packs a lot of taste and is really, really nice.

Koval Single Barrel Whiskey Millet, 90 proof (40%).

Koval millet

Here we have another unique product from this inventive distillery. A whiskey with a mash bill of 100% millet farmed in the American Midwest.

I suspect that it´s the similarities of the barreling techniques used for these whiskeys that makes their colours so similar, if not to say undistinguishable. The nose begins with light and pleasant citrus notes, fruit and ending on black pepper. Neat in a tasting glass you get mild and delicate notes of almost liqueur- like sweetness, with a drier ending of spice. Certainly a most unusual whiskey and an interesting experience.

Koval Grain Spirit Rye, 80 proof (40%).

Koval white rye

I´m a bit confused over this one, though. There seems to be an earlier series of products from the distillery with different bottles and labels, including a white rye whiskey. The present Koval webpage lists a “White Whiskey Rye” in their product line, while my bottle says “Grain Spirit Rye”. Not entirely sure that these two are the same.

Regardless of that, here we have a distillate based on rye that has not been affected by maturing in oak barrels. The drink is crystal clear, with an aromatic nose of citrus and pine needles. Neat in a tasting glass you get a drink almost totally without any of the spicy notes you´re used to expect from rye. More like a less botanical gin or a more tasty vodka. There´s initial sweetness giving way to floral notes and ending on very discrete, almost imagined peppery spiciness. Not a drink I would enjoy on its own again, but I would very much like a trial of exchanging gin and vodka for this one in several cocktails.

Koval Single Barrel Whiskey Rye, 80 proof (40%).

Koval rye

Colourwise resembling their other output. A fruity nose with apples, pears and grain. Neat in a tasting glass you get fruit, apples and pears, followed by a finish of light pepper spice. A most unusual rye with a character all its own.

Without a doubt a distiller worth following through the coming years of experimentation. High ambitions and skills, as well as a willingness to go beyond what is expected when it comes to process and raw material.

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…it´s great and straight from Kentucky – Whiskey tasting no 12.

fighting-cock-6yo-kentucky-bourbon-whiskey

Fighting Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 103 proof (51,5%).

One of many in the huge line of products from the Heaven Hill distillery (or Heaven Hill Brands as it is now called) www.heavenhill.com , this is a whiskey aged for 6 years and bottled at a fairly high proof. The mash bill is an undisclosed percentage of corn, barley and rye, with an extra dose of rye claiming to add increased spiciness.

Pretty deep amber colour and a nose with vanilla, caramel, leather, pepper and nutmeg. In a tasting glass with a few drops of water you get a beginning of corn sweetness together with some alcohol burn, giving way to a finish dominated by rye spiciness and some oak. In a tumbler with ice the sweetness of the nose is toned down, instead dominated by spice and oak. The palate remains about the same, but with a toned down intensity.

All in all not an unpleasant whiskey, packing quite a punch. Much better than the first impression you get from the hideously ugly bottle. Still not something I´m likely to return to.

John B Stetson Kentucky Bourbon

John B. Stetson Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 84 proof (42%).

Making every effort possible to look old and traditional, this is a fairly new brand of bourbon manufactured by the Stetson company, www.stetson.com/bourbon mostly known for the Stetson hat. Distilled by an undisclosed Kentucky distillery (rumoured on the net to be Heaven Hill) and containing a mash bill of corn, barley, rye and wheat. The whiskey is aged for four years before bottling.

The colour is light amber, and the nose first hits you with sharp ethanol. Repeat swirlings and sniffing gives first a strong rye spiciness and then some softer vanilla and caramel notes. Neat in a tasting glass there´s sweet vanilla, white pepper and grain with a pretty short finish. A smooth bourbon not without character, that becomes even smoother in a tumbler with ice.

As mentioned earlier, the bottle goes for old and traditional. Embossed glass, drawings of the Old West on the label and a small booklet attached to the neck by a leather band. In spite of it being all marketing it looks kind of nice. This whiskey could be a good entry bourbon but is nevertheless really no match for today´s artisanal distillates.

Kentucky Vintage Bourbon

Kentucky Vintage Bourbon, 90 proof (45%).

