It’s that time of year again. The end of summer, the start of fall, and the approaching holidays mark a time of transition. This is traditionally a time of reflection in which we are encouraged to contemplate our decisions and, more importantly, our mistakes — to learn from our actions and misdeeds, and the impact these have had on our lives and on the lives of those we interact with. Hopefully, a little self-knowledge and wisdom has come from these experiences. With additional effort and focus we can hopefully transform and improve ourselves as we recommit to doing it all, at least a little bit, better. We are, of course, talking about booze — choosing the most appropriate drink for the moment.
What? You were expecting something different? Sure, the Yamim Noraim (“Days of Awe”) or “High Holy Days” — as you prefer — augur changes of a more substantive, and sober, personal, reflective, introspective, even metaphysical, level. But our column is called “L’Chaim” not “Torah Thoughts,” got it? No disgruntled letters — please.
Kosher wine aficionados, and those who read us more regularly, know that there is a wide selection of quality kosher wines being created in nearly every one of the world’s grape growing regions. Israel remains at the forefront, but kosher bottlings of both familiar and nontraditional varietals are arriving on shelves from Spain, South Africa, France, Italy, Chile, Australia and, of course, from the United States. As the weather begins to change, consider also altering your wine perspectives.
Among the many excellent wines produced in Spain by the kosher winery, Celler de Capcanes, is their delicious Peraj Petita 2011, a vibrantly floral blend of garnacha, tempranillo and carinena. Medium-bodied with abundant red cherry and berry aromas and flavors, it also displays blackberry, coffee, plum and pepper leading toward a pleasant and lengthy spice and chocolate-accented finish. It would be an ideal choice for most of the traditional holiday fare.
Located in Spain’s Catalonia region, Capcanes began as a local wine cooperative that sold only bulk — nonkosher — wine. In 1995, it was approached by Barcelona’s Jewish community to produce a kosher wine which resulted in the installation of new equipment and modernization of the winery. After that initial foray into kosher production, Capcanes has gone from strength to strength. For the past several years, its kosher wines have been consistently among the best in the world.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d shake things up a bit as well with some Swedish whisky! By now whisky enthusiasts, and regular readers, know that great whisky is not only made in Scotland, but also here in the U.S., Ireland, Canada and Japan, but perhaps not as well-known are the whiskies of India, Australia, New Zealand, and even Sweden.
The Mackmyra Svensk Whisky began in 1998 as an idea of Swedish engineer Magnus Dandanell and seven of his close friends, all classmates from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. They met up for a ski holiday, each bringing a bottle of Scotch single-malt whisky. One drink led to another, and the idea percolated among them that Sweden ought to produce whisky, too. A year later, in 1999, the company was founded and a pilot distillery was established.
In the words of Dandanell, now managing director of the company, “We love whisky and we wanted to create our own. We didn’t see the difficulties — only fields of billowing barley and the clean fresh air. We felt the clean, cold water and were convinced that we had all the conditions for creating a high-class malt whisky.”
The early stages of development involved an awful lot of relatively expensive experimentation. As Dandanell explains: “We modified the shapes, form and size proportions and the reflux functions of the pilot [still] until we were satisfied with the resulting raw spirit. Then we enlarged the design and ordered our stills.”
After roughly $3.4 million of investment, the group finally entered the market with young whisky in 2006, hitting the U.S. only in 2011 — in very limited quantities (mostly just in N.Y.). There are now other Swedish distilleries in the formation stages, and while Swedish whisky may not compete with the major players in terms of volume, they have gone a long way towards piquing the interest of enthusiasts around the globe.
Mackmyra prides itself on using domestic barley and water, and by using a lot of Swedish oak — which gives the whisky a slightly fiery spiciness. They produce both smoky and nonsmoky whiskies. For their smoky whisky, they use Swedish peat from a nearby peat bog called “Karinmossen,” and they additionally flavor the peat with fresh juniper twigs. While they also use the global-industry standard of American and European ex-wine and ex-bourbons casks, their use of virgin Swedish oak is further accentuated by the use of different-sized casks, some as small as 30 liters (roughly one-eighth of a typical ex-Bourbon cask used in Scotland). This means that the whisky matures faster, due to greater wood contact. They then tinker around with the different casks (all of which are either first-fill or virgin) to create their optimal expressions.
Here then is the first, and so far only, expression to hit the U.S.:
Mackmyra Svensk, First Edition (“Den forsta utgavan” in Swedish), Swedish Whisky (46.1 percent abv; $55): This first “big” or “major” release from this Swedish distillery, matured in a mix of Swedish oak and ex-bourbon barrels, is very good indeed. This lightly golden whisky is obviously youthful, but not marred by immature or feinty moonshine-like spirit quality. It has aromas of bright, sweet malt, light smoke, vanilla cream, marzipan, honey and some ripe fruit (apricots, citrus, and maybe pears), and flavors of light smoke, cinnamon, pears, orange peel, and dried apricots, more marzipan, more honey and vanilla, additional notes of caramel, some toasted coconut and a little hint of bread dough. The palate is gentle yet full-flavored and well-balanced (the smoke teases thru, here and there — without making its presence too obvious). Likewise the toasted oak comes thru nicely on the spiced apple finish. More maturation would have helped, but this expression is already showing such great promise for Swedish whisky. Not sure if Mackmyra will prove to be to whisky what Ingmar Bergman was to film, but for now we’ll settle for its Ingrid Bergman-like intelligent, perhaps slightly beguiling, beauty. L’Chaim!