Category Archives: Food & drinks

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.

 

…malt whiskey from the US? Ok… – American whiskey tasting nr 10.

Deciding to start making malt whisky must be one of the worst business proposals ever. Investing in an operation that will have expenses from day one, but no income for many years seems like something for either the foolhardy or the extremely wealthy.

Here in Sweden, as well as in several of the other Nordic countries, new distilleries face a long period of initial economical uncertainty. The successful ones (like for example Mackmyra)  survive the start-up period by releasing early bottlings of basically unfinished product. The idea of letting the buyer follow the process of the distillate maturing from raw spirits to finished whisky has proven pretty successful. The few remaining of their first preliminary bottling recently sold at auction for just under 900 USD.

Even when making typical American whiskey-types like bourbon and rye (requiring only a comparatively short time´s maturation before marketing) we still see that the companies need to produce something else to tide them over the first years. Examples of this is the High West and FEW distilleries that I´ve written about earlier. In light of this, it´s not that surprising that domestically produced single malt is not a very big thing in the US. A handful of producers exists, and here I´m tasting two of them.

Wasmund´s Single Malt Whisky, 96 proof (48%).

Wasmunds single maltAnother one from the Copper Fox distillery, this time made from locally produced barley malted at the distillery. Like their rye, the malt for this whisky is dried and flavoured in a kiln fired by applewood, cherrywood and oak. Pot stilled in small batches and matured in barrels together with chips of applewood, cherrywood and oak. My particular bottle was from batch no 50 and 42 months old.

This whisky (yes, Bowmore-schooled Rick Wasmund is dropping the “e” for this brew) illustrates the above mentioned problem for enthusiasts turned distillers. By an interesting tweak of production techniques, Wasmund bypasses these type of economical concerns by using a process that gets the wood into the whisky much faster, and thus the bottle on the shelf earlier.

So, what does it taste like? The colour is dark, redbrownish amber. A nose that despite being completely different still shares some components with their rye tasted earlier. Initially there´s some alcohol harshness that quickly dissipates after adding a few drops of water (it´s 96 proof after all). After that follows tones of apple and cherry wood, cherries,dried apple, malt and ending with an earth-like note almost like molting leaves. In a tasting glass with a few drops of water the most prominent components are apple- and cherrywood smoke, with a fairly short finish of dry earthiness and a sort of watery mouthfeel.

It´s really fun to have tasted this whisky but the overall impression is of something lacking depth. I think the fruit wood idea for flavouring the malt is brilliant, but would very much like to taste this distillate after it´s spent 10+ years in a barrel.

McCarthy´s Oregon Single Malt, 85 proof (42,5%).

Mccarthys single maltStarted by Steve McCarthy in 1985 in Portland Oregon, the Clear Creek Distillery  has a long product list consisting of fruit brandies, grappa and liqueurs. Combining European brandy tradition with fruit grown in their own orchards they´ve managed to produce eau-de-vie with reputed high quality. Regrettably, I´ve been unable to find any of these in Sweden.

Their malt whiskey is a group effort with no less than three different parties involved. The peated malt is imported from Islay´s Port Ellen, also used by both Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Widmer Brothers Brewing Company then ferments the malt which is finally distilled by Clear Creek in a pot still. After three years of aging in a succession of barrels of Oregon oak (old and reused, slightly newer, brand new – in that order) it´s bottled with batch number and bottling date on the label.

Straw coloured. The nose dominated by fairly strong peat, with some oak and resin thrown in. Like the Copper Fox a pretty light mouthfeel. Beginning on the light side, the middle then reveals oak, malt and peat. The finish is medium long, dry and with a hint of bitterness.

Not at all bad, but would absolutely like to see what it would become after an additional 7 – 10 years of barrel-aging.

Old world vs New world

HIghland park 25I know it´s very unfair, but I still did it. I compared these two American single malts with a 25 year old Highland Park. Although both the Wasmund´s and the McCarthy´s have distinct characters of their own, both the nose and palate shows huge differences in depth and complexity compared to the Highland Park. If the considerable difference in quality is proportional to the equally significant difference in price is another question. Still, if you´re aiming for excellence shortcuts are not going to work.

…moonshine can be illuminating – American whiskey tasting nr 9.

