Monday, March 28, 2016

Säntis Malt - Exploring Swiss Alpine Whisky

Säntis Malt Whisky
Whisky tourism is a thing. They even have awards for best visitors centres don't you know? Naturally you could always visit a distillery, experience the production, then taste the whisky in an afternoon. That's the common thing to do. Step it up and do a driving tour of Scotland while knocking on the door and walking the grounds of your favourite distilleries. yeah that is the next best thing to do. But are you ready to take it to the next level? No we are not talking about jumping out of a plane while sipping a single malt. How about considering a mountaineering high peaks while hiking well beaten tracks matched with whisky aged in ice caves tasted at a pub/lodge/bar along the way. Yes this can achieved and it is happening now in Switzerland with the Säntis Appenzell Whisky Trek.

New World Whisky is a term coined to encompass whisky production that sits outside the traditional triangle of Scotland, Ireland and the US. Switzerland, like many new world regions, is opening up to whisky and whisky tourism yet I cannot think of any other region doing quite like this.

Now I have to mention I have not done this tour myself. The fact is I have never been to Switzerland. I do have a friend though that comes from there, works there 6 months of the year and has the keys to some of these ice caves holding whisky. He has taken people to them and partaken in the sweet waters of life himself. I did not know he actually did this until the day I asked him about Säntis Malt Whisky and had he heard of it. The response was “Yes of course. I’ll bring some back for you next time I am in town”. Meanwhile I was sent these samples to review and I have to say they are certainly unique and rather impressive.

Säntis Malt Whisky is made by Brauerei Locher AG (Locher Brewery), a Swiss brewery/distillery, in Appenzell region which not too far from Zurich. Hailing from origins in 1886, certain laws were lifted in 1999 to allow distillation from grain to occur in Switzerland. By 2002 the distillery had released its first aged whisky and since then it has been happy days with a wealthy of accolades mounting in the decade since. They use high altitude barley grown in Switzerland which is attributed to being extremely robust due to the nature of the weather conditions it must endure. I am sure though that over 100 years of brewing experience has a good hand to play on just how this whisky created.

Yes you can tour the brewery/distillery for the single location experience but we are here to also discover more about just how you can hike the Alps of Switzerland to get those elusive drams on the Appenzeller Whisky Trek. On a self walked tour or professional guided tour (car or bus also but who wants to do that) you can literally hit up 27 cask keepers/mountain inns over several days, tasting your way across a small corner of the Swiss Alps. Each location holds barrels of various whisky distilled by Brauerei Locher AG that is let to age in each locations unique high altitude conditions.  Many of the barrels the whisky is being aged in is ex-beer casks from the brewery while other see finishes in port, sherry and wine. The Brewery claim some of the oldest beer casks in the world, still in use at 120 years+ in age. These whiskies are for tasting at each location and the housing of the barrels is also available for viewing with some only on special request. Not only are these whiskies for tasting but can be bottled at 100ml volume for taking away with you.

For more details specifically about touring the brewery is is advisable to visit the Brauquöll Appenzell visitors centre or for more details on locality the My Switzerland Brauquöll Appenzell page. If you are looking at the alpine tour either self guided or professionally then ducking over to the Appenzell Whisky Trek page on My Switzerland is your best shot as you will find a lot of other information required for traveling in Switzerland.

We are not going to walk away from this post without actually tasting some of these whiskies either. We were lucky enough to have been supplied a handful of whiskies personally carried back to Australia as none are for distribution here in Australia. Since taking stock of these samples I now also have some sample bottles from specific mountain inns handed to me by my friend in Switzerland (I will leave those whiskies for tasting another time). There is the official bottlings of each whisky given edition names Säntis, Sigel, Dreifaltigkeit, Himmelberg, Marwees, while the inn bottles whiskies are classified as Alpstein and hand labeled.

Even before tasting while just lining up the pours there is distinct difference in colour between all the whiskies. I cannot say if any are coloured or not, but coming from beer casks I can assume we are talking all natural colours. The lightest of all the whiskies was in fact the Cask Keepers 100ml bottling. A quick nosing displayed character in each unique enough to be announced on their own merits.

Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander - Old Oak Beer Casks
Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander - Old Oak Beer Casks
Location/Region: Appenzeller, Switzerland
Edition: Säntis
ABV: 40%
Cask: Old Oak Beer

Nose: Fruity woody apples with vanilla hidden behind fresh furniture polish. Extremely assertive, light phenolic charcoal notes and but also layers complexity.

Taste: There is a distinct oil nature as it moves over the month. Spicy, phenol and woody.

Finish: Long and spicy with a really dry woody element building in the mouth very typical of oaked beers.

