I was very impressed last year with the quality of Berry Bros & Rudd’s Nordic Casks range. Thankfully they’ve now added a second chapter to their series. The Nordic Casks #2 includes whiskies from Smögen (Sweden), Stauning (Denmark), Teerenpeli (Finland) and Thy (Denmark), as well as Vindöga, the first ever cross-Nordic blend.
The Nordic Casks #2 were announced a few weeks ago, but officially launched last night during a virtual tasting with Jonny McMillan, Reserve Whisky Manager of Berry Bros & Rudd. He was joined by Ingvar Ronde of the Malt Whisky Yearbook, Swedish Whisky Girl Moa Nilsson, and Thomas Øhrbom of Whisky Saga, as well as several representatives from each distillery.
The Nordic Casks are Jonny McMillan’s pet project. And to be fair, they can be a tough sell. For example, there’s not many people that had heard of Fary Lochan or Thy before they were placed on this international podium, myself included. And yet, last year’s whiskies (which also included Kyrö, High Coast and Myken) performed really well, quickly found new homes – and enlightened whisky drinkers. That’s quite the achievement.
Let’s work our way through all of these remarkable whiskies – which I really think they are – and along the way I’ll give you some more background on each.
Stauning 2017 (58.9%, Berry Bros & Rudd, C#6493)
This Danish rye whisky matured in a virgin American oak cask and then finished in a Moscatel hogshead for 12 months.
Founded in 2005, Stauning is one of the older distilleries in the Nordics. It is located in a rural region of Denmark, and their philosophy is to source everything local, as well as doing everything in-house, from floor malting to bottling. Direct-fire distillation is what sets them apart, as does their rye whisky.
But they originally didn’t start out making rye whisky, instead initially aiming to become the Ardbeg of Denmark. But curiosity got the better of them, and while peat was available in the moorlands all around, rye was soon distilled also. It also helps that rye bread is pretty much the Danes’ national dish. And now Stauning even has some peated rye whisky waiting in their warehouses.
Nose: Rich notes of autumn spice cake, subtle cracked black peppercorn and intense whiffs of dried red fruits, but also some leather, tobacco and grassy touches. Seriously delicious. Taste: Intense spices with black pepper and nutmeg, but also a touch of aniseed and liquorice root. While the spices linger, there’s also some room for Werther’s Original and dates, as well as roasted peanut skins. Finish: Long with gingerbread, allspice and sandalwood.
A delectable rye whisky from Stauning. The spices really come alive on the palate, but it always retains that important balance with the sherry cask.
Teerenpeli 2013 (59.9%, Berry Bros & Rudd, C#13B)
A Finnish single malt from an Oloroso hogshead, this Teerenpeli was distilled in 2013 in their small 900 litres spirit still.
Founded even before Stauning, Teerenpeli has been around since 2002. This family-owned company started out as a restaurant business, then a brewery and finally a distillery. It was first located in a basement below their restaurant in the centre of Lahti, a Finnish city about an hour north of Helsinki. Now the distillery and brewery are located in a modern facility just outside the city, on a lush industrial park.
Lahti was named the European Green Capital 2021, not just because the city is littered with green spaces and trees, but also because of the city’s sustainability approach. Teerenpeli has a very green philosophy as well. Their wood pellet plant powers much of the distillery, and they’re currently looking at using more sustainable glass bottles.
Nose: Somewhat shy at first, but then there are hints of aceto di balsamico, Greek yoghurt and beeswax, but also sugar icing, whiffs of hazelnut and cinnamon. Finally touches of pralines and figs. Taste: Thick mouthfeel and dry sherry notes with just a tinge of wood smoke, roasted hazelnuts and bitter oranges, raisins and creamy vanilla. Finally some soft notes of nutmeg and maybe even a tinge of gunpowder. Finish: Lingering beeswax, roasted almonds and a gentle earthiness. Long.
It’s the chewy mouthfeel that convinces. Just an excellent creamy, thick, rich single malt from Teerenpeli. The sliver of smoke on the palate really adds to my enjoyment. Lovely.
Thy 2019 (57.6%, Berry Bros & Rudd, C#175 & 258)
This is some of Thy’s smoked single malt, but with beechwood (and no peat). It’s a vatting of two quarter casks, one from 2017 and one from 2019. They were married in a refill hogshead for a year before bottling.
Thy Distillery started in 2010 on a very small scale at founder Jakob Stjernholm’s family farm, who’s a self-described grain nerd. The building of the current distillery wasn’t completed until 2019. They do everything from scratch. They grow their own grain (obviously), but have also built their own small drum maltings in order to keep everything traceable.
