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.

…2015 w 11 – Album of the week is “New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84)” by Simple Minds.

Simple MindsSometimes opportunity knocks. Despite not being the hottest act around anymore, it´s still pretty unlikely that Scottish band Simple Minds would do a concert in my relatively small Swedish hometown of Orebro. Still, this is exactly what happened tonight. The show being a mix of new material and old classics, I must confess to letting my mind wander a bit during the newer stuff, while immensely appreciating the numbers forever ingrained into my musical DNA. A professional performance enjoyed by an audience mostly consisting of pot-bellied men with graying and receding hairlines. No disrespect there since I must without a doubt be considered one of them.

Forming in Glasgow as Johnny & The Self-Abusers in 1977, the group quickly changed focus and appeared as Simple Minds with debut album “Life in a day” (1979). New-wave pop dominated by guitars and catchy melodies didn´t really take them anywhere. With echoes from both Magazine and early Roxy Music the album was rich with talent, and as one of fairly few in Sweden who got hold of it early on I still like it very much.

“Real to Real Cacophony” (1979) was released later the same year and showed the first signs of Simple Minds being a band interested in something more than easy pop. The sound being distinctly electronic and the songs more complex, the album ushered in an era of experimentation that wouldn´t stop until the stadium years much later. Next album “Empires and Dance” (1980) developed the band´s sound further into the realm of the more listenable part of the synthesized avant garde, coupled with the burgeoning electronic dance music, rich with melodies and motorik rhythms.

Bringing the group´s talents and diverse influences to fruition, twin albums “Sons and fascination” and “Sister Feelings call” enforced the band´s position as the composite of art rock, avant garde electronics and modern dance music. Belive me, at this point in time listening to Simple Minds was hearing the cutting-edge sniffing at the outskirts of the commercial. So many years later I still remember these albums as important pieces of contemporary culture. Both immensely influential and extremely enjoyable.

New Gold DreamEvery important band has a greatest moment, and “New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) was this one´s. An instant classic that refined the essence of the group not only to a selection of formidable songs but into a cohesive album of rare beauty and sophistication. When it was released in 1982 nothing sounded as good as this record. Containing an unbeatable row of extraordinary songs, the album displayed the ultimate maturation of everything that had ever been good about Simple Minds. Based on both soulful and funky grooves, these numbers glittered and glimmered with a fresh and seductive melodic modernity that very few could resist. More than 30 years later this music still feels timelessly great.

While follow-up “Sparkle in the rain” (1984) contained several great songs, it ushered in the next phase of the band where stadium bombast displaced artful finesse. From this point on my interest was lost and never regained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…2015 w 10 – Album of the week is “Double life” by The Moodists.

The Moodists are one of Australian rock music´s best kept secrets. Formed around the nucleus of Dave Graney, Clare Moore and Steve Miller, as Adelaide punk band The Sputniks moved to Melbourne in the early eighties. The addition of bass player Chris Walsh created the original line-up, later enhanced by guitarist Mick Turner. After two singles for the Au go go label the band relocated to London, releasing seven track mini-LP “Engine shudder” (1983),  followed by debut album proper “Thirsty´s Calling” (1984). Despite some critical acclaim not much happened commercially, and as many other Australian bands their time in London was one of abject poverty.

In today´s light “Thirsty´s Calling” could be seen as the record where the Moodists developed their sound, together with producer Victor Van Vugt who would follow the band through their entire career. Mini-LP “Double Life” (1985) was followed by three 12″ EP´s (“Justice and money too”, “Take the red carpet out of town” and “The Moodists”), before the band finally gave up in 1987, with couple Graney and Moore embarking on a diverse career of semi-solo work.

My own discovery of the group was through “Thirsty´s Calling”, which had received generally favourable reviews in the British musical press. With a sprawling rock ´n´roll aesthetic based on prominent bass guitar and Dave Graney´s highly original singing, this was a band with a vision of their own. A collection of idiosynchratic and intense songs creating a sonic landscape all their own.

“Double Life” was made up of equal parts new songs and previously released single material. Made without much attempts at producing and mixing, this still proved to be one of the group´s most enduring moments. Opening song “Double Life” was perhaps the band´s most focused effort ever, with a thudding bass line leading the song through minimal beginnings to discordant disarray and back again. “Enough legs to live on” makes a similar journey through barely controlled chaos. “Chevrolet rise” builds and builds into a beautiful junk sculpture which might just be the most melodic song of the album. “That´s how you´ll cry” and “Can´t lose her” connected to the band´s roots while emulating their earlier sound. Closer “Six dead birds” managed to take everything that was great about this band pushing it forward. A record encapsulating the essence of The Moodists.

