My New Year’s resolution was to drink more whiskey from outside of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and I’m please to say I’ve stuck to it. What is intriguing though is when you find those little gems and decide to keep digging to see what else you can find. My little gem was Stauning, which I reviewed last month, however, if you keep digging in Northern Europe, you’ll also find Agitator, Sweden’s little contribution to the whiskey utopia that Scandinavia seems to offer.
Ironically, I didn’t have to do much digging at all. With social media comes great range, and it just so happens I developed a relationship with Robert Gustaffson, a Swedish influencer (check him out on Instagram @adropoftheirish) who frequently beats the Agitator drum. Whilst I’m sceptical about stepping out of my comfort zone, the New Year brought as good a time as any, and with Robert’s visit to Edinburgh this month, he very kindly gifted me a bottle of their latest endeavour; the Argument Kastanj.
As you can imagine, Mackmyra (whose Vinterglod we have previously reviewed) has taken the majority of the whiskey limelight within Sweden, so to stand out amongst such enviable competition, you must challenge the norm, and that is exactly what Agitator has done. In their own words, “What if, instead of looking backward, we turned our gaze to the future?” which is an interesting inquest into the current state of whiskey. Agitator insist that the best whiskey has not yet been created, nor has the ultimate distillation technique been perfected, the final mash bill been composed, nor the perfect cask been assembled, which is exactly its raison d’être. Agitator are on a mission to challenge the current industry, challenge itself and challenge whiskey norms. In short, they hope to prove that the Agitator name is well chosen.
As part of their inquest into distillation methods, they have settled on the art of vacuum distilling. This involves lowering the pressure in the column above the solvent to less than the vapor pressure of the mixture, creating a vacuum, and causing the compounds with lower vapor pressures to evaporate off. Essentially treats the spirit less harshly, ensuring that more delicate elements do not decompose, so expect more cleaner and natural flavours to be present. A quick google would suggest that only a handful operate this way: it is certainly not common practice. The Argument Kastanj has been vacuum distilled, and it also has been matured in Kastanj (chestnut) casks, once again ticking the ‘not a traditional cask’ box; expect really nutty and wooden type flavours from this. It also begs the question whether or not this is actually whiskey if it has not been fully matured in ‘oak’ casks…possibly an article for another time. Interestingly, one of the other two in the series, the Lönnsirapsfat, has been matured in a maple syrup barrel; whilst not wholly the same, the flavour of maple syrup is also an endeavour pioneered by Two Stacks.
Anyway, back to the Kastanj. In truth there is very little currently known about the whiskey itself, or maybe I just don’t understand Swedish. It does state the whiskey has rested on bourbon barrels, followed by a finish on chestnut casks with no indication of timing whatsoever. There’s no indication of added colouring or chill filtering either. However, what they possibly lack in transparency, they certainly make up for in sustainability. Vacuum distilling requires less heat, the hot water is recycled amongst homes and networks, and their energy all comes from renewable sources, which certainly goes some way to appeasing us. After all, as they state, “We only have one planet to drink whiskey on.” Lastly, the bottle is appealing: it’s different, modern and unpretentious all at the same time.
Price: 596 SEK (roughly £50 but not available anywhere in the UK). It is currently “Finns i utvalda butiker” (Limited Edition).
Nose: Interesting on the nose initially, there’s a little wood with a hint of lingering smoke, and something quite metallic nearly, almost like pencil sharpenings. Clear note of an old musty furniture shop and old wood. Some honey sweetness too, leading to brittle caramel and a distinct toasted wood note
Palate: A lot of spice comes though initially with a lingering smoke at the end. Spice consists of some black peppercorns with a little aniseed towards the back end. There’s a big dose of peppermint too. A bit lacking in terms of overall depth but big on the flavours it does deliver. There is a little sweetness there too, possibly spiced apple and a little spiced vanilla but little else.
Finish: There is a delightful nuanced prickly heat generated, with some hints of cinnamon lozenges and ginger snaps. Certainly not a big hitter but does deliver well with what it has.
The whiskey is produced in a series called ‘Argument’ which translates as the same thing in English. My view is that they are trying to create a discussion rather than an argument about what tastes good and what doesn’t, what could be used to make whiskey and lastly, what it could taste like if they did it this way. Actually, this fits in very nicely to my New Year’s resolution: it’s outside of Ireland but it’s new, different and untraditional.
When I go through whiskey reviews, I tend to drink the whiskey at least twice before I score it, and this definitely went up another point after a week or so. Something just developed in that time!
So, could I tell that there is something different with this whiskey, I.e., that it was vacuum distilled? Probably not. However, if you told me beforehand that flavours may be somewhat accentuated, then I probably would have smiled and agreed with you. The flavours do feel more “natural”, especially the wood ones. The chestnut cask finish is a nice one; there’s a definite wood note which combines well with the bourbon cask initial maturation. It tastes quite young, possibly 4-5 years, which is certainly not an issue as we have already ascertained, however it may have benefitted from slightly longer in chestnut.
My second delving into Scandinavia in a number of weeks and I am well and truly hooked! I am grateful for anymore recommendations. What do Finland and Iceland have to offer?