Here we have a segment of the American whiskey output that instead of detailed mash bills and creative aging options relies on simplicity. In many cases just the raw stuff straight out of the still. Currently surprisingly popular in some sort of bid for returning to the basics together with manageable complexity. Showcasing just the spirits, with their different ingredients and distillation methods, without needing to care about the enless possibilities of cooperage.

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, 100 proof (50%).

Ole SmokeyStarted in Gatlinburg in 2010, The Ole Smoky distillery (taking its name from the Smoky Mountains) became the fourth one operating in Tennessee (the others being Jack Daniel´s, George Dickel and Benjamin Prichard´s). Looking at their webpage you get the impression of something like a theme park distillery, which might or might not be considered good. The company produces a fairly large variety of clear and flavoured spirits, of which only the original moonshine is available in Sweden.

Made from a mashbill consisting of 80% corn, with the remaining 20% undisclosed, and of course bottled without any aging. True to form delivered in a Mason jar which makes it almost impossible to pour into a glass without making a mess. The producers recommend drinking straight from the jar. Since it´s high proof alcohol this might actually be considered hygienic even in a slightly larger group of people, even though there´s a certain ick-factor there.

Crystal clear without visible impurities. A simple nose characterized by sweet corn on the cob with butter. Neat in a tasting glass its all corn sweetness beginning with butter-flavoured popcorn and ending with the type of sugar cane sweetness that you´ll find in white rum. The middle carries a certain alcohol kick due to the 100 proof strength. Diluting and chilling with ice does absolutely nothing for this moonshine.

I must confess to liking this particular brew. There´s a simplicity here that´s very difficult not to embrace, and sipping Ole Smoky Moonshine straight from the jar feels pretty cool. The distillery profile, with loads of different varieties of fruit-flavoured moonshine, is not the type I usually gravitate towards. Nevertheless, even those of us dedicated to fancy gourmet restaurants can sometimes derive pleasure from a McDonalds hamburger.

Roughstock Montana Sweet Corn Whiskey, 100 proof (50%).

Roughstock Montana Sweet CornMade by the Roughstock Company this corn whiskey consists of 100% yellow corn double distilled in copper pots to 100 proof. Locally produced yellow corn mixed with pure mountain water, couldn´t be much simpler.

Brightly clear. A nose consisting mostly of sweet buttery corn. Neat in a tasting glass you get a clean, crisp taste of sweet corn with a finishing alcohol kick. Very simple but still enjoyable. I think I´m just going to have to experiment a little with this in cocktails.

Roughstock Montana Spring Wheat Whiskey, 90 proof (45%)

Roughstock Montana Spring WheatWheat whiskey is definitely not the most common whiskey-type on the market, but here we have a brand new one. Maybe the most common uses for wheat in whiskey production is the so called wheated bourbons, where wheat is an ingredient instead of the more usual rye. You need a mashbill of at least 51% wheat to be able to call the distillate wheat whiskey.

This drink is made from 100% locally produced wheat of a high-protein bread making variety called Prairie Gold. After fermentation it´s double distilled in a copper pot still. Primary aging is done in used malt barrels, followed by a few months in heavily toasted French oak.

Light yellow straw colour. The nose has a softness to it, with some vanilla and honey. Neat in a tasting glass you get a soft distillate with mild caramel ending with discrete spicyness. Altogether very softspoken and delicate. Interesting and with a unique but slightly weak character. Not something that´s going to become a favourite, though.

…let´s get deeper into the rye – American whiskey tasting nr 8.

High West Rendezvous Rye, 92 proof (46%)

High west rendezvous ryeThe Utah distillery previously mentioned here uses the time needed for their own distillates to mature to produce blends of other whiskies. This one combines a 16 year old straight rye with a mash bill containing 80% rye, 10% corn and 10% barley with a 6 year old distillate of 95% rye and 5% barley. Non chill filtered and sold in numbered batches and bottles.

Glowing amber colour. Rich nose with big rye spice, caramel and vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a lot of spice, changing into caramel after the initial heat and finishing with discrete oak notes before a long spicy ending. In a tumbler with ice the pepper dominates with a short caramel finish.

The whiskey comes in the usual High West bottles, tall and stylish with embossed glass and wood/cork stopper. A very nice whiskey expertly combining it´s two quite different ingredients. I would very keen to lay my hands on another bottle.

