Flóki Icelandic Young Malt

Floki Young Malt 01Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 13-14 months
abv: 47%

When you think of Iceland, you may picture glaciers and waterfalls, or volcanoes that annoyingly bring whole continents to a standstill. Perhaps you may even think of Vikings, Björk or fermented shark meat. But rarely will you hear the words Iceland and whisky uttered in the same sentence. Not until recently at least, because now Eimverk distillery is producing Iceland’s very own malt whisky. True, it will not be ready until November 2017, but there’s already a taster available for those who cannot wait. Fittingly subtitled First Impression, Flóki Young Malt is exactly that: a first introduction to an Icelandic whisky that’s far from a final product.

Bottled after having been matured for just over a year, this Flóki may not even call itself whisky yet. Despite this, it’s a very captivating drink, thanks in large part to the unconventional way in which Flóki is produced. For more background on Eimverk and Flóki, you can read about my visit to the distillery here. What is good to mention though is that because of Iceland’s harsh climate, barley produced on the island is much less rich in sugar content. To make up for this, Eimverk uses up to 50% more barley in each batch, and this has a very positive impact on the flavour of the spirit. You can expect lots of sweet cereal and an almost oily spiciness in this Flóki.

It has been great to make acquaintance with this Icelandic experiment in whisky making, even just for a first impression. It’s left me eager for more, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see how the Flóki range develops in the future. For now though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Young Malt. Skál!

Colour: Sparkling gold. Despite the young age, no artificial colouring was used, meaning that the deep shade of gold is solely from the virgin oak. This in itself is an indication of how quickly the spirit has matured.

Nose: Aromas of hay and fresh wood shavings spout from the glass like a geyser, carrying zesty notes of orange peel and bubblegum in their wake. The nose is like heather growing on a volcanic slope: darkly brooding but floral. There are clear scents of toasted vanilla, betraying the influence of the virgin oak. This Flóki does display a degree of sharpness, but none of the pungency you’d expect from such immature spirit. On the whole, very clean and quite promising.

Palate: Light-bodied, with a very distinctive malt profile, quite unlike any whisky I’ve ever tasted before. The extra barley is working wonders here, complementing the raw spirit and fresh oak flavours beautifully. Belatedly, a spicy character opens up, with notes of ginger and aniseed slowly giving way to fruitier flavours of raisins and dried figs.

Finish: Not quite a volcanic eruption, but rather a soothing, warming plunge in a geothermal pool. The oaky vanilla notes dissipate into a dry but pleasant aftertaste of fragrant barley. The finish is exceptionally smooth, you would never guess that this Flóki isn’t yet old enough to be called whisky.

Verdict: The distillers at Eimverk said they did not want to simply recreate a Scottish whisky in Iceland, and indeed they have not. Flóki is whisky done the Icelandic way, and I must applaud Eimverk for their pioneering boldness. In staying true to local inputs and making the best of the unconventional equipment available at the distillery, Eimverk have created something quite special. Of course Flóki Young Malt isn’t a refined product, heck it’s not even whisky yet. But at just one year old, the spirit is enormously promising. Many whiskies-in-the-making at this age would be quite undrinkable – I’ve tried some spirit you really wouldn’t drink for the fun of it. Taking this into account, Flóki Young Malt is a phenomenal drink and I simply cannot wait to see what it will taste like at 3 or even 12 years old. I expect big things from this small Icelandic distillery.

Eimverk Distillery Logo

The Eimverk logo displays the Vegvísir runic compass, as well as the three ravens used by Hrafna-Flóki, the first person to deliberately navigate to Iceland. The runes around the compass read ‘the way from home is the way to home’. Not only is this an excellent adage for exploring and settling on new shores, it is also useful advice for drunkenly making your way back home after a few too many whiskies!

Mackmyra Vinterdröm

Mackmyra Vinterdröm ReviewDistillery: Mackmyra
Country: Sweden
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.1%

Sweden is perhaps not a country famous for distilling whisky, but since 1999, Mackmyra distillery has been producing a wide variety of excellent drams. Such has been the quality and acclaim of Mackmyra’s whiskies, that high demand pushed them to open a second distillery in 2011. This is the Gravity distillery, and in true Swedish fashion, its production is very environmentally friendly. 35 metres high and relying on the forces of gravity for many of its processes, it manages to save up to 45% on energy use compared to the first distillery. After distillation, the whisky is stored 50 metres below ground in an abandoned coal mine for maturation. The cask of choice for this is often Swedish, rather than American oak. Mackmyra claims this wood type gives the whisky a rougher, harsher flavour, which better represents the Swedish climate.