Beechwood is often used in Denmark to smoke food, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to use it for whisky as well.
Nose: Incredibly fresh with notes of liquorice and an aniseed-y type wood smoke, for lack of a better descriptor. Some juniper and resin as well, but also hazelnuts and fudge. Wait a little longer for orange zest and rose petals to pop up as well. Unlike anything I’ve tried before. Taste: It remains wonderfully weird on the palate as well. There’s cough drops and something almost medicinal (but it isn’t!) that I can’t quite put my finger on. Herbal smoke, ashes and light fruits, but also angelica. Water brings out pickled lemons, melon and stewed apples. Finish: Long with lingering notes of fennel, smoked apples and nutmeg.
This single malt from Thy Distillery is wonderfully unique and weird. Maybe I’m overreacting with this score, but it’s just so singular yet excellent and elegant that I can’t help but feel very strongly about this.
Smögen 2012 (59.6%, Berry Bros & Rudd, C#34)
Smögen might need the least introduction of all these Nordic distilleries. Smögen is a modest craft distillery that has made waves in the whisky community ever since it produced its first spirit in 2010. By all accounts, founder and head distiller Pär Caldenby is fanatic about his production process.
This Swedish single malt is the oldest of The Nordic Casks #2 and has matured in an Oloroso hogshead.
Nose: A wallop of roasted hazelnuts, followed by maritime peat, beef jerky and boiled barley husks. A tinge of white pepper also, accompanied by mossy, earthy and farmy elements. Taste: Very weighty and oily. The peat is strong in this one. Notes of petrol, tar and salted liquorice drown out most fruitiness. There’s some fennel, bung cloth and old oak as well, accompanied by creosote. Finish: Long with salt, green olives and charcoal.
Seriously good whisky but a little heavy on the peat for my taste, not leaving much room for (preferably) fruity aromas and flavours to come in. If that’s your thing, then this is near perfect. And if it’s not your thing, this is still hugely enjoyable.
Berry Bros & Rudd have been buying quite a lot of Nordic whiskies from 15 or so distilleries. Lots of it was bought as new make and is still maturing in the company’s warehouses. And a large portion is maturing in sherry casks.
The Vindöga Blended Nordic Malt is made up of a sherry-matured Smögen, Pedro Ximénez-matured whiskies from Teerenpeli, Fary Lochan and Mosgaard, and a very heavily peated sherried High Coast. Finally a sherried whisky from Myken also. The recipe for the vatting comes from Thomas Øhrbom.
Nose: Ooof Madone! This is seriously inviting. Rich notes of strawberry, Maraschino cherries and barbecue smoke, but also dried peaches. A hint of ashes, nutmeg and polished shoes also. Finally some soy sauce. Spot on. Taste: It’s somewhat dry, but there’s loads of nutty, sherried influences. Candied strawberries, lots of hazelnuts, mocha and chocolate truffles, but also furniture polish, rich wood smoke, olive brine and cracked black peppercorns. Finish: Nice salinity, lingering spices and a touch of aniseed. Long.
I wouldn't be surprised is this is quite Teerenpeli heavy, and if not, it certainly shares characteristics with the Teerenpeli. Either way, this has a lot of depth and intrigue, but is just a little on the dry side to warrant an even higher score.
There’s such an exciting whisky world outside of the traditional whisky producing nations. The Nordic countries are known for producing some of the great whisky nerds, and over the past decade or so, a few of them have taken up the baton and produced some truly quality whisky. And in some cases even redefined the category.
But there’s an elephant in the room. And it’s a very familiar one for many whisky drinkers. The price of The Nordic Casks #2 is not easy to overcome – even if the quality is admittedly very high. I’d love to add a few of these bottles, if not all, to my collection. But even though I’m tempted, I don’t see that happening.
It’s not like I think Berry Bros & Rudd are overpricing their Nordic releases. They should really be applauded for sticking their neck out. This is simply the price that comes with small, unwavering producers. And it doesn’t make The Nordic Casks #2 particularly affordable. Not much to do about it, I’m afraid.
However, I suspect some of the tasting packs (containing 3 centiliter samples of each) will become available on the European mainland in the near future (they’re already sold out in the UK). Or at least, that was the case last year. Try to get your hands on them if you want to taste The Nordic Casks #2 but don’t feel like breaking the bank. And if you do, you can taste along here with the recorded version of the launch.