Smögen 3 Year Old – Sherry Project 1:1

smogen-3-year-old-2011-sherry-project-11-whiskyWell today we have something that is rather different, and which I may never have tried had I not decided to purchase one of Drinks by the Drams tasting sets (The Sherry Monsters Set). This is a whisky that has come from Sweden, from the Smögen distillery, and is a very interesting for being only 3 years old!

Smögen distillery was founded only recently, in 2009 and began production the following year in 2010. This small distillery, has a capacity of only around 35,000 litres per year, and is equipped with 2 stills – 1 wash still of around 900 litres and 1 spirit still of around 600 litres – which, like most of the process, was designed largely by Pär Caldenby, the founder. This small output means that great care is taken over the process, with quality being key. Maturation takes place in mainly virgin and first fill casks as the fresher casks mean a shorter maturation period, this also means that bolder flavours are drawn from the wood which are able to stand up to the heavily peated spirit, at around 45ppm. What we are enjoying today is the first release of Smögen’s ‘Sherry Project’. In which their spirit is finished in a sherry cask, for an ever increasing period of time depending on the release. For this release, 1.1, the first bottling of this project, the spirit has been matured initially in virgin European oak quarter casks before being finished for a final 4 months in a Sherry Butt. This spirit ran off of Smögen’s stills back in June 2011 and was bottled in September 2014, a 3 year old whisky, and limited to only 932 bottles (50cl). You would be very lucky if you found a bottle of this today as it was snapped up quickly when released at a price of around £90, it would cost you significantly more now. Let’s try it! (51.8% ABV).

Nose

This has got to be the busiest 3 year old whisky I have ever smelled. The first thing that comes across when you stick your nose even near the glass is smoke. This is a fairly heavily peated spirit, but it is not like the smoke you associate with say an Islay whisky, it’s a really spicy and interesting smoke. Savoury roasted nuts and cured meats mix with the smoke at first, with sweet-savoury spice, kind of like a jerk spice dry rub, with plenty of sweet paprika. It’s like barbecuing meats in a Jamaican market. As the smoke clears the sherry begins to come through, in a big way, accompanied by a big whack of alcohol. Clove studded oranges, all spice and baked apples bring those classic ‘Christmas’ feelings to mind. Right at the back of the nose some nuttiness comes through with a touch of sultana and floral lemon grass.

Palate

It has a sweet arrive, very sweet, and an almost fizzy feeling on the palate. It starts really softly too, it almost doesn’t feel alcoholic at first. Loads of raisins, dried summer berries and citrus peel. Then the smoke and the alcohol return after a few moments and with vengeance too! Wow! Burnt fruit loaf, served up with clotted cream comes through the smoke as well as rich muscovado sugar. It is quite acidic, really acidic actually, with bitter lemon rind and very strong pine needle tea. As well as the acidity it is drying and cloying on the palate with rich oak and bitter sherried tannins. The smoke is dominant on the palate but the sweetness from the sherry and the acidity make for a lively and changeable dram.

Finish

The finish continues on in a same theme as the palate, deep and spicy smoke, fresh acidity and sweet autumnal fruits. There is an earthiness which develops in the mouth of the finish that is reminiscent of drinking peaty water – it’s not smoky, just earthy. Sweet sugar comes back into play on the finish but it really is a continuation of the palate. After a few moments the fruit and sweetness drops off and that rich smoke just keeps going.

Well, this is the third whisky I have tried so far from Sweden and I must say they have all been fantastic. Japan, and now Australia, have built a strong name for themselves in recent years and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is Sweden’s turn next! This whisky goes a long way to showing what 3 years of maturation can do. Yes, this is young, but by God it has done a lot on those 3 years. The power from the virgin quarter casks, the intense spicy smoke and the fruits and nuts from the sherry cask make for a very busy dram. Would I buy this? For a 50cl bottle of 3 year old whisky I doubt I would pay £90 for it (if you could still buy a bottle of this). The fact that it is the first bottling in the series, 1.1, would give it some collectability and it is a very limited release but for me whisky is for drinking first and foremost. I just wish I had some more of this as my 3cl Drinks by the Dram sample is unfortunately finished.

Sláinte

Gary

Excise Duty Increase ‘Major Blow’ for Scotch Whisky Industry

on the rocks

Yesterday, the 8th of March, the British Government unveiled their 2017 Spring Budget, and a joyous time was had by all. Many industries, especially the drinks and tobacco sectors, were hit hard by the budget changes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, revealed that excise duty on all spirit drinks would increase by a huge 3.9%. Which doesn’t sound like much, but on your average bottle of Scotch whisky the overall tax (excise duty and VAT) is now sitting at a staggering 79%! An increase of 21% since 2010.

Long and hard campaigning by industry giants, whisky producers and the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) resulted in a freeze in excise duty in George Osborne’s budget last year, and an historic cut of 2% in 2015 the year before, but this is a major blow for the industry. Especially after the PM, Theresa May, referred to the Scotch whisky industry as a “truly great Scottish and British industry” at the Scottish Conservatives Conference last week.

It isn’t overly clear where these percentages come from at a glance but it is actually quite simple:

Excise duty is paid on the amount of litres of pure alcohol i.e. 100% ABV. So for example, if you were to open a cask after ‘X’ amount of years and from it you got 100 litres of whisky at 55% ABV. You would be required to pay excise on the amount of alcohol in this – 55 litres of pure alcohol. Before this latest budget the rate of excise was already set at a staggeringly high £27.66 per litre. With the 3.9% increase it is now set at £28.74 per litre.

To put this into perspective, your ‘average bottle of whisky’ has a selling price of £12.90 (for a 70cl at 40% ABV (September 2016)). With this hike a whopping £8.05 is now paid on excise duty. And a further £2.15 is then paid in VAT! This means that for your £12.90 bottle of whisky £10.20 is now paid in tax (Excise duty and VAT) which is 79% of the price. This means that the producer is then only left with £2.70 minus the cost of producing the bottle.

As the whisky producers are only seeing such a small amount of the cost of a bottle there is only one thing that can happen – the price goes up for us as consumers. Which could undermine the recovering home market within the UK, as warned the SWA acting Chief Executive Julie Hesketh-Laird, warning that a “4% duty rise and a 79% tax burden on a bottle of whisky is a major blow, reversing recent progress”.

The Scotch whisky industry has been going through a fantastic spell of late and is in demand all over the world, but increasing the excise duty is only going to stifle this prosperous period, and put undeserved pressure onto producers. In these uncertain times with Brexit and austerity measures it is absolutely senseless and downright stupid to further burden an industry which contributes £4.9 Billion to the UK economy and supports (directly or indirectly) 550,000 jobs according to the WSTA.

Charles Ireland, the Managing Director for Diageo’s UK operations said this “tax blow from the Chancellor is bad for the economy, bad for business and bad for the British public”. He later said that “(Diageo) are calling on the Government to reverse this punitive tax hike and fundamentally overhaul what is clearly a flawed excise duty system”. I don’t often agree with much of what Diageo does in terms of NAS and bottling releases – don’t even get me started on Haig – but I can certainly drink to that.

Sláinte

Gary