In 1999, historic Swiss brewer Brauerei Locher began distilling malted barley sourced from barley fields high in the Swiss mountains, smoking it with local peat, and storing it in antique oak beer barrels (70 to 140 years old!). The malted barley is smoked “twice” and the casks were also (previously) smoked with oak wood smoke. Bottled at a cask-strength of 52% ABV (pretty low for a cask strength), that makes for a pretty unique malt whisky.
This particular sample, collected from bottle in December 2014, was included in my Flaviar “Welcome” tasting box. Considering that box is meant to be an introduction to the variety of whiskies for relative newcomers, I shudder to think what impact all of that weird smokiness might have had on unsuspecting young whisky drinkers. (Note that I don’t think current Welcome boxes include this one anymore.)
Nose: Smoke, in an umami, soy-sauce style. Toasted seaweed (Nori), smoked salmon, roasting meats, etc. Very savory, and very complex. Note that the peat is not strong or overwhelming, it’s simply the dominant note in a mildly-aromatic whisky.
Palate: Thin body. Not much tongue burn considering the high ABV. Much stronger smoke. Alderwood smoke, with a sweet edge. This takes like liquid smoked salmon, and not the weak grocery store salmon, no, this is a serious hot-smoked mess.
Finish: Guess what? Smoke. Slight charcoal, but not bitter. Mostly just a reprise of the salty-smoky notes from the aroma.
Water: Water doesn’t seem to have an appreciable effect, aside from reducing the strength. Wholly optional.
Overall: Wow. This is the single strangest peated malt I’ve ever tasted. All of the peat notes are specifically and only related to salty smoked meats (salmon, barbecue, etc.) There is a hint of the ocean/seaweed, but the overall impression is of liquid smoked salmon. If that sounds good to you (it does to me!), then this is a Must Try. If it sounds gross, then by all means skip it. Also, you’re not alone: A quick perusal of online reviews show that this whisky is very polarizing, with a lot of “This is the worst whisky I’ve ever tasted” type of reviews, and also some very positive reviews. This is not your standard peated whisky, but it is an education. Alas, good luck finding a retailer… I found a Dutch whisky shop with this in stock, but it would have cost $89 in shipping to the US alone!