Highfern Portfolio

Highfern Portfolio

Monday, 12 February 2018

Strane congratulates Twin Rivers

News has reached us over the weekend of the release Twin Rivers Naked Uncut Gin, bottled at 77%. Whilst I am yet to try this new gin, I congratulate Twin Rivers on the launch, and concede that Strane Uncut London Dry Gin 76% is no longer the strongest gin on the UK market.
Strane Uncut London Dry Gin was first bottled back in 2014, and came about as a consequence of the unusual way Strane is produced, not a deliberate attempt to try to produce the strongest gin. Looking to preserve the intensity of the flavours in gin distillation, Pär Caldenby, distiller/ proprietor of the Smögen Distillery, developed a methodology in which three base gins; citrus, herbal, and juniper are distilled with the same 12 botanicals but in different ratios. The bases are then blended before the addition of water to create Strane Merchant Strength London Dry Gin 47.4% and Strane Navy Strength London Dry Gin 57.1%. As Pär Caldenby blends the base gins straight from the still, he became accustomed to sampling Strane ‘uncut’, and decided to create an ‘Uncut’ addition to the Strane family. For Pär, ‘Uncut’ refers not just to the consequential high strength, but also to the intensity of flavour.
We first imported Strane Uncut London Dry Gin, at that time 75.3%, to the UK in the spring of 2015. Initially we were careful not to claim that it was the strongest gin, but as we received feedback from gin journalists and gin bars, it became clear that the next strongest gin in the UK market at the time was less than 70% vol.. 
It was always inevitable that at some point Strane Uncut would be knocked off the ‘strongest gin’ podium. We are simultaneously flattered that Strane Uncut has been copied, and surprised that with the current interest in gin, that Strane Uncut was the strongest gin available in the UK for so long, for three years from 2015 to 2018. 
Strongest gin or not, Strane Uncut 76% remains the original Uncut gin, and delivers a wonderfully powerful juniper burst, which we believe gin enthusiasts will continue to enjoy. 
Robert Ransom, UK Importer. 

The Strane Gin family

Monday, 22 January 2018

Just Landed: Smögen 6/6 Svensk Single Malt Whisky

We've just received a small allocation of Smögen 6/6, a 6 Year Old Single Malt of 59.2 %, 50ppm, matured in two large barrels of new Swedish Oak. Named 6/6 as the casks were filled appropriately  on Sweden’s national day, the 6th of June, in 2011. 

It is powerful, heavy and mature with base notes of peated malt and toasted, spicy European oak, which make this a special experience. 

Swedish whisky, filled into Swedish Casks, on Sweden's national day, this, as you can image, has been a popular dram back in Sweden. 660 of the 840 bottles released in the Systembolaget in November sold out in seconds.

For an independent review (Tone is an unbiased Norwegian after all), head over to the Ladies Share. Available now from Master of Malt, amongst others. 


Smögen 6/6 Svensk Single Malt Whisky

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Introducing our 2008 Angels' Nectar Single Cask for Germany

So far with Angels' Nectar we have focused on releasing Blended Malts in small batches. Blended Malt is an all too often overlooked and misunderstood category of Scotch whisky. The production process is the same as per Single Malt, until the casks arrive at the bottling hall. However Blended Malt is a young category (its only been legally defined since 2009) so its less traditional. There is more freedom to innovate, be that in the blender’s lab, or in the bar. 

We have however had requests to bottle Angels' Nectar Single Casks, and I am just back from launching our second Angels’ Nectar Single Cask bottling. In partnership with our German importer Haromex we have selected a 2008 cask of Tullibardine as an exclusive release for Germany, which we launched at the recent Inter Whisky festival in Frankfurt. After nine years maturation this bourbon cask has given 228 bottles at cask strength of 56.6%.  Like our other whiskies, this has been bottled at natural colour and without chill-filtration. It’s a lovely sweet intensely fruity no nonsense dram.

Tullibardine is one of the more southerly Highland distilleries, located on the A9 between Stirling and Perth near Gleneagles. When they opened a new visitor centre about fifteen years ago, a couple of colleagues from Glenfarclas and I thought we would go and do their new distillery tour.  On arriving the guide, recognising me, announced loudly  ‘I’m teaching your parents to ballroom dance.’ I was taken aback, until then I was not aware that my folks had taken up ballroom dancing! But sure enough the guide was right. Scotland is a small country.

Finally, I must confess that not all 228 bottles have gone to Germany. We were married in 2008, so we’ve had to keep some back for an annual toast!

PS -  Amongst others the Angels’ Nectar 2008 Single Cask is available from Whisky World and Drinkology. 

