In May Myken Distillery finally release their first product, a gin, on the Norwegian market (i.e. Vinmonopolet), and I thought that a good excuse for a vertical tasting. So here we have batch 1 at 47.3%, which I’ve already got notes up for, batch 2 at 47%, a sample I got when I visited Myken for their official opening i September, and batch 3, the one which will be available from next Friday, also at 47%, in an appealing half litre bottle with the awesome label designed by Metric Design. Please note that I happen to have the coolest bottle from the batch, number 42 (the answer, as we all know, to life, the universe, and everything). Pretty much the best birthday present I’ve had for some time (and, yes, I turned 42).
Nose: Cucumber, juniper, fresh herbs, coriander and cumin.
Palate: Juniper twigs, light liquorice. More soapy coriander with a few drops of water.
Nose: Herbs and sea foam. Juniper and cumin. Something quite waxy, as well as warm wood.
Palate: Soapy coriander, herbs and more sea influence.
Nose: Juniper berries and a sweet juniper wood note, fresh herbs, black pepper and sea.
Comments: There is definitely a clear relationship between the three batches. A little tweaking of the spice mix has obviously been going on, but no radical changes. In my opinion they’re going in the right direction with the tweaking, too, I marginally prefer batch 3. All three are excellent sipping gins, and it would suprise me if they didn’t also work in drinks, from the reasonably simple G&T to those with a list of ingredients as long as your arm.
Myken Arctic Gin will be available to order at Vinmonopolet from Friday May 6, for 509.90 NOK for 0,5 litres. The order number is 3957902 and there are only a couple of hundred bottles available in this first release, so if you want one you shouldn’t hang around.
This spirit has matured for five months in a 10 litre cask of Hungarian oak.
Nose: A fair amount of congeners, vanilla, a little cinnamon and apricots. It turns more towards the vegetal with water, I still find cinnamon, but also some black pepper.
Palate: Rice pudding with cinnamon and sugar. Congeners as well. Rougher with water, but the cinnamon still dominates.
Comments: Seems very young, but then it is. The cinnamon is from the oak, I suppose. It’s a bit over the top, really. Less congeners on the nose would have been better, as it is, I rather like it, but not so much that I regret it being unavailable to purchase.
Exactly two weeks ago I was at Myken to take part in the official opening ceremony for the distillery. It was an experience of a life-time, and it was clear that not only do the Myken gang “with freids” have a star-studded tea, but even the weather gods are rooting for Myken. Brilliant sunshine and blue skies are hardly something you can bank on in this country, but that’s what met us on arrival last Tuesday.
It’s possible to note with a smile that the weather gods had a role to play earlier in Myken’s history as well, as it was when they became stuck on the island through bad weather that Roar and Trude – to of the main forces behind the distillery – fell in love with Myken.
I arrived back home after 36 hours with close on 600 pictures and life-long memories, and whether you want me to or not I will be sharing some of them over the next few weeks. Let’s start with the most important part: A tour of the distillery.
Even though the distillery building is fairly anonymous compared to other disitilleries, it’s not exactly hard to find. Myken is not big. In fact, all distances logged on the local signpost are measured in meters, and the number of buildings overall is limited. As the old, temporary signage for the distillery has now been replaced by a new sign with Metric Designs shiny new logo design, it’s even easier to find the right building. It used to be a processing plant for fish, now it contains Myken Distillery on the ground floor and Bruket bord & bar, a restaurant, above it.
The most important question coming to mind when you see Myken and are told that they distill whisky there should be: “But where do they get their water from?” The answer is a desalting plant which produces clean, clear drinking water from sea water.
Myken Distillery is a microdistillery and will remain so in the foreseeable future. Most of the processes are unusually dependent on manual input, and the equipent is hardly in the same league as the big players in Scotland. The mashtun is a repurposed plastic tank with an added mesh bottom, the washbacks are old milk tanks, which are available to purchase for the not-so-princely sum of 1 NOK per liter capacity. In fact it’s substantially more expensive to transport them to Myken than to purchase them in the first place.
