I read over the weekend about a Hungarian fellow who has become the highest scuba diver in history (by swimming in the water-filled crater of a 21,000 foot Chilean volcano). This lead me tangentially to read about Nancy Schubring from the US – who is the current world record holder for completing a half-marathon…whilst pushing a pram (1 hour 30 minutes and 51 seconds in case you were wondering). Humankind’s obsession with being the first goes back to our innate desires – to push ourselves, to explore our world and to seek to understand the realm of possibility. But looking back on the pioneering adventures and expeditions which have shaped our last two millenniums, it’s easy to start to feel that in the 21st Century, record-breaking and world’s firsts have become more about re-engineering past achievements than they have about forging genuinely new explorations. And whisky is far from sheltered from this false glamour.
Just earlier this month, the world’s first Mezcal cask finished whisky. Last month - the ‘largest’ private whisky collection (much of it in a notable poor visual state IMO) breaking sale records. And the past decade littered with announcements of the first whisky created in <insert country/region/county> EVER.
These additional qualifiers are both easy to see, and easy to comprehend – anything which can be leveraged to add a unique angle to a bottling is largely fair game. News is news. And the Internet adores any and all information – no matter its actual significance. ‘Firsts’ add to the overall marketability of a product – they pique the interest of investors, journalists, readers and consumers. But at the same time, in a world besieged with the first this, and the first that, they have the inherent ability to draw a veil over examples of true innovation. In a world where everything is innovative – nothing is.
In whisky terms, true innovation is vital – moving with the times, understanding the changing needs and desires of the marketplace. Taking a different approach. Abandoning or seeking to modify commonly accepted norms. But there are dangers that in striving to do so, in seeking above all else, to obtain the prize of a first – that the underlying proposition of whisky being of the highest quality, and of tasting fantastic can be completely lost. The booze equivalent of a pram marathon.
The notion that the first of anything will inherently be an amazing, near supernatural experience is a falsehood. The narrative of ‘the first’ needs to change from simply recognising it – to understanding its significance, and the building blocks upon which it was built. In celebrating and shouting about the achievement before we understand whether it had an appreciable impact, all we are doing is lessening our ability to perceive and understand true revolutionary exploration.
Mackmyra’s 2020 seasonal range release ‘Grönt Te’ is most certainly one such new ‘first’. The world’s first green tea (grönt te) matured whisky. Following on from 2019’s Appelblom which The Dramble reviewed favourably, Grönt te is being promoted as having been inspired by Master Blender Angela D’Orazio’s passion for ‘experiencing new cultures’. A deliberately vague way of introducing the product, which is somewhat understandable given that the conception feels more outlandish than the other bottles in the distillery’s usually interesting seasonal range – all of which have been influenced by an alcohol-based precursor liquid.
It’s the sort of stuff which would have the SWA requiring an emergency sit down. But, it’s also the sort of stuff which feels very Mackmyra…..an attitude of why not?, rather than simply why?
Grönt Te is formed from a selection of 1st fill ex-bourbon, 1st fill Swedish oak, new and 1st fill oloroso casks. These have been vatted and then finished for 19 months in 128L (a shy over a QC) ‘newly saturated’ oloroso casks filled with a combination of oloroso sherry and Japanese green tea.
The selection of teas (Yame Sencha, Kaoribo Hojicha, Yame Gyokuro and Yame Matcha) were not, as one might initially imagine, added to the cask in whole leaf form and allowed to steep and infuse as if making an actual cuppa. Rather they were liquidised into a tea seasoning – which presumably was applied to a fresh cask. Those interested in more specifics will find a few on the helpful Mackmyra product sheet. Those even more interested will find a description from Angela D’Orazio which broadly outlines the process in the comments section below - thanks to our ever helpful readers for that.
The expression, released just two weeks ago, is bottled at Mackmyra’s commonly used 46.1% ABV. It has not yet made it out to all the European retailers I’d expect to see it at (I can think of one likely reason for this), so a such you’ll currently find some price discrepancies depending on where you shop. Over in Germany it can be purchased for 52.90 Euros (£47.31), whereas Mackmyra’s UK web shop require £59.90. A 21% differential is not nothing.
Nose: Granny Smith apples, white grapes and gooseberries are joined by floral aspects – chamomile, lavender and clean cotton sheets. Sweetness runs throughout – 1970’s candy cigarettes, vanilla milk gums and stem ginger ice-cream. Fresh herbalness sits in the background – lemon balm and vines, but no discernible tea aroma for me. Reduction reveals a pastry aspect in the form of cinnamon swirls together with a glass of ginger beer.
Taste: Trademark Mackmyra apples, split vanilla pods and chalkiness – akin to a combination of ground sugar and aspirin. Lemon Turkish delight, sherbet and cider apples join a scattering of berry fruits, ginger and pepper spicing and a selection of freshly sawn wood planks. The addition of water expresses jelly beans (white ones) whilst adding additional florals and herbs to the back palate – lavender, jasmine and mint leaves.
Finish: Medium in length with fresh peppery oakiness and sustained green apple peels.
Mackmyra Grönt Te is a good example of a ‘lighter’ style modern whisky which offers plenty of presence and character. Everything is well integrated, and whilst the distinctive Mackmyra sweet-apple leads, there’s a range of thought-provoking supporting aromas and flavours along for the journey. Alas, green tea is not one of them. Whilst the end result is certainly pleasant, indeed quite quaffable, the tea-seasoning feels inconsequential. Either the finish was too short, the saturation too dilute (either in the ex-oloroso cask itself, or the ex-oloroso cask as a proportion of the overall vatting), or quite possibly, the aromas and flavours are too delicate to stand out from the selection of more punchy 1st fill barrels.