High West Double Rye!, 92 proof (46%)

High west double ryeLike the above also a blend of an older and a younger rye. The first one a 16 year old distillate with a mash bill of 53% rye and 37% corn, and the second 2 years old with 95% rye and 5% barley.

Golden amber colour. A very curious nose for a rye, with unexpected almost gin-like aromas and mint, followed by passing caramel and a hint of oak in the finish. Neat in a tasting glass the gin aromatics persist in company with spiciness, followed by some sweetness before a quite long finish where sugar and white pepper competes to the end. In a tumbler with ice nothing much happens, with the gin botanicals coexisting with rye spice.

Quite an interesting drink with a really unique character. However, if it´s a rye you´re looking for I would go for the Rendezvous Rye instead.

Rittenhouse Straight Rye, 100 proof (50%)

Rittenhouse ryeHere we have a bottle illustrating some of the charmingly interesting and confusingly irritating facets of American whiskey. A brand owned by Heaven Hill distilleries and despite being made in Kentucky carrying on the Pennsylvania style of American rye. This particular type of whiskey is sometimes called Monongahela rye, as a homage to it´s old origins along the Monongahela river.

The bottle that I´ve been sampling is of what is called the DSP-KY-354 variety, which holds a story in it´s own. DSP stands for Distilled Spirits Plant number, and is a system for identifying distilleries. In this case it´s a plant owned by the Brown-Forman company (known for amongst other things Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve). The reason for this being a 1996 fire in the Bardstown distillery that used to make Rittenhouse, necessitating Heaven Hill to make a deal with someone else to distill this product. After acquiring and revamping the Bernheim distillery, production of Rittenhouse rye was again in the hands of Heaven Hill, now labeled DSP-KY-1. Getting confused? Well, this type of stories are common in the American whiskey business.

To make it even more complicated, Rittenhouse rye exists in two distinct expressions, an 80 proof one and this bottled in bond 100 proof whiskey. The so called Bottled-in Bond Act of 1897 was a way of creating a quality standard for American whiskey.  To achieve this classification the spirits needed to be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season, aged for at least four years under U.S government supervision in a federally bonded warehouse and bottled at 100 proof, identifying both the distillery and the bottling site on the label. So, after all this background let´s get on with the tasting.

Deep amber colour. A nose with strong tones of chocolate fudge being overtaken by a deep and satisfying rye spiciness with a continuing backdrop of sweetness. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a distinctive dryness overlying a discrete sweetness, with an alcohol kick in the middle giving way to fairly long rye notes. In a tumbler with ice the chocolate nose leaps at you, also very present in the taste which increases in sweetness as the fire decreases.

Sold in a no-frills standard bottle with a label that from today´s perspective is quite hideous. However, this design has another agenda and shouldn´t really be compared to contemporary craft whiskies that´s using all possible tricks to make an impression in an ever expanding field.

To sum it up a very honest rye in the original Pennsylvania style, which is nice as a baseline for comparing what´s being done with rye whiskey today. It would also be very nice to try it along with another classic like Old Overholt.

Copper Fox Rye, 90 proof (45%)

Copper Fox ryeIn Copper Fox we have a truly artisanal distillery, started in 2000 by Rick Wasmund after a six-month internship at Islay´s Bowmore. Presently making a single malt whiskey, this rye and a gin, as well as offering a barrel kit making it possible to age one of their whiskies to your own personal preferences.  The grains used are produced specially for Copper Fox and as the only distillery in the US they do all of their malting.

One of the unique steps in the making of this whiskey is the drying of the malt in the presence of apple and cherrywood smoke. Using a mash bill of 2/3 rye and 1/3 hand malted barley it´s double distilled in small batch copper pots, after which the distillate is matured in used bourbon barrels together with oak and applewood chips. Final maturing is done after transferring the whiskey to another used bourbon barrel, with a total aging of 12 months. The distillate doesn´t undergo chill filtering before being bottled by hand.

Showing a rich amber colour without any visible impurities. A fairly complex and interesting nose, containing the usual rye spices overlayed with light smoke notes similar to what I´m used to when barbecuing with cherry wood. There´s also citrus, nutmeg, oak and more cherry. Neat in a tasting glass you get a drink without any of the astringent properties of the earlier tasted whiskies. There´s rye spiciness together with fruit and delicate smoke, mixed together into a pretty complex blend with sweetness giving way to a medium long spicy finish. Putting it in a tumbler with ice all but ruins the experience, merely diluting what´s in essence a unique and interesting whiskey.