The stills are new and purpose built from copper, but with a somewhat unfamiliar shape if you are used to Scottish stills. This is because they are made in Spain by Hoga Stills Co. The possibility of purchasing stills from Scotland was investigated, but new stills from Forsyth’s would not only have been about five times more expensive, they also had an expected delivery date in couple of years time. As Hoga could deliver within a few months, the choice was made simple for our eager distiller-wannabees. The stills are fired with gas, through gas-powered paella-pans, also from Spain, naturally.
The first spirit was distilled at Myken in December 2014, and throughout 2015 they’ve kept up a steady pace, heading for a total production this year of 5,000 liters. With the equipment thay now have, they expect to be able to increase annual output to a maximum of 15,000 liters over the next few years. In addition they are contemplating investing in another pair of stills, which would put the total capacity at 30,000 liters. Note: Numbers are for actual liters put into cask, not pure alchohol.
Despite the manual processes (and technical challenges) the method should be familiar to anyone familiar with Scottish distilleries. The malt has so far come from Weyermann in Germany, and up until two months ago the 125 kilos Myken use per mash were milled on what can only be descriped as a home brewer’s mill (though powered by drill, not hand cranked). A somewhat more industrial version is now in place. The mashtun, as mentioned, is a converted plastic tank. About 700 liters of worts is produced per mash, with 500 liters of water going in at 64-65° C and then a second water of 200 liters at 80° C. The wort is transported to the washbacks by the simple expedient of lifting the whole mashtun with a forklift and transporting it to the washback so the worts can drain off straight in. Up until two months ago, things were not so simple and the worts had to be carried by hand in ten litre buckets from the mashtun to the washback…
Myken use dry distillers yeast and the wash is left to ferment on average 3-4 days, but sometimes over a week if that’s what fits the schedule. The resulting wash ends at around 7% abv.
700 liters of wash are run through the washstill, and out come around 200 liters of low wines at 24 % abv. Two runs off the washstill are combined in the low wines tank to feed the spirit still with 400 liters.
So 400 liters of low wine are distilled, the head, heart and tail are collected in metal buckets and poured, very manually, into the correct receptacle. Roar told us that the steps up to the spirit receiver were useful in filling the function “time to consider whether this is the correct tank”, since, should someone pour head or tail in there the whole batch would be ruined. Of course it could be redistilled, but then you’d have triple distilled spirits, and something quite unlike the rest of the production. No one has so far made that mistake. After all that they are left with around 100 liters of newmake.
When they have collected sufficient amounts of newmake it is filled into casks. For experimental purposes they have a variety ofminiature casks of five to ten liters to get an early indication of how the spirit is likely to mature. If you’ve been to a whisky festival and had Myken spirit with some colour to it, it will have been from one of these. With so much wood to spirit interaction we are talking weeks rather than months or years for the spirit to “mature”. It’s not the same as a ten year maturation in proper casks, of course, or we’d likely see retailers’ shelves bulging with “speed matured whisky”, but it does give an indication of how various wood types will interact with the distinct Myken spirit..
Most of the production goes into ex bourbon barrels (most of them have been fro Maker’s Mark, lately from Wild Turkey), and some goes into 40 liter casks rebuilt from barrels by Thorslund cooperage in Sweden. These smaller casks are open to investors, so if you like you can own your own special Myken cask, if you want more details I published those a while ago.
Myken is soon ready to launch their first product. Well, if you happen to swing by the pub Emaus at Lovund this evening you can have a dram already. Not coincidentally, Roar Larsen is also at Lovund, preparing to appear on Norwegian national television in the programme Sommeråpent in just a few minutes.
And guess what I found in the mail today?
Nose: Nice and clean gin nose. Juniper berries, juniper wood, slight cumin, pine needles and coriander. A bit of cucumber too, I’ll have to get the Hendricks out to compare. A drop of water emphasises the coriander, making it more soapy.
Palate: Quite light, a little citrus, but more of an orange peel than a lemony citrus. Quite soapy corainder, some juniper berries and juniper…twig? I’ve never actually chewed on a juniper twig (perhaps I should try it?), but I imagine it tastes like this.
Comments: I can see no reason why this shouldn’t soon be appearing in every bar in Norway. I like it, and it’s got to be more fun presenting a Norwegian gin than a run-of-the-mill foreign one to your customers? Not least if you frequently have tourists stopping by? I’m certainly aquiring a bottle as soon as it becomes available at the Vinmonopol some time this autumn.