One of four small batch whiskey´s distilled by the Willett Distilling Company (formerly Kentucky Bourbon Distillers) www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com . The production of small batch bourbon in Kentucky goes back to the 1779 “Corn patch and cabin rights” law, giving settlers who built a cabin and grew a patch of corn the right to free land. Distillation of bourbon as a way of keeping the corn from spoiling soon became popular and gave rise to a tradition continuing to our day.

No age statement except “long beyond that of any ordinary bourbon”, and no information on the mash bill. Manufactured wih the sour mash method in small batches and numbered bottles.

Medium amber colour. A rather short nose which initially is only alcohol, but after a few swirls shows mostly corn, vanilla and oak. Neat in a tasting glass you get an initial alcohol burn followed by some caramel, black pepper and a hint of almonds in the surprisingly short finish. In a tumbler with ice the whiskey mellows considerably and tones of caramel and vanilla appears. On the palate it´s considerably smoother but mostly sweet.

The bottle is designed to give feelings of tradition and age, and actually manages quite well. There´s a wax seal (almost impossible to remove), a wax medallion and a mini-booklet attached to the neck of the bottle with a piece of string.

Although sometimes much lauded, I find this whiskey to be pretty much a disappointment. While much effort has been put into its making there´s not that much real character here.

Larceny Whiskey

Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 92 proof (46%).

Taking its name from the crime defined as “the unlawful taking of the personal property of another”, this is yet another whiskey from the Heaven Hill distillery. Again having a fascinating backstory, that may or may not actually be true, this distillate still intrigues.

In 1870 John E. Fitzgerald started a Kentucky distilling company, selling his wares to railway lines, steam ships and private clubs. During prohibition the Old Fitzgerald brand was sold to legendary bourbon profile Pappy Van Winkle, who changed the mash bill into using wheat as the second grain instead of rye. According to bourbon lore, John Fitzgerald was later revealed to be a treasury agent, using his access of keys to the whiskey storage facilities to pilfer whiskey from the best available barrels.

Larceny bourbon is made as a heir to the wheated bourbons of the Old Fitzgerald brand. A small batch bourbon produced from 100 or fewer barrels selected from the 4th – 6th floors of Heaven Hill´s warehouses in Kentucky. Larceny is blended from barrels 6 – 12 years of age under the control of Master Distillers Parker and Craig Beam.

Dark, glowing amber. A complex and enjoyable nose that opens to vanilla, caramel, toasted oak and a dry spicy finish with traces of cinnamon. Neat in a tasting glass you get a very well-balanced whiskey with a rounded mouthfeel beginning with corn sweetness and ending in dry spice. In a tumbler with ice the nose keeps its complexity while the palate turns smoother while still keeping the basic character.

Coming in a large, chunky bottle that´s very appealing to the eye, with the key and lock implicated in its background story neatly implemented into the design. I think this whiskey is a real find and together with Knob Creek one of those bourbons I would like to always own a bottle of.

…Björn Frantzén finally gets the recognition he´s deserved for a long time.

Shortly after our visit to the new Restaurant Frantzén the establishment received the first Swedish Michelin three-star rating that´s been in the pipeline for so long. Very well deserved and not entirely unsurprising. Nordic gourmet dining doesn´t really get better than this. While very happy for the chef and his team it´s still slightly disturbing. How will an ordinary guy like me ever get a reservation at this exceptional place again?

…there´s a new king of gourmet dining in town.

Frantzén entre

For some time now Stockholm has had it´s superstars when it comes to Michelin-style dining. One and two stars has been awarded but still no three-star establishment. Surprisingly Oslo and Copenhagen has beat us to that honour. That doesn´t mean that Stockholm hasn´t had (and still has) a series of genuinely outstanding restaurants.

One of the chefs fighting for the ultimate approval has been Björn Frantzén, with his small but extremely high-end restaurant in Stockholms Old Town. Going forward for this maverick chef included a prolonged closure of operations, while planning and designing a new centre for culinary excellence in the middle of town. Much more space on several floors, but still with a severely limited number of served clients per day.

