When I mentioned Körsbärsrök in passing to a non-whisky drinking friend their immediate reaction was “Körsba-what?” When I elucidated that the translation of the name was directly linked to journey of the liquid itself – and its flavours - there was nodding, but shortly after a slightly bemused look and a question “then why not just call it ‘Cherry Smoke’ in the UK?”. To be sure - a literal solution to a hard to pronounce name that equally could be applied to a large number of Scotch whiskies, whose Gaelic labels never cease but result in countless mispronunciations. But in doing so, not only would the product lose some of its cultural significance it would also fall into the oft-times muddy word of brand localisation.
There are numerous products possessing different names in different countries – sometimes because their translations have undesirable meanings in different languages, other times because the original name is already in use by a different product. The world of alcohol is just as affected by this phenomena as any other industry – the honey liqueur ‘Irish Mist’ had a tough time breaking into the German market - mist being a word more commonly associated with manure. And the ongoing saga of Budweiser/Bud/Czechvar has continued to play out between Budweiser Budvar and Anheuser-Busch InBev for more than a century. With no end in sight. Whisky-wise, perhaps the best example (thanking you Billy Abbot) is the difference between Haig Dimple and Dimple Pinch – absolutely none, other than the country in which the brand name is utilised – the former in Europe, the latter in the US.
Choosing a name is no easy task. And appropriately understood localised naming is just one of the many pitfalls that brand developers need to be mindful of. Whisky names often revert to simply telling you something about the contents of the bottle and or how it has been matured – double wood, triple wood, seven wood (a game changer sure to bring down your score from fairway to green), sherry wood, sherry wood finish…the list goes on. Others attempt to imply a degree of age or complexity to the liquid – Decennary, Quintessence etc. And some are just slightly bonkers – Blaaack – to be shortly followed up with Arrrrrrrdbeg (seven r’s – don’t be typing six or eight – that’s incorrect).
Historically many names have stemmed from the place where the product itself has been created. In Scotland, you’ll see this with countless distilleries named either after the nearest town, or a geographical feature that defines the essence of the location (Ben Nevis for instance). And this is true for Mackmyra – it is identified after the village where the distillery was first established – southwest of Gävle in Sweden.
Product naming is a challenge. And in either selecting complex, hard to pronounce names or monikers that evoke lifestyle, luxury or simply whisky exploration there is always work to be done in establishing that brand name and building an association to it. Any producer who decides to operate one naming convention in one country and a different one in another is instantly doubling their workload. Not just in terms of the brand outreach that’s required to build recognition, but also – in current times – the additional effort in ensuring that the digital footprint of that brand remains relevant no matter which localised name you’re searching for. The prospect of multiple websites for the same product is not something that anyone who works within brand development will take likely.
Körsbärsrök isn’t called ‘Cherry Smoke’ in the UK and whilst that makes it a non-Swedish speaking brand ambassador’s nightmare, it does achieve several things as far as names go. It’s true to Mackmyra as a brand – it doesn’t try to reposition itself outside of Sweden as something different. It is what it is. And in that sense, it’s very Swedish indeed. And likewise, it allows Mackmyra – who are not the world’s largest whisky producer - to focus on the product itself and not its name. And in doing so, there’s always a story to be told to enthusiastic tasters. “Körsba-what?” Is likely always going to be asked – and the asking, begs the explanation. Some names can be tricky for non-natives to pronounce – but there are times when that can actually be a positive point of brand education and engagement.
So Körsbärsrök - cherry (Körsbärs) smoke (rök). And the name, unsurprisingly is very much reflected by the composition of this whisky.
Abridged version - Körsbärsrök has been created from bourbon casks saturated in cherry wine. Longer version – the expression is the product of peated distillate matured in 100 and 200 litre ex-bourbon casks together with unpeated spirit from 128 litre American oak and 100 litre ex-bourbon casks – both of which have been seasoned with German cherry wine (Kirschwein). I’d posit that this could well derive from morello cherries due to their higher level of acidity – sweet cherries are usually not suitable for wine making without the addition of an external acid. Usually, the mulled version of cherry wine would be a common site across Christmas markets in the form of gluhwein – a beverage that over time has developed dozens of different cultural variations surrounding it – from Scandinavia (glogg in Norway) through France (Vin chaud), Netherlands (bischopswijn) and Italy (Vin brule). But it’s association with colder weather and/or the festive season goes back all the way to the 15th Century.
Anyhow, back to whisky - the Mackmyra release is a 2010 vintage bottled towards the end of last year. As a Moment expression, the number of bottles is smaller than other Mackmyra releases – in this instance 1,500. Bottled at 43% you’ll find this as Master of Malt for £89.95.
Nose: Aromatic wood and gentle forest-tinged smoke – rosewood and fir cones. Apple peels and plum compote joins glace cherries and a scattering of redcurrants across the top of a pavlova with a side of light cream toffee. Dilution reveals drinking chocolate powder alongside vanilla cream – and a more palpable pine led peat influence.
Taste: Jammy red berries – redcurrants and raspberries collide with tarter ‘green’ fruits – gooseberries and green apples. Cinnamon and clove spiced pastries are laced with cherry heering whilst vanilla, toffee and mentholated oakiness provide a continuous support. Smoke is more direct than on the nose – ashy, smouldering leaves, white soot and tree resin. Reduction presents milky latte coffee, foam prawns and sweet/floral rosehips.
Finish: Medium to long with dry spice and dry oak tempered by diminishing sweetly smoked berries.
Körsbärsrök, true to its name, does indeed offer cherry and smoke – but as supportive instruments playing in a larger band. The individual influences of the peated barley and cherry saturation never feel overwrought – in what could have easily been a heavy-handed whisky equivalent to a peated cough sweet. But with this restraint comes an agreeable integration that allows both the Mackmyra distillate and modern approach to maturation to shine. A touch too dry in the back palate and finish for my personal taste, but nevertheless I find this rather even-tempered throughout.
Review sample provided by Mackmyra
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