The bottle is old school but somehow stylish in its simplicity, with its plastic screw top and hand-dipped wax coating. It´s surprising to get that degree of complexity from something that´s only been in barrels for a year, and it´s interesting to see that the wood chip techniques used for a long time in winemaking has now reached the whiskey industry. I´m going to leave the question of whether this development is good or bad unanswered, and can´t help wondering what this would have tasted like if it would have undergone a traditional many years long maturing process instead.

…rye is in – American whiskey tasting no 7.

Grand Traverse Straight Rye WhiskeyGrand Traverse Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey, 90 proof (45%)

Produced by the Grand Traverse distillery, based in Traverse City, Michigan since 2008. A small batch craft distillery manufacturing this whiskey from locally produced grain which is triple distilled in a copper pot still, with a mash bill of 60% rye and 40% corn. 2 years of storage in new American oak barrels allows the straight rye label in its name.  Apart from this spirit the distillery also makes the rye below, a white dog, a bourbon as well as something called Cherry Whiskey (which I´m not entirely sure if it sounds like a good idea). On their product list is also a rum, a gin and a series of vodkas. There´s strangely enough no mention of this rye in the product presentations on their webpage.

Amber colour and with a nose beginning on the fruity side, with some hints of caramel and vanilla, ending with the typical rye pepper spiciness. Neat in a tasting glass it has a fiery start with a slightly disappointing short middle and an equally short spicy finish. In a tumbler with ice the white pepper multiplies and deepens somewhat.

Sold in an Absolut Vodka-like bottle with a plastic/cork stopper and a not that exciting label designed to give an impression of old tradition. Apparently both the bottle size and the label had to be changed before exporting it to Sweden. All in all a nice but not spectacular rye, and not something I´m likely to return to.

Grand Traverse Ole George WhiskeyGrand Traverse Distillery Ole George Whiskey, 93 proof (46,5%)

From the same distillery we get another straight rye, this time with a 100% rye mashbill. Double distilled and bottled straight from the barrel without any chill filtering. Rye whiskey being the dominant American whiskey before prohibition, these producers are doing a good job of reacquainting aficionados with the origins.

Compared to the straight rye above this one has a nose more dry and spicy, yet aromatic and with more complexity. Neat in a tasting glass it´s pretty smooth, with well defined pepper and spice keeping through a medium long finish that also has a hint of smokiness. In a tumbler with ice the smoothness is accentuated, also creating a fleeting sweetness without actually diminishing the complexity.

Packaging is very similar to what I´ve described above, showing that we shouldn´t judge a book by its cover. Feels a bit more special and is something that might actually get a return match.

Roughstock Montana Straight RyeRoughstock Montana Straight Rye Whiskey, 90 proof (45%)

Manufactured by Roughstock distilleries of Montana this is a product of the first legal distillery in the state of Montana in over 100 years. Apart from its rye this small batch distillery also makes two malt whiskies, as well as a spring wheat and sweet corn whiskey that will be reviewed later. Locally produced grains are matched with clear spring water and double distilled in copper still pots, followed by aging in American oak and bottling without chill filtration. When it comes to delivering a 100% rye mash bill it looks like you´ll have to rely on the artisanal distilleries like Roughstock and the earlier mentioned Grand Traverse.

The colour is a pleasant amber and we get a full nose dominated by toffee, treacle, cinnamon and spice, with a nice dry character. Neat in a tasting glass we have distinctively dry and peppery notes with some lingering sweetness in the finish. In so many ways solid and feels characteristic of its kind. In a tumbler with ice the white pepper takes charge while still finishing with fleeting notes of sweetness.

The bottle is similar to the ones produced by the Grand Traverse Distillery and with labels aspiring to simple and traditional designs. Would definitely like to try this one again

Bulleit ryeBulleit 95 Rye, 90 proof (45%)

The Bulleit company started as a way of continuing a family tradition of making American whiskey carried on from the 1830´s. Their output so far has consisted of a small batch bourbon which I like very much, a 10 year old bourbon which is not available in Sweden and a small batch rye reviewed here. With a mash bill of 95% rye and 5 % malted barley this one goes into the high rye content segment.