Getting a table at this establishment literally means waiting online for the exact moment of the release of tables for the next month. A few minutes and it´s all booked. How I managed to get a reservation on a Friday night in January is actually beyond me. It might have had something to do with the chronically post-christmas empty wallets of the Swedes, and the fact that the place doesn´t seem to have been widely registered by gastronomically interested tourists yet. This is undoubtedly about to change and securing a reservation will probably only get harder.

The restaurant is situated in an old estate on the Klara Norra Kyrkogata in central Stockholm. A part of town previously known as a bohemian stronghold, as well as a sanctuary for artists. The actual property has been developed with the help of a considerable cash infusion from a domestic investor, and is worthy of it´s own story.

Our night at the new establishment began by ringing the doorbell of the stylish but deceptively simple street-level entrance. The door was immediately opened by an affable member of the staff, doing something I´ve never experienced in a Michelin restaurant before, namely shaking our hands and introducing himself by his first name. This was something that was continued all through the evening, as a stream of new faces appeared to guide us through the sensory rush of having dinner at the new Restaurant Frantzén.

After having our coats taken care of we were shown the way through a dimly lit corridor to an elevator, the overall impression of entering the restaurant in some respects reminiscent of our earlier visit to the fantastic Alinea in Chicago. A slightly disorienting experience that raised expectations of what was to come.

The first stop was the living room, with small groups of armchairs and sofas, as well as a cozy fireplace. Here small groups of guests were served wonderful amuse-bouches at a leasurely pace, before being treated to a display of the ingredients of the dinner to follow. After that we were led to the main dining room, where most of the magic was performed. A large L-shaped table facing the open kitchen where all the final preparations were done. Never a dull moment while watching the peerless dishes getting their last adjustments, often not finished until right before you at your table.

GMTMAG

What followed was an incredible meal where every course was special and different from the others. Top notch produce, modern techniques never getting in the way of classical cooking, and a combination of aesthetics and taste not surpassed by any of the great restaurants we´ve previously visited in Sweden or abroad. For this particular evening we had decided to go totally alcohol-free, and got to try a series of in-house produced beverages characterized by lots of thought and innovation. Definitely recommended even if you´re like us not non-drinkers.

After this wonderful dinner we were again led to the living room for a seemingly endless row of desserts, pralines, sweets, fruit and a finish of coffee with a freshly baked cardamom bun. Absolutely stuffed to the gills, all we could do was relaxing by the fireplace and enjoying the end of a perfect evening.

While always being great and with ambitions way higher than most, the later incarnations of Restaurant Frantzén in the Old Town sometimes felt like a machine a little too well honed. Extreme gourmet dining perfectly choreographed to last for 2½ hours before the next batch of customers arrived made a certain bitter aftertaste taint the experience.

Nowadays it´s just an all on assault of all your senses. A whole night´s worth of perfection with extra everything. Regardless of the amounts of stars eventually awarded to this wonderful place it´s unique in every way. Things doesn´t get better than this.  I can´t wait to go back and do it all again.

Here´s the menu in Swedish, please use Google translate or something similar to bring you up to speed.

Menu Frantzén våren 2018

 

…Imouto is mind-blowingly good.

Although it´s been around for some time, we haven´t so far managed to try this chef´s table little-sister of the fabulous Esperanto restaurant in Stockholm. Since Esperanto has been such a source of extraordinary culinary experiences through the years, the expectations were obviously very high. And I can tell you that they didn´t disappoint.

Arriving early we were quickly ushered up the stairs to the lounge for a glass of wonderful champagne. Then after a few sips swiftly invited to the secluded table with seats for 9 people, at the far corner of the Esperanto dining room. What followed was a seamless show of peerless presentations of seafood originating in the Nordic countries.

Imouto Stockholm

A wonderful selection of Otsumami was followed by a wide variety of nigiri, expertly prepared by the two Japanese chefs right in front of our eyes. Thinly slicing the fish, grating the wasabi, rolling the rice and combining it into one delicious bite was a treat to watch, and an even greater treat to taste. Everything was so fresh and delicious, creating oohs and aahs all around the table. After so many years of high-end restaurants, I don´t think I´ve ever tasted anything better than their langoustine. Just fantastic.

