As the Swedish whiskies of High Coast arrive on our list, Tom Van de Pette introduces the distillery and its elegant spirits
High Coast is one of only a handful of Swedish distilleries to be opened in recent years, only three of which are large enough to be considered “commercial”. They first started distilling 2010, under the name of “Box” – a homage to the building the company occupies, the power plant for a wooden box factory. It recently decided to change its name to High Coast, after its unusual location on the High Coast of northeastern Sweden. Situated on the banks/beach of the Ångermanälven river (classed as part of the sea by this point, as it is two kilometres wide), it is one of the world’s most northerly distilleries at 63°N.
The philosophy of the distillery is closely linked to its location. The temperature fluctuates between -30°C in the winter, to 30+°C in the summer. This almost 70° swing has a huge impact on the whisky, stored in unheated warehouses. Warm weather increases the pressure in the barrel, forcing whisky into the oak, where it reacts and takes on the oak’s flavours and character, only to be released back when the temperature drops. These huge ongoing changes, day to night, season to season, create a unique and accelerated maturation process.
The distillery also sources its water from Bålsjön, a (relatively) small spring lake which is known for its clean and remarkably soft water. The water is then filtered through sand and charcoal and used throughout the whisky-making process. The mighty Ångermanälven river rushes by the distillery at around 2°C providing what is thought to be the coldest cooling water in the world of whisky. The huge amounts of ice-cold mountain water allow extremely effective condensation of the distillate, giving it a particularly pure and fine character.
Doug McIvor – our resident whisky guru – has been following them for a few years, having tasted some new-make spirit from the distillery. “I thought it was a world-beating whisky of the future. Everything I’ve tasted from High Coast since has confirmed this to be the case.”
A GUIDE TO THE HIGH COAST RANGE
Älv: pronounced “elve”, meaning river, this is an elegant whisky with delicate flavours, very much in the Japanese style. It’s made with 100% unpeated pilsner malt and matured in first-fill Bourbon casks for six and a half years. With its pronunciation reminiscent of elves, it conjures images of ethereal Tolkien-esque characters in spectacular scenery, rushing pure waters and crisp cool air.
Hav: this, meaning “sea” is a blend of 75% unpeated and 25% peated malt whisky. It is aged in pre-matured 40-litre casks of virgin Hungarian and Swedish oak for three to six months, then transferred to first-fill Bourbon barrels for five to seven years, to create its spicy and unorthodox flavours. The Bourbon barrels smooth the sharpness from the virgin oak, adding complexity and warmth; while the virgin oak adds vanilla and spice that blends beautifully with the soft smoke of peat.
Timmer: meaning “timber”, this whisky takes its name from the timber that the river previously transported. It is 100% peated malt whisky, matured in 100% first-fill Bourbon casks for five to six years. The peat is gentle on the nose but generous in the mouth, finishing with a lingering citrus note.
Project 63: This is the brainchild of whisky-maker Roger Melander. The 63rd parallel north passes right through the High Coast warehouse – so this whisky is aged for 63 months in 63-litre first-fill Bourbon casks, 63 decimetres about the ground. Anywhere during the process the number 63 could be incorporated, it has been, including the cooper who made the barrels being born in 1963. It’s even now available to purchase in our shop – at 63 Pall Mall. Having 63% alcohol, this can handle a touch of water – but, as Roger told us, “never steal another man’s wife, never water another man’s whisky.”