The following series of 12″ EP´s lightened the sound and turned the band into a slightly more poppy direction, with the inclusion of former Orange Juice members and horn arrangements from Louise Elliot of The Laughing Clowns, without creating any  commercial success to speak of. Petering out, The Moodists transformed into the various vehicles for Dave Graney and Clare Moore. Yet a unique and influential band largely lost to the digital age. Although compilation double CD “Two fisted art” is heavy on early releases and live stuff, the last chapter of the band is missing. For this you´ll have to go vinyl.

…2015 w 9 – Album of the week is “My Houdini” by Tactics.

TacticsLet´s continue in Australia with a group of totally uncompromising musicians. Tactics were formed in Canberra in 1977 and relocated to Sydney in 1978. Probably the most willfully obscure band of their generation, they found a distinct and clear voice through the singular mind of founding and only consistent member David Studdert. Very few rock musicians can boast a career spanning several critically noted albums of absolutely unique and original material, as well as a PhD in Sociology (Conceptualising Community, 2005). The combination of a stubborn refusal to conform to norms of contemporary rock clichés and a fierce will to be different created a truly spectacular body of work. That said, the fact that they were largely ignored by the music industry really doesn´t matter.

During their active years Tactics released four original albums, as well as a live one and a singles compilation. None of these were commercially successful and today can only be found second hand. Spotify has nothing, regrettably revealing the sometime lack of history of the download generation.

My own exposure to this band started with a glowing review of their debut “My Houdini” (1980) in a British music journal . Despite much searching the album proved unavailable in Sweden at the time, but remained at the back of my mind for a long time until I found their single “Committee of love” in a record store bargain bin. Totally blown away I set out to explore the body of work that this band had accomplished, through a set of later released CD-compilations. “The sound of the sound vol 1 & 2” collected all the group´s studio albums as well as rarities and selected live stuff. In addition to uniquely great music you get the most fascinating booklets ever made for a career spanning retrospective.

My Houdini“My Houdini” is in my opinion one of the greatest debut albums ever made. Despite its difficult gestation nothing can disguise the quality and vision of the songwriting and playing on display. Feverish, frantic guitars and rhythms coupled by shrill vocals with lyrics chronicling the experience of settlers discovering the plight of the subdued indigenous population. In so many ways a remarkable album of mature songs. While the lyrical content explored the murky waters of colonialist angst, the music went way further into an antipodean take on post-modern rock. Studdert allowed nothing that sounded like anything else to creep into his music. Isolated and insular for sure, frenetic and focused definitely, lyrical and literate unmistakably. Although largely lost in pop music history, do what you have to do to listen to these dispatches from the buried country.

…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.

…2015 w 8 – Album of the week is “Tales of the unexpected” by The Lighthouse Keepers.

Lighthouse keepersThe early eighties was a formidable time for Australian rock music and loads of fantastic bands came to prominence during these years. While many were creatively outstanding only a few reached commercial success. This great band was one of those who didn´t. Not that it matters much when they were able to write such great songs.

Formed in Sydney in 1981, their country-tinged pop went against the grain in a city where the indie music scene were heavily influenced by The Stooges. First single “Gargoyle” wasn´t released until 1983, and cut through the noise of contemporary Sydney bands with chiming guitars, delicious melodies and a great vocal performance. Just remember, music videos still were very much in their infancy at the time.

Next release, the EP “The Exploding Lighthouse Keepers”, expanded the band´s sound with instruments like brass and showed guitarist/vocalist Greg Appel as an already accomplished songwriter. Sounds surprisingly good even today, despite being recorded mostly live in the studio.

Tales of the unexpectedDebut record “Tales of the unexpected” (1984) turned out to be the band´s only original album,  followed by the compilation “Imploding” (1986) containing mostly early material, released around the time the group disbanded. “Tales” continued the band´s jangling guitar sound coupled with the very special vocals of Juliet Ward, over a diverse set of 14 songs that´s quite uplifting despite frequently leaning towards the melancholy. Even though it´s a slightly uneven album, with some ups and downs in the songwriting, there´s certainly greatness to be found here. In their best moments when everything comes together, both the music and the vocals has a certain fragility that´s immensely beautiful and enjoyable. Like a soap bubble in midair only needing a light poke to disintegrate.

The album is long deleted but can be found second hand on sites like Discogs. There´s two CD compilations around, “Lip Snipe Groin” and “Ode to nothing”, also not that easy to get hold of. The easiest way of listening to these wonderful songs is probably Spotify.