Delicious desserts followed, with the exclamation mark being the apple tarte. So good, and made even better by my wife getting an extra piece.

All this gorgeous food was accompanied by a selection of sake proposed by our very friendly head waiter. For me, a look into an enterily different universe of tastes, with just as much complexity and variety as the world of wine made from grapes. Definitely something to look into further.

I´m already longing to go back and do it all over again. Below is a scan of the menu for the evening in Swedish. If you want to read it in English that can be done here: Menu Imouto 2nd of December 2017

Imouto 171202

 

…Bourbon keeps being interesting – American whiskey tasting nr 11.

After forays into rye and malt whiskey, it´s time to return to Kentucky and a set of interesting bourbons.

Willett Pot Still Reserve, 94 proof (47%).

Willet pot still reserve

Coming from the Willett Distilling Company in Bardstown, Kentucky, we have yet another slightly convoluted backstory to this whiskey. The company was started in 1935 by Lambert Willett and several of his sons. After the death of Lambert his son Thompson took over responsibility of the company and served as president until 1984. Experience and knowledge of whiskey distillation went back much longer in the family, and their bourbons were made from family recipes from the late 19th century. In 1984 the facility was bought by Even G. Kulsveen, son-in-law of Thompson Willett, who together with his family runs the company today. Kulsveen renamed the company Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, initially bottling whiskey from existing reserves of barrels, since their own distilling facilities had been shut down in the beginning of the 1980´s. The company has since then been sourcing bourbon from other distillers, making a fairly large line of bottlings sometimes under fictitious company names. As of January 2012, the company again has distilling capabilities and is returning to calling themselves the Willett Distilling Company.

This particular whiskey is made from a distillate of unknown origin (even if the Heaven Hill distillery has been named as a suspect), and I´ve managed to find no information about the mash bill. Each bottle comes from a single barrel of new white oak, after having matured for 8 – 10 years. My particular one was number 67 of 110 from barrel number 7 077.

The whiskey shows a pleasantly glowing amber colour. On the nose you get a beginning of sweetness and vanilla, followed by some spice, orange peel and fleeting notes of eucalyptus. Neat in a tasting glass the mouthfeel is medium bodied with a light start of corn turning more complex in the middle, where wood, citrus and spice gives way to a fairly long finish dominated by oak. In a tumbler with ice you get notes of banana and chocolate both on nose and palate.

The bottle deserves special mention. A 1,75 liter giant formed as a pot still. Very unique and stylish and something I´m going to keep as a decanter. To sum it up, a very nice and complex whiskey that would be fun to try again sometime.

Jim Beam Black, 86 proof (43%).

Jim Beam Black

Here we have a producer with a long and winding history beginning in the late 18th century, after members of the Böhm family emigrated from Germany to Kentucky. Changing their name to Beam, seven generations has been involved in the distillation of Kentucky bourbon as well as being Master Distillers at the famous Heaven Hill Distillery. Later acquired by Japanese company Suntory, this is one of the giants in the whiskey business, with many different products in their inventory.

This variety of Jim Beam bourbon boasts of being triple aged, which means that it´s matured in barrels for 6 years, three times the requisite two year aging needed for the “straight bourbon” epithet. The version I´m writing about is for the international market, the US Jim Beam Black is actually aged for 8 years.

Deep amber colour. The nose shows corn, caramel, vanilla and some wood. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a start of caramel and vanilla, changing into toasted oak and spice in the middle which carries on into a short finish of slightly adstringent wood. In a tumbler with ice the wood on the nose becomes stronger, and the taste shifts into much sweeter vanilla and caramel notes, finishing on sweetness instead of oak. Not that much to say about the bottle, it´s instantly recognizable as Jim Beam and as such serves its purpose well.

In my opinion superior to their regular 4 year old bourbon. Very nice and smooth, balancing the usual bourbon sweetness with it’s somewhat dry, woody character. Nothing stellar, but competent and honest.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 100 proof (50%).