Showing a satisfyingly deep amber colour this whiskey delivers a nose combining a complex spicy dryness with hints of vanilla and mint. Neat in a tasting glass the dry peppery notes dominates along with spices and a fruity sweetness added in the middle, finishing more on the dry side . In a tumbler with ice the dryness continues to develop along with a lingering delicate note of sweetness.

The bottle is easily recognized with its glass relief, distinctive form and minimalistic label. A nice design creating a niche of its own. Bulleit rye is a whiskey well worth a repeat visit, just like the small batch bourbon. Sweet.

…Iceland should be perfect for making Whisky.

As the current whisky boom shows no signs of slowing down, millions of dollars are invested in  the Scottish whisky industry and new whisky-nations are popping up with increasing regularity. Here in my native Sweden we have well established distilleries like Mackmyra and Spirit of Hven, as well as newcomers Box, Gotland whisky and Grythyttan whisky. And now the whisky-craze has reached Iceland, with to my knowledge at least two active distilleries, Þoran and Flóki.

EimverkBecause of the changes in global climate, barley can now be grown in Iceland, which together with crystal clear water and cheap energy provides all the requisites for whisky making. Flóki whisky is made by the Eimverk distillery, a family business started in 2009, releasing its first products in 2014. The brew is made from 100% organic Icelandic barley slowly grown in volcanic soil. Because of the lower sugar content, 50% more Barley per bottle is needed. The whisky is handcrafted in small batches, with first releases being a one time offer of 100 charred oak barrels containing 4,5 litres of new make whisky and a limited bottling of Flóki Icelandic Young Malt. The barrels quickly sold out, but might still be found in selected Reykjavik bars. Apart from the whisky the distillery also makes a unique gin that I will write about later.

More or less a family tradition, me and the wife spent the New Years Eve of 2014 in Reykjavik, something that for the uninformed might not sound like a very hot proposition. But make no mistake, Reykjavik is a serious party city and never more so than on the last night of the year. The festive spirit of the locals shows no bounds, and the fireworks display at midnight is nothing less than crazy. Ordinary families blasts away thousands of dollars worth of pyrotechnics, turning the black night into daylight and making conversations impossible. New Years Eve in Reykjavik is something you´ll need to experience at least once in your life.

Flóki maltOn the trip back to Sweden the customary visit to the duty free store of Keflavik Airport yielded a surprise catch of a bottle of Flóki Young Malt, to be precise bottle number 109 from barrel number 2. Other people might put this bottle into storage, expecting cult status after the distilley has made a name for themselves in 10 or 15 years. Me, I tasted it the same night I got home, impatient as ever.

Flóki Young Malt is straw coloured with an aromatic nose dominated by caramel, toffee and banana notes. Neat in a tasting glass there´s a sweet, fruity beginning followed by fiery alcohol and a closing oak astringency. Very young but with obvious potential this is a whisky that will be exciting to try in a couple of years. Sold in a pretty unassuming bottle with a label covered with norse symbols and runes this still feels like something worth watching.

 

 

…Oaxen stands its ground – the revisit.

OaxenI´ve written about this phenomenal restaurant before, and its reincarnation after moving into Stockholm from the archipelago island of Oaxen. If Alinea (written about here) represents the utmost in molecular gastronomy, Oaxen holds a similar position when it comes to a local and seasonally based kitchen. That´s not to say that Mats Ek and his coworkers are somehow lacking in technique, they obviously know every move you could possibly need, but rather that they subscribe to a different philosophy. Much of the ingredients in this fabulous 10 course menu are collected in the grounds surrounding the restaurant on the island of Djurgården, a beautiful and green part of Stockholm. The menu strictly adheres to what´s in season, ensuring the best ingredients possible.

Apart from the menu itself we were treated to a never ending series of wonderful amuse bouches that could have been regular courses at a lesser restaurant. The wine pairing was flawless as usual and the service friendly, exact and unobtrusive. Considering the pretty high level of competition in Stockholm, with several extraordinary establishments, I sincerely hope that this place will succeed not only gastronomically but also financially. Oaxen is just so very exceptional and unique.