TBWC : The Norwest Euro Express Tasting

This past Wednesday, not only did I get a chance to taste some spirits from six different European distilleries courtesy of That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), but I also got a chance to meet Dave Worthington, who is the Global Brand Ambassador for this independent bottler (a favourite of mine!). Of course, I’ve had some European casks before, most notably some French and Swedish whiskies (I’ve got a bottle of French Brenne and Swedish High Coast Hav), but what about Austrian or Danish or a Finnish malt? Let’s just see how these compare in this context, but first, you know, we need some music! Now playing: Billow ObservatoryStareside.

So there are six in total in this batch, and I will try and breeze through to cover them entirely. I’ve talked about TBWC before, so I will skip on the introduction of this fantastic bottler. I own already half a dozen bottles in my stash, and it is challenging to keep my hands off their ever-growing catalogue of spirits. This is the second instalment in The Northwest Euro Express series, aiming to bottle expressions from Europe. First up is Eddu, a small family distillery from France, which created the first-ever 100% buckwheat whisky (“eddu” means “buckwheat” in French). This 47.9% ABV bottle of natural colour was matured for over 14 years in French Limousin Oak. It’s sweet in earthy, with a sharp edge coming in at first, but with a bit of water really opens up, and now I taste some buckwheat on the palate. It reminds me of the Japanese buckwheat shochu (although I’ve never had it aged), and honestly, I’m instantly in love. I leave a few sips to come back and taste more later and move on to Helsinki. As the name implies, this is a Finnish product, now on the second batch. This is a 6-year old 58.9% ABV cask-strength all-natural bottling of 70% malted rye and 30% malted barley mashbill. It has been matured in new, charred, American oak casks and qualifies to be American Straight Rye, but then, of course, it’s Finnish. I taste some aniseed and absinthe on my tongue, and then I’m hit with raw pine tree sap and fresh needles. I now can’t seem to wash that taste away and push the glass aside to maybe come back later. But honestly, I did not taste the rye and wasn’t fond of all that pine in flavour.

The third dram is Bavarian, from Slyrs distillery in Germany. It’s definitely not the most famous of Bavarian drinks, as beer dominates the region, and the label echoes a scene from Octoberfest in jest. I suppose now is a good time to mention Emily Chappel, who is the wonderful illustrator behind all of the whimsical labels of TBWC. I’ve linked the name above to her Etsy store, where you can grab some lovely products. This is a 3-year old whisky aged in the heaviest charred new oak (known as ‘Crocodile Toast’, “as the inside of the cask is charred so deep that it resembles the cracked skin of a crocodile“). It’s young and very strong at 52.6% ABV, but with a bit of water, I can taste bananas, maybe green fruit, and sweet grains. Time to move on. The next pour comes from a Danish distillery called Fary Lochan. “The distillery is named after the lake on the plot and an ancient spelling of the town, Farre, it’s located in.” It’s like a fairy tale from a faraway place, aged in PX casks for 6 years and bottled at a punchy 60.2%. I didn’t mix it with a lot of water (I should have poured at least a third to get it down to about 45%), and so the sweetness here was veiled by the bitterness and high alcohol content, but in its darkness, saltiness and edginess there was a beauty to behold. The original founder (who sadly died in 2016) was inspired by smoking cheese with fresh nettles, and although in his first tests, the barley was indeed smoked with the nettles, this first batch bottled by TBWC was not. I wonder what that tastes like.

After three pretty strong drams, the room is nice and toasty, and the attendees of this tasting start to get a little bit riled up. We go for Smögen now, which comes from Sweden. Another heavy hitter at 60.3%, and, once again, as all the whiskies here, in pure form, with no filtration, extra colouring, or other. This is an 8-year old heavily-peated malt. I didn’t fool around this time and right away diluted with much water. And even then, it has whiplashed me in the face. Too bad for my assailant in this case, as I have really loved each moment of this bout. It really reminds me of Octomore, which is no doubt why this batch has somewhat of a cult following. I wonder where they get the peat from for this batch. A favourite so far, but here we reach the end. Broger comes from Austria, and here it’s bottled at a wild 62.3% ABV. It’s another heavily peated malt, matured in French Limousin oak for 6 years. I’ve put some water in, but even that was not enough. Mayhaps I have run out for the night in my reservoir. There’s engine oil here, dirty rubber, tar, and finally, that powerful and punchy diesel flavour. Some people love this, and in past moments so have I, but in this dram, it’s just too overpowering and crushing. I tried to pull it up a bit with water one last time, but even then, it slammed me down, and I folded. TBWC explains: “what makes this slightly different from your run of the mill heavily peated malt is that when milling the grain, Broger retain the husks and include them in the fermentation, significantly increasing the peat quota.

So, there you have it, folks, six whiskies from abroad. These definitely have been charming and alluring. Among the six, I’d definitely grab the Smögen, that’s for sure. I’d also love to add the Eddu to my straight ryes. Those are the winners of the night if you ask me, unless, of course, we all agree that Dave here is the winner. I think it’s easy to discern the call for that. He gets to travel on the train around Europe.

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