Sweden’s Smogen Whisky!

Sweden’s Smogen Whisky!
Here we meet Pär Caldenby, responsible for the production and the daily management of the company Smögen Whisky. The company was founded in summer 2009 and produces single malt whisky with great character and maritime influences from the Bohuslän coast.
The distillery is 1 km southeast of Hunnebostrand, just under a mile north of Smögen island. The character of the whisky will mirror the location, a typical strong character with a distinct smokiness and coastal feel.

What is your background?
My background is that of a lawyer within commercial litigation and mediation. Apart from that, I have been a whisky enthusiast for the last 20 years, having travelled and visited behind the scenes at a number of occasions, at mainly Scottish distilleries. I am also the author of the “Enjoying Malt Whisky” – a rather well received book on the subject.

How long have you worked with the Distillery?
Planning started early in 2009, when I had decided I wanted to quit the then current law firm. As I had much of the knowledge and contacts in place, that phase went smoothly and quickly, so actual construction of the distillery began in September of 2009. Come spring 2010, I was overseeing the fitting out of the distillery and then, on August 4th, 2010, the first mashing in was performed, followed by the first cask filling on August 20th.

All good whiskies have a story, what’s the story behind yours?
Legal whisky!

 Can you tell us the history behind the Distillery?
Well, the history is short as such, as it has not been around for long, being erected in a new building and with new stills etc. However, the thinking behind the distillery is that there was an apparent free place in the market for a true west coast malt whisky, with a powerful and smoky character. The obvious place to be, then, is Bohuslän, where the maritime climate is at its sternest in Sweden. To make sure we take advantage of this, the warehouses are also allowing plenty of air through them, so that the maturing casks will be influenced by the surroundings – and we do have the salt stained windows to prove what that effect will be!

 Is there anything unique with your Distillery?
The whisky produced will be powerful, smoky and with great character. The focus is on high quality in small batches, with full manual manufacturing and direct supervision. Although we will be happy to use all local produce, this desire will always be subordinate to the quality aspects. Over time, there may be a variability of raw spirits produced, to offer an even broader whisky experience – but our spirit at present is focused on the heavily peaty characters. It is possible to reserve your very own cask of Smögen whisky.

What’s the aim/ goal of the Distillery?
To be around for the long haul, with a characterful and excellent quality whisky, with the clear influences from the west coast. For whisky enthusiasts and others that wish to find serious quality and character in their whisky, they shall have to look no further. I am certain that our focus and devotion to this will give us an increasing base of followers and sponsors over time – and with whisky, time is something we have a lot of.
Talk us through the distilling process at your place, describe a regular distilling day?
 The first step is to charge the stills, most importantly the spirit still as that is run at a leisurely pace to give the right quality – thus taking its sweet time to finish. Upon charging, the stills are locked up and started, at full power. The spirit still will come to a boil at around 84,5° C about one and a half hours later, requiring some attention. The wash still will likely take a bit over two hours to boil up, at around 94° C, and will then require a lot of attention for about ten minutes, to avoid foaming over. While waiting for the stills to come in (start flowing), the mashing in is performed, mixing 200 kgs of crushed, peated malt with first 700 litres and then another 350 litres of hot water, giving a strike temperature of 64° C. The worts from the mash are usually drawn off during 5-6 hours, eventually giving 900 litres of worts in one washback. Back to the stills, the wash still will mainly see to itself and upon it starting to flow and with the foaming period over, all you really have to do is take care the cooling water does not run too warm and then to shut the still down after around 5,5 hours of flowing, when the flow is down to around 1 percent alcohol. The spirit still is a different matter, as the flow is divided into three very separate sections – the foreshots, the heart and the feints. The foreshots and feints contain impurities and will go to the feints receiver, for re-distillation with the next batch of low wines from the wash still, to give tomorrow’s spirit run. The heart however will go into the spirit receiver and subsequently be filled into oak casks and rolled out into the warehouse to mature. The points at which the heart is cut out from the spirit run are critical for the character of the spirit you will produce. Our set-up ensures a heavier and smoother type of spirit, as we cut really low into the run, allowing some heavier congeners to come into the heart. It gives a gutsy character to it.

Is the export market not an important market, countries?
Not really. Our focus is on the Swedish market, although we have experienced a bit of interest from both Norway and Denmark, both countries being of course quite close and also rather similar in their interest for good malt whisky.

Any secrets/myths we should know about?
Well, you should know that when the big companies make whisky, they run it by numbers (or even through a computer), relying on the inevitable differences in character to even out through the large volumes produced and subsequently mixed, prior to filling into (often rather too tired) casks. With us, rest assured there is no computer involved in making the whisky – all decisions on when to take action and most importantly the cut points on the spirit run, are taken after a nosing of the spirit and decision that the character is exactly the right one. The character of the spirit does change a lot during the distillation, so cutting exactly right is positively critical, to ensure the right quality and character goes into the casks. And should you wish to reserve your own small cask of whisky, take our whisky school or come on tour and see how whisky is produced, you are warmly welcome to us. Also check out the website at www.smogenwhisky.se and read the blog, which is all about whisky and updated almost on a daily basis.

Is it distilled like the regular whiskies?
Distillation is done twice, first in the wash still, then in the spirit still. This is in line with the typical standard for malt whisky across the globe. However, the design of the stills is very important and our wash still is unusual in its very broad-necked and powerful design, delivering a very distinctive first distillate. This design is really only found at Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain distilleries, on Islay. We also have to recognise that our stills are minute by Scottish standards, at a mere 900 and 600 litres of volume. This, too, will have an impact on the richness of the spirit.

 Any tips for people out there still searching for their right whisky?
 Try more whiskies. And don’t be afraid to try out new things, perhaps in unexpected territory. Make up your own mind as to what you like – and how you like it.

What gives your whisky its unique taste? Why are whiskies in Sweden developing and good?
 The really core defining factors of our whisky will be the heavily peated malt we use, the way we mash in, the design of our stills, the wide spirit cut and the fresh and vital oak casks that we use for maturation, including brand new casks, through former Sauternes casks, to fresh Bourbon barrels from Makers Mark. I believe that our whisky is made with a complete focus on quality and character, to be the best quality single malt whisky we can produce. I would also believe this to be more or less a similar focus in our Swedish colleagues’ distilleries, by contrast to Scotland, where nearly all malt whisky is actually made in order to be used as a constituent spirit in blended whiskies. This means there is actually more focus on a good single malt character here in our distillery, than in many other places. That’s why we will be so good.


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