Agitator's flavour bomb - with it's own smokiness
Evidens will prove that Agitator is absolutely right that whisky should be put into oak casks at a lower strength than the usual 63.5%, as the Scots do. Following the Japanese model, the spirit should be at 55%, no more and no less, when it begins the maturation process with the oak.
In the bourbon industry, lower input strength also applies. Historically, the dry inland climate in Kentucky and Tennessee means that the liquid evaporates faster than the alcohol, which means that if you put the raw spirit in barrels at a distillation strength of 80%, it would be too strong after the required 4 years of aging.
That the Scots run with 63.5% is partly a "political" decision. A common industry standard that makes the job of blenders more predictable. Whether or not the aroma extraction is optimal doesn't matter. Even though research findings at home indicate otherwise.
In the early 1980s, Scottish scientist G.H. Reazin authored several reports on what happens chemically during the ripening process. A number of factors were identified. "What caught Agitator's interest was the reasoning about lower filler strength," says distillery manager Oskar Bruno:
- It turned out that a lower alcohol content results in higher extraction from the barrels. Simply put, you get more out of the barrels in less time.
Oskar Bruno was given a boost at the World Whisky Forum, an industry conference held for the first time in 2017 at the High Coast in Ådalen. Japanese Jota Tanaka, master blender for Kirin, spoke there, having read the same articles 20 years earlier and successfully tested the ideas in practice for many years.
The Gotemba Distillery, located at the foot of the archetypal volcanic Mount Fuji, makes everything from grain whisky and malt whisky to bourbon. Different input strengths in the barrels are applied based on the crop and the desired style of the whisky.
- Jota offered whisky aged at 50-55%. "It was magical and an indication that a lower fill strength gives a good result," says Oskar Bruno enthusiastically.
Just like at Gotemba, Agitator makes whisky from different crops and adjusts the fill strength to get the whisky where you want it. Most are barrelled at 55% but some spirits are barrelled at a low 46% and others are barrelled at 74%, which is the strongest spirit they make.
- The point is that at lower alcoholic strength, more water-soluble substances are leached out of the wood, giving sweetness and richness to the spirit. Also more color is obtained at a lower strength.
For Evidens in 2019, the spirit was cooked on a smoke mash made from malted barley with 40 ppm of phenols. To prevent the spirit from becoming excessively smoky, whisky maker Bruno have run the charge in their high-flux boilers using the famous vacuum technology.
The negative pressure means that the boiling point is lower, 63°C instead of the normal 93°C. And the concept of higher flux indicates that the degree of reboiling is extensive because the boilers are run gently for longer periods of time, which is intended to produce rich esters but strip the alcohol of much of the phenols.
The liquor clip is quite tightly. The lion's share is taken early in the distillation cycle so that the dirtiest elements do not make it to the condenser. At around 77% the liquor begins to collect and at 73% it is cut away to feints.
The result is a spirit quality that is less smoky than it would be in a regular boiler with more malt notes and a sort of oily smoke quality instead.
I was one of the the first outsiders to taste the new liquor at the start. For a distiller, the white spirit, which the Scots call 'new make', is central. The goal for Agitator is to make pure and flavourful spirits. Here are my notes from 2018:
"Smoked spirits from the high-flux boiler are cleaner than low-flux spirits, the smoke tones come out like seawater with mussel shells, and after a while the smell becomes greenish and wavy with apple fruit and bacon vibes. The distillate has aromatic sour fruit flavours with tobacco smoke that ends in smoked ham with a hint of peat smoke. It is very tasty as the fruit takes up more space."
In 2019 the spirit was bottled in new Sauternes casks from France. The intention was to increase the esters and give the whisky a sweeter body, without losing the special smoking style.
Oskar Bruno has carefully considered his choice of barrels. It's trendy to put super-smoky spirits in oloroso sherry casks, which works just fine. But that combination would kill the Agitator's lighter smoking style.
Whisky has a slightly uncomfortable aroma. A bit from the glass, milk chocolate appears, entangled in peat smoke. In the center, it smells like rubber bands and digestive biscuits with whole wheat bread closer to the mouth. Deep down, there's gum sweetness and uneasy spice. About what you would expect, no expressive smokiness.
It's so much more fun when the taste surprises. Rich and nicely smoke colored to the style! Cakey malt notes out of the starting blocks that immediately collide with diesel. Then peat smoke and smoked pork with enchanting tropical florals on top. Late fruit syrup and rubber band and apple crisp at the very end.
The finish is long and has just the right amount of candy with a tropical vibe. The whisky stumbles along the workshop floor. Gradually lighter earthy malt sweetness, in the base a hint of young charcoal. Here at 55% you are offered a nice balance between smoke and dark sweetness.
A very good smoky whisky with character. Tough with bite and surprisingly smoky, as I said. It seems that the phenolics are more apparent when entering at low 55% in the barrels. The esters are by definition defensive and after 3 years in barrel, they are still holding their own.
Agitator makes an energetic spirit in its high-flux boilers that appears tighter than usual with this treatment. Oskar Bruno's observation that the whisky boil needs a sweet white wine cask to dress it in fuller esters is a success. The wine barrel may not be noticeable, but the Sauternes wood rounds out the malty notes with some much-needed candy sweetness.
Evidens has a wide range of aromas and is actually quite aggressive, especially with a splash of water in the glass. The taste becomes soapy with dirty fruit caramel at the start. Halfway between peat smoke and workshop floor with tight acidic vinek towards the end and fragrant notes from the distillate. The taste is lighter and more expressively fruity.
The aftertaste is long and bitterly warming with a cloudy aftertaste of sooty peat smoke. Tart caramel in the entry flows into apple peel that turns into a pith with hints of mothballs from the smoke grain.
Agitator shows its teeth. A veritable nerd whisky in contrast to the more lightly pressed public releases. This one is for the die-hard fans. At least those who have a fondness for the brave Swede's very own smoke style.
Agitator Evidens Sauternes 55%
90/91pAroma 21/22, Taste 23/23, Finish 23/23, Balance 23/23 Distilled by Agitator on May 16, 2019 in high-flux boilers on smoky malted barley with a phenolic content of 40 ppm. Bottled in 1st fill French oak sauternes barrels at an entry strength of 55%. Bottled November 16, 2022 after 3.5 years at cask strength 55%. The fact that the whisky does not lose alcohol content as is common in Scotland is due to the storage environment, Agitator's spirits instead tend to increase in strength over a longer period of time. A total of 579 bottles. Web release of 500 bottles at Systembolaget on February 2. SB-nr 41310, 899 kr