Angels' Nectar 2008 Single Cask for Germany

Angels' Nectar at Inter Whisky with Haromex

Monday, 23 October 2017

Langatun Tasting at Hedonism Wines

Do join us for a Langatun Tasting with Christoph Nyfeler, joint owner of the distillery, at Hedonism Wines in the 15th of November. For more and to book, please click here (and scroll down).

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

A visit to Langatun

Since we started importing Langatun I’ve been meaning to head over to Switzerland and visit the distillery. A recent changing of the guard at the distillery was a final trigger for my trip. Now I wanted to see not just the stills, but meet the new team.

Hans Baumberger, who founded the distillery after a career in brewing and the glass industry is the experienced side of 70. He’s been looking for a way to step back from the general running of the business side of things, pass on ownership to a new generation of Langatun custodians, whilst still overseeing distilling and maturation. In Christian Lauper and Christoph Nyfeler, he has found worthy successors who share his passion for Swiss drams. Christian’s whisky CV includes establishing the whisky retailer WhiskyUniverse, and organising the Whiskyschiff festivals. His new role at Langatan sees him focused on operations, but includes sales in western Switzerland. Christoph got a taste for whisky whilst working at the Art Cigar whisky bar in Lenzburg during his banking apprenticeship. His banking career took him to Singapore, but he later went on to buy the Art Cigar bar ten or so years later after he first worked in it. Intriguingly he is still on the rota for the same Thursday night shift he had as a student, but more often than not his Mum fills in for him. It’s a bit like me buying Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp pub, but I doubt my Mum would be so keen to spend her Thursday evenings pulling pints. I digress banking took Christoph to Singapore where he evolved into a whisky importer, a business he’s since sold. So now he’s back in Switzerland, and amongst other things has taken over responsibility for the export sales for Langatun.

Langatun has a heritage dating back to the 1850s when Han’s grandfather started distilling whisky as a sideline to the Baumberger family brewing business. Distilling was however a casualty of war time rationing during the First World War. The ban on the distillation of barley for alcohol remained in place up until 1999. There doesn’t seem to have been a long campaign to repeal it, more as a consequence of the streamlining of various Swiss alcohol laws in the late 90s, the ban on the distillation of whisky dropped of the statute book. Move into the new millennium and friends asked recently retired Hans to help them establish the Hasli Brewery in Langathal. As a sideline to that project he thought he’d have a go at distilling. So the brewery housed Hans’s Holstein still (only one then). In 2014 a permanent home was found for the distillery, in the Kornhaus, and a second still was added. The Kornhaus is a four hundred year old building built to store crops supplied by local farmers as payment of their taxes.  Despite the building’s age, and historic value, in recent decades the local council did not really know what to do with it, so this historic building has lain unused. Today the distillery is housed in a room in the basement. It is small in scale. We used to say Edradour would fit in the Glenfarclas mashtun. With a little bit of exaggeration, Langatun could fit in the Edradour mashtun. But the Holstein stills, with their labyrinth of pipes, valves and gauges look hi-tech compared to what I’m used to.  This is symbolised by Han’s electronic hydrometer. No floats in glass tubes, nor studying tables to declare the strength of the new make here. A quick dip and click, and the strength of the new make is confirmed at a mighty 87%.

So what else is different? The mashing is still done at the brewery, but the fermentation at the distillery. It’s a long fermentation though, six days. The first distillation gives a middle cut at circa 26%, and the second distillation up in the 80s, so smaller in scale but at higher strength. Before the casks can be filled, all production is inspected by the local customs officer, so the new make dripping into a stainless steel bucket is transferred to aluminium beer kegs to await the customs inspection (there is no spirit safe).  The still house doubles as the bottling hall, with Suzanne filling and labelling bottles, Old Deer on the day I visited, when not tending to the stills.

Whilst the distillery door is always open, guests are encouraged to visit on specific open days when there is more going on. My visit coincided with the Langatun Pipe Band gathering, so the place was alive with the sound of the pipes. The first and the second floor of this old building, which are reminiscent of old malting floors, have been converted into an event space for whisky tastings, dinners, jazz concerts and private functions. The arrival of Langatun is a perfect fit for the old Kornhaus, and has breathed new life into the building.

Lucky Hans has also found the perfect place to mature his whisky. Hidden behind the door of a building that looks like a large garage are four underground cellars built by what was one of Switzerland’s leading wine merchants in the 1950s and 1960s. As we wandered the cellars what struck me was we only saw two bourbon barrels, the vast majority of the stock is resting in wine or sherry casks. Hans doesn’t seem to have a problem finding good wood.