Vinterdröm is Mackmyra’s latest release in the limited edition ‘Seasons’ range. All of the whiskies from this range have received an unusual finish, and Vinterdröm is no different. Apart from Swedish and American oak, the whisky has aged in casks that previously held rum from Barbados and Jamaica, belonging to the famous rum producer Plantation. The result is a seasoned, sweet whisky with plenty of Caribbean swing in it.  With its sleek packaging featuring swanky palm trees, this whisky also just looks damn cool. Let’s hope it tastes the same!

Colour: Pale gold

Nose: Tangy and alcoholic, with notes of coconut and Demerara sugar. There’s quite a lot of vanilla too, along with a distinct aroma of caramelised apple. This gives way to fresh pine wood and a hint of banana. Through it all, the nose is unmistakably spicy, with chillies, cloves and cinnamon coming to the fore. The rum influence is obvious here, and bodes well for the rest of the dram.

Palate: Sharp and fizzy, raging like a cyclone of tropical fruit and pungent spices. Thick layers of allspice and nutmeg slowly merge with notes of cinnamon and cocoa beans. I feel like I’ve just eaten my whole spice cabinet (the oak frame included) with chocolate for dessert. Powerful stuff.

Finish: Long and intense, with an explosion of spices that just keeps on growing. Eventually the dust settles, leaving a lingering sensation of peppery toffee and burnt vanilla.

Verdict: When you buy a rum finished whisky, a dram like this is exactly what you’d expect. The rum influences were already apparent on the nose, and did not fail to leave their mark on this whisky. Having said that, this dram is anything but subtle. Intensely spicy, Mackmyra Vinterdröm is a bit rougher around the edges than some other rum finishes I’ve had (perhaps this is the Swedish oak talking). Despite the lack of balance, it is still a very enjoyable dram, and one that will make my winter that much warmer and more cheerful. And with the dark, cold Swedish winter months in mind, this is undoubtedly what Mackmyra’s distillers intended to do. Vinterdröm has made me curious about some of the other whiskies in the ‘Seasons’ range (a birch sap or cloudberry wine finish sounds pretty interesting). This won’t be the last time I’m trying Mackmyra.

Mackmyra Vinterdröm Review

Hakushu Heavily Peated

Hakushu Heavily Peated 01Distillery: Hakushu
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 48%

One of only nine Japanese whisky distilleries, Hakushu is located on Japan’s main island of Honshu. Often dubbed the ‘Forest Distillery’, Hakushu can be found at the foot of Mount Asayo in the Southern Alps. Unsurprisingly, this gives it access to some of the highest quality water sources in Japan. Hakushu opened its doors in 1973 and is owned by Suntory, one of Japan’s oldest and most famous whisky producers. The Heavily Peated expression was released as a limited edition in 2013 and is now hard to come by. I for one hope it will be relaunched soon, as this is wonderful dram that offers subtlety, complexity, and a very pleasant waft of peat smoke.

Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Light and delicate, with subtle hints of pear, nutmeg and white chocolate. There’s very little sign of the ‘heavily peated’ indicated on the label. Faint notes of maple syrup and hazelnut give way to pine wood, with a trace of caramel and vanilla. In all, the nose is quite subdued and gives away few clues of what this whisky has to offer.

Palate: Woah this is quite the surprise! While the nose was ultra-delicate, the palate explodes in a burst of hot and sparkly sweetness. After a continued eruption of spicy, peppery flavours, a somewhat restrained wave of peat brushes in. This is replaced by complex aged oak and fruity undertones of ripe apple and peach.

Finish: Medium in length but fiery. Finally the peat is allowed to explode in full force, resulting in an aftertaste of charred wood.

Verdict: While certainly not as peaty as some of the Islay heavy hitters, this whisky still packs plenty of punch. Smoky but not medicinal, this Hakushu offers an initial subtlety, before moving on to a more robust range of flavours. It feels like this whisky invites you along on a journey, as it constantly develops from start to finish. A very pleasant dram, and one that Japanese whisky makers can be proud of!

Hakushu Heavily Peated 02