After a quick nip to the cupboard for a Hendricks (one of my favourites, I should mention) I can say that, yes, there are definite similarities, especially on the nose. The spice is a bit more apparent on the Myken, but they both have that cucumbery feel to me. And they both have that soapy coriander on the palate, though the Hendricks leans more towards lemondand lilacs. Adnams First Rate (another one I really like) has a completely different profile, with a more extreme spicyness.
Talking of Myken, would you like to own your very own cask of Myken spirits? Orders are now being taken for 40 litre casks, presumed to be mature just about the time the whisky comes of age. For more information contact Myken distillery (e-mail: post at mykendestilleri.no) or check out their pdf with more information (including explanations for the somewhat odd purchase processes that Norwegian regulation dictate) that I’ve shared via Google Docs. or see their website.
Sweden: Box whisky released the third expression in their The Early Days Collection: The Explorer. 10,000 bottles were released at Systembolaget 5 June. Earlier this week there were still a few left, but they seem to be all gone now. We’ll be back with tasting notes soon, probably some time next week.
In order to really test the sample of Myken newmake, I lined up two other newmakes to try in parallel. One was not even a sample, Mackmyra Vit Hund is available at Systembolaget in Sweden for 319 SEK for 50 cl bottle. The other spirit I let Myken test its mettle against was a sample of Glenburgie newmake. To my delight (yes, I will happily admit to rooting for the Myken project) the sample from Myken stood its own. The Mackmyra is perhaps more polished, but it’s also a product meant to be sold and drunk as is. The Myken spirit is intended for maturation (so is most of the spirit off the still at Mackmyra, of course, but I suspect they chose the batches for Vit Hund with care). The Glenburgien had a pleasant nose, but was unfortunately undrinkable once water was added, and that’s simply not good enough in this company.
But enough waffle, here are my impressions of the Myken newmake:
Nose: Malt, milk chocolate and wet concrete. With water sulfur emerges, but also green grapes and apples and Wasa Husmann crackerbread.
Palate: Lemon, concrete, malt and a chemical pine needle character. A little sharper with water, but the malt/barley character is also emphasised.
Comments: Pretty good, on the whole. Less fruity than the other two, but it tastes nice enough to leave me wanting more. The impression of concrete interests me (it’s an aroma I rather like), and I’ll be interested to see if it follows through in the maturation.
Myken: Myken posted pictures of their stills ready to ship from Spain on Facebook this week. The stills are looking good, and progress is also being made on the buildings at Myken. Follow their Facebook page to get news as they happen and see more pictures.
Since they have three stills on the way, of 300, 700 and 1000 liters capacity, I had to ask if they are planning on triple destillaton, but they are not. The smallest still is intended for gin production and possibly some experimentation. The whisky stills will therefore be a wash still of 1000 liters and a spirit still of 700 liters.
Times are exciting when it comes to Nordic whisky. This series of blog posts (in English) will sum up some of the most important news on the subject. Looking for news in Norwegian? See Nyheter.
Sweden: Two Swedish distilleries launched exciting expressions in Systembolaget’s June release on the 5th. Spirit of Hven released a single cask bottling, Sankt Ibb, fat 11-217, distilled from barley grown just outside the distillery. With only 273 bottles available, it was gone before you could blink. More interesting, as far as I’m concerned, Box launched their first whisky bottling (their earlier releases have been less than three years old). Box Pioneer was available in a batch of 5000 bottles, with a maximum order per person of 2 bottles, but even so, it was all gone by the end of the first day. I have two bottles waiting for me, and will publish tasting notes in due time.
Sweden: Talking about Box, the distillery has its own mini-festival, and it’s taking place on the 28th of June. Box Whiskyfestival features loads of masterclasses, a chance to tour the distillery, food and drink at the bar, including a festival beer, several whisky importers with their wares and live music.
Norway: The news of a planned distillery at Myken, north of the Arctic Circle, has garnered interest worldwide. Among others: Canadian Eye on the Arctic, Barents Observer and The Spirits Business. The distillery plans are part of a greater initiative to breathe new life into the community of Myken, The Myken Project. If this sparks your interest, there is a Kickstarter project in search of funding to make a documentary about the whole thing.