“Skal!” is the Swedish for “Cheers!” And, these days, whenever you say it raising and clinking your dram glass with a friend, you are both saying the same thing.
“We are not like other whisky drinkers. Not bound by tradition. We want to challenge the conventions by re-thinking the way whisky is made. Let’s agitate together while having an Argument.”
Agitator is the latest Swedish whisky. The Arboga distillery, 150km west of Stockholm, released its first single malt – distilled under vacuum – in November 2021. The distillery is protected by armed guards and is “off limits” to the general public.
Not because the exact constituents of the whisky mash are top secret but because SAAB airplane engines are built on the same site.
“Agitator” single malt uses North American Oak, Bourbon, Sherry and Chesnut casks. Its Islay Single Malt Peated uses Ex-Islay and Chesnut. As well as a Straight Rye, its blended “Blind Seal”, the distillery also makes “Argument Kastary”, aged in chesnut.
The man behind it is Oskar Bruno who studied electrical engineering at Örebro University before working at the Grythyttan Distillery (no longer active) and then for at Brew Dog, Knockdhu and Thames Distiller in the UK and at the Spendrups Brewery in Sweden before, in 2015, becoming Agitator Whisky Maker and distillery manager, planning and building the entire distillery.
The Scandinavian whisky industry is young, but it is already forging its own identity and flavour profile. Scandi whisky is not just a winter warmer or something to splash in hot chocolate.
“It is neither New World whisky nor old World whisky. It is our whisky,” says one of its pioneers.
Danish whisky does not aspire to be the best whisky in the world. But Hans Martin Hansgaard hopes we will all soon be discovering Stauning Bastard Boulevardiers and other Danish-whisky led cocktails.
Stauning Distillery, a former abattoir on the west coast of Denmark, was founded by nine friends – four engineers, a teacher (Hansgaard), a helicopter pilot, an actor and, of course, a butcher. Its whisky has helped turned Scandinavia into “a progressive whisky region.”
So much so that Berry Bros. & Rudd, the UK’s oldest wine merchant having traded from the same shop on Pall Mall since 1698, has released the second batch of its Nordic whisky range, including possibly the world’s first Nordic blend whisky.
Last year, Berry Bros released its inaugural Nordic Cask Collection, which included whiskies from four distilleries: Norway’s Myken, a sherried single malt from Sweden’s High Coast, a malt rye from Finland’s Kyrö and a 61.4%ABV nettle smoked single malt made by Fary Lochan in south Jutland, Denmark.
BBR reserve spirits manager, Jonny McMillan says:
“Of all the emerging global whisky regions, the Nordics has so far perhaps had the least acclaim, but with distillers of such quality and passion it’s unlikely to remain that way for long.”
The latest releases include world’s first cross-Nordic blend, according to the producer. Made from five casks from Nordic distilleries, Vondõga Blended Nordic Malt Whisky (59% ABV) is vatted from ex-Sherry-matured casks.
The remaining whiskies include Stauning 2017 Cask (58.9% ABV), from Denmark; Teerenpeli 2013 Cask (59.9% ABV), from Finland; Thy 2017 Cask (57.6% ABV), from Denmark and Smӧgen (60% ABV), from Sweden.
“We’ve found Nordic distillers to be deeply respectful of whisky’s rich and proud heritage. Often drawing inspiration from their projects from Scotland and Japan, they show willingness to inject their spirit of locality.
“Be it using local grains, indigenous materials for smoking or simply producing a distillate with a sense of place. Berry Bros. & Rudd is proud to include in this release the first cross-Nordic blended malt, Vindӧga.
“Blended with input from each of the distillers and our good friend Thomas Øhrbom from Whisky Saga whom we worked with to create the final vatting, we hope the release further grows the region’s collaboration and inevitable global attention.”
Finland’s top whisky is “Kyrö”. Like all the best Finnish ideas, “Kyrö” started in a sauna. The distillery next to the River Kyrö in Isokyro is in a 1908 cheese factory and, in 2020, Kyrö Malt Rye Whisky was released, made with 100% Finnish wholegrain rye, produced in pot stills and aged in American oak barrels between three and five years.
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photograph courtesy of Kyrö Distillery Company, Agitator Whiskymakare and Stauning Whisky