Back to the party at the distillery and I delivered a bottle of That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Langatun bottling, for their archive. It’s a 2011 Sherry Fino cask with a lovely sweet sherried nose, which delivers hearty sherried fruit, with hints of figs and cognac on the taste (available here). The team were delighted with the presentation of bottle, the first independent bottling of Langatun, so a rite of passage for the distillery. Its also we believe the first Swiss Whisky ever bottled in Scotland.

The Kornhaus, home to the Langatun Distillery

The Holstein Stills

Hans Baumberger and his hydrometer. (Available here!)
A corner of the cellars. The strength and volume of every cask is recorded annually and noted on a log attached to the cask for customs purposes. 

The logo for the former Baumberger Brewery which inspired the naming of the Old Bear series. 
That Boutique-y Whisky Company's bottling of Langatun. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A postcard from Speyside

Since setting up Angels’ Nectar three years ago, it’s been pretty hectic. A six day week has become the norm rather than the exception. But thanks to my Mother in Law offering to baby sit for twenty-four hours, we had an opportunity for a well-earned day off. What to do? Head to the hills and bag a Munro? Sailing on Loch Morlich, canoe trip, or mountain bike adventure in the nearby woods?
We decided to head back on to the River Spey in our canoe. Since the arrival of our oldest daughter five years ago, canoe trips have been restricted to the flat waters of local Lochs. A canoe trip with just the two of us would be an opportunity to venture back onto moving water, but to ease us back in gently we choose the relatively gentle section of the River Spey from Aviemore to Boat of Garten. 
We launched at the Old Bridge Inn, a lovely pub which also formed the clue for one of the locations of our Angels’ Nectar Whisky Caches in the whisky treasure hunt we hosted for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival: ‘Its not at the Old Bridge Inn, its in the old bridge’.
We headed downstream with some gentle rapids to keep us on our toes. The river meandered, getting ever so slightly grander with each stream that joined. Whilst only a couple of miles from the bustling main street of Aviemore, with a bit of imagination we could have been in the Yukon. The river is incredibly peaceful here, but intriguingly has an industrial past. In the days before steel, timber used to be floated downstream in rafts from the forests to our right, to the shipyards on the coast. We saw oystercatchers, sand martins, an osprey, and a fancy duck, which was beyond our bird knowledge. We passed fishermen, asked if they had had any luck, to which the cheery response was ‘Yes, lots of luck, but no fish’.  To our right we could see the Cairngorms, complete with some remaining patches of snow in late May. My wife exclaimed ‘Scotland’s an amazing country’.
River canoe trips always lead to logistical challenges. The nature of the beast is you can’t canoe back to where you parked the car. So there is the need for what’s called ‘portage’. Hence on our way to Aviemore we’d left our bikes in Boat of Garten. So we now left the canoe by the bridge and set of on our bikes to retrieve the car. We cycled back to Aviemore along the Speyside Way, a section which winds across a heather moor and through ancient woodland, adjacent to the Strathspey Steam Railway. It struck me that the railway are missing a trick, they could offer a canoe portage service between Boat of Garten and Aviemore for the likes of us.  
For an après adventure treat we headed to Andersons Restaurant in Boat of Garten. In the pre-digital world I thought there was an opportunity for a restaurant guide based purely on the bread. In a similar vain, I think you could write a restaurant guide purely on how restaurants respond to (when booking), ‘Just to warn you my wife is currently dairy, egg and soya free’. Given the welcome we received, and the manner in which our current dietary requirements were handled, Andersons would get top marks.
After baffling the waiter with our order of ginger beer to go with the Angels’ Nectar (we were thirsty, do try it!), I indulged on their fantastic Cairngorm Venison pie, just what I needed after all that paddling. Their Black Treacle Ice Cream was not on, but their Kalamansi (that’s a fruit not a liqueur) sorbet made for a refreshing sub.
After a few more drams to celebrate staying in the canoe, it was time for a taxi ride back to reality.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Angels' Nectar Whisky Caching - It's a wrap

That’s the Angels’ Nectar Whisky Caches all returned to Angels’ Nectar HQ. The Grantown cache was more challenging than we envisaged, so apologies for that.

Very many thanks to all at the Highlander Inn, Speyside Way Rangers, Anagach Woods Trust, Elephants in the Pantry, Old Bridge Inn, Deli Mair, and the Spirit of Speyside WhiskyFestival who helped us put the trail together.

A special congratulations to the Coopers who successfully found all three Angels' Nectar Whisky Caches, and a final thank you to all who joined in the fun, look what you left for the Angels!