Overall: The nose is and old school whisky 101 with the wood spice being all in the forefront. I am more excited by the nose than was initially expecting because I have not smelt a whisky like this in a long one time. Taste will not be to everyones likes especially if you are not used to heavy wood elements. Certainly interesting but not the first whisky I should have started on now I have tasted them all. It is also a bit stretched and more ABV would have been appreciated as the oil texture hints clearly at something far more complex coming from the barrel.

Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander - Small Oak Beer Casks
Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander - Small Oak Beer Casks
Location/Region: Appenzeller, Switzerland
Edition: Sigel
ABV: 40%
Cask: Small Oak Beer Casks

Nose: Woody vanilla and maple syrup with wafts of red rose florals and mild citrus oranges. Really impressive nose.

Taste: Lightly slipping across the tongue fruity orange vanilla emerges while fresh spicy wood notes linger in the background.

Finish: Moderate but not lasting. A spice citrus tingle builds in the throat and what I would now classify as the tell tale Säntis Malt wood emerging again to linger.

Overall: The nose reminds me instantly of American Bourbon. The vanilla oak is clear and lush. The whisky though is light and the nose displays far more complexity than the taste. I think again the ABV needs to be considerably higher to pull out those sticky notes the nose has hinted at.

Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander - Cask Strength Peated Old Oak Beer Casks
Säntis Malt Swiss Highlander - Cask Strength Peated Old Oak Beer Casks
Location/Region: Appenzeller, Switzerland
Edition: Dreifaltigkeit
ABV: 52%
Cask: Old Oak Beer Casks

Nose: Oily preserved herrings and smoked BBQ sauce. Levels of preserved peat smoke that is not over powering against the constant vanilla oak. This nose is making me hungry.

Taste: Oh my this is meaty and smoky in the mouth. Real smoky! Yes the smoked hearings with the oil is slippery to sip and saturates all corners of the mouth. These oil elements are lasting but there is vanilla, oak, and malt all taking part in the dance as well as background wood.

Finish: Finish is extended with the smoke elements lingering. A wood spice build while the mouthfeel continues to be oily and sweet.

Overall: The nose is yet again layered and complex but with a saturation of oily fishy smoke. The association I have for it against my homemade Woodford Reserve BBQ sauce is astounding. Cask strength is certainly required for some amazing textural development so required in the previous drams.

Swiss Highlander - Cask Strength Old Oak Beer Casks 
Swiss Highlander - Cask Strength Old Oak Beer Casks
Location/Region: Appenzeller, Switzerland
Edition: Brauquoll
ABV: 50.5%
Finish: Dolc-Mendoza (Spanish sweet red wine)
Cask Keep: CN

Nose: Bright rich vanilla and freshly emptied wet wine oak barrels (this must be the finish). The vanilla and grapes/black currants are so saturated I find it had to discover anything else. There is notes of cabernet and shiraz grapes being tomato vine and dark spice fruit but it is still largely overpowered by the extreme vanilla. Some reminiscent elements slowly pick up of furniture polish and spicy wood similar to the Säntis edition.

Taste: Wow this is rich to taste. Lots of residual sugars offering a high black current juice mouthfeel. Vanilla is prevalent with those grapes notes lingering in the back. Again the oils slick the mouth while oak and spice begin to appear.

Finish: Long, sweet and spicy. Dry oaks will slowly make way for the  black black currant spice remnants.

Overall: The nose has to be appreciated over a longer period of time. Keep nosing and as your senses become accustomed then the heavy vanilla and black current curtains part for more interesting profiles. This is a saturated whisky that is displaying very unique characteristics in the cask strength.

Säntis Cream Swiss Highlander - Säntis Malt & Meadow Cream
Säntis Cream Swiss Highlander - Säntis Malt & Meadow Cream
Location/Region: Appenzeller, Switzerland
Edition: Marwees
ABV: 18%
Cask: NA

Nose: Chocolate and cream preserved by high whisky alcohols popping out are some more interesting notes of buttered bacon and popcorn.

Taste: Rich and creamy with really strong coffee notes. Have you ever had cans of coffee from Japanese vending machines that feel sickly sweet? This is just like that and I would be mistaken for thinking this is not actually one of those.

Finish: Sweet and thick. Red berries appear unexpectedly on the palate finishing off very well indeed.

Overall: Though it initially smells like any other whisky cream given time there is more complexity to be had. I am not a big cream drinker but a class of this would go down well at the end of the night.

In concluding this has been an interesting tasting experience. There is some real impressive things going on here and the variation in flavours even on just 4 whiskies plus a cream leave me to think how varied the 27 inns and their holdings of whisky must be.

Thanks to Three Wise Bees and My Switzerland for hand delivering the samples

The Baron.

D.T.W.C. was supplied a sample for review by Three Wise Bees on behalf of My Switzerland. All views and opinions are our own unless otherwise stated.