Knob Creek Bourbon

Aiming at restoring bourbon to its pre-prohibition splendor, this drink goes a long way towards achieving its goal. The mash bill contains the 51% corn regulated by law, along with an undisclosed percentage of rye and malted barley. Pure, limestone-filtered water together with a proprietary yeast strain is used during fermentation, and “set back” (mash from previous distillations) is added twice at different stages of production. It´s then double distilled and aged for 9 years in heavily charred barrels of new American oak, at an initial proof of 125. For the finished bottle a selection of small batches stored at different locations in the warehouse is blended to assure an even quality.

The colour is a radiant, dark gold amber. The nose is big and bold, with loads of maple syrup, burnt sugar, caramel and strong oak notes. Neat in a tasting glass (I´m discounting three drops of water) you get less of an alcohol kick than could be expected at this proof. There´s a big, chewy mouthfeel to this whiskey, beginning with sweet maple syrup and caramel turning into spice, toasted oak and wood resin at the middle, with a long and lingering finish of dry oak. In a tumbler with ice it manages to retain the big nose with a slant towards oak instead of sweetness. On the other hand, the palate turns sweeter and slightly less complex.

The bottle is square and chunky in a very distinct way, and along with the label recreates pre-prohibition bourbon bottles. The plastic/cork stopper and wax seal also aims at a higher degree of sophistication. Personally, I must confess to quite liking it.

A really well made and distinctive bourbon with lots of character and punch. I´ve enjoyed this immensely and would very much like to try the single barrel variety and their other products.

 John Medley´s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 80 proof (40%).

John Medley Bourbon

One of the cheapest bourbons available in Sweden, with not that much information to find out about the distillers. Made from a mash bill of 51% corn and 49% barley you can´t really accuse the makers of John Medley´s of being that original. What we get is a pretty traditional Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but with a much longer barrel aging than necessary.

A medium amber colour. The nose has oak, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass it gives a smooth and mild impression of caramel, vanilla and some oak, with a short and quite unremarkable finish. In a tumbler with ice much of its to begin with pretty mild character is diluted and you end up with something rather anonymous. The bottle just as the whiskey is a no-frills square and chubby variety without any unique design features.

A whiskey well worth its admittedly low price, but too lacking of character to merit another tasting.

Maker´s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 90 proof (45%).

Makers mark

Many years of tradition lies behind this whiskey, which has a definitive edge its own. Clear, limestone water combined with a mash bill of 70% corn, 16 % wheat and 14% barley. Replacing rye with red winter wheat making this what is called a wheated bourbon. First introduced in 1958 this whiskey has a long history, and is one of the staples of American whiskey production.

Golden amber colour. A nose dominated by oak, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass you get a well balanced combination of caramel, vanilla, spice and oak. In a tumbler with ice much of the complexity is lost, and a dominating sweetness takes over.

The bottle is both distinctive and unique, with its square format and wax seal. One of the true originals and a whiskey I would like to always have in my liquor cabinet.

Mathias Dahlgren – second revisit.

Mathias DahlgrenWritten about before on these pages, this is an awesome restaurant that has so far done everything right. Chef Dahlgren is a bona fide culinary genius creating contemporary dishes based on the best seasonal ingredients available. Having enjoyed his signature menu “The natural kitchen” twice before, taking my brother and his lovely wife there on a much anticipated weekend in Stockholm was a pretty safe bet. I absolutely guarantee that everyone interested in gourmet dining will be happy after an evening at this establishment.

Upon arrival our company was served a glass of excellent Champagne followed by a short tour of the kitchen, where the first amuse bouches were prepared before our eyes and consumed while chatting with parts of the staff. After being seated at our table additional amuses continued to arrive, with perhaps the most memorable being their by now classic freshly baked rye bread with smoked butter and cod rye. Pretty simple but just so good.

This amazing start was followed by the menu proper, using Swedish produce to create an experience combining elegant simplicity with state of the art gastronomy. Everything expertly executed without ever losing it´s feeling of freshness. Innovative yet never contrieved. This restaurant doesn´t offer any gimmicks, just world class cuisine based on the best raw materials available anywhere. There is a reason behind the interest for Nordic gastronomy. Don´t take my word for it, just go there and prepare to be dazzled.