The small Swedish distillery called Smögen Whisky located in Hunnebostrand, approximately 130km north of Gothenburg, was first established in 2009 by former lawyer Pär Caldenby and his family members. Until now, every drop of Smögen Whisky and Strane Gin has been distilled and blended by Pär Caldenby personally.
While whisky enthusiasts have followed their progress with anticipation – the first barrel of whisky was filled in summer 2010 – Gin fans have had a much longer wait before the team turned their attention to a juniper spirit in the Spring of 2014!
Thankfully, Smögen Whisky decided to install another smaller, more traditional wood fired, 100 litre pot still and started producing Gin in 2014. They named it Strane after an old, local name for the picturesque harbour area in Hunnebostrand.
Pär Caldenby creates the gin by using 12 botanicals (juniper, coriander, sage, lime and lemon peel, basil, mint, sweet almond, cinnamon, liquorice and two secret ingredients) and distils three separate distillates with different flavour profiles. The two secret botanicals are native to Sweden and both are apparently typical of the ancient trade of the armed merchant ships.
These three separate distillates are then blended in different ratios into the 3 final gins. Now, while this sounds confusing, it is remarkably simple. The three different elements they distil are not the finished gins. They produce three different distillates, one is junipery, the second citrus forward and the third more herbal. They blend together in different proportions to create the three gins which they then bottle.
It’s an unusual method but Smögen Distillery are first and foremost whisky makers and in the world of whisky, this is quite a common concept. Think of it if you will as producing different types of whisky from various barrels (ex sherry, bourbon, European oak etc…) that are then married together to create a particular blend. In whisky, this is a common process, both within a single distillery as well as picking casks from multiple sources to create a custom blend. In gin, it’s far less typical, with few opting for what is known as fractional distilling (the notable examples are Martin Miller’s Gin who blend two distillates from the same still and Hendrick’s, Dodd’s and Half Hitch Gin, who blend distillates from two different stills).
Still with us? Good. It got a bit geeky there. The reason they do this is to maximize the flavour of each group of botanicals. Citrus distils better at different boiling points than rootier botanicals. Distilling them separately allows the team a better ability to coax out the smaller nuances of each without compromising the other.
The base gins are then blended to produce the three expressions named Merchant, Navy and Uncut, all of which are bottled at different ABV’s and quite distinct from one-and-other. The first to be released was Strane Merchant Strength Gin.
At a hearty 47.4 % ABV, this gin bristles with character. Led entirely by juniper all the way, coriander seeds burst to the fore, alongside the herbal contents that quickly follow, in particular mint. It has a long almost woody finish that balances cinnamon, sage and lemon in a carefully nuanced flavour. It’s a gin that classic gin fans would appreciate and is easy to see working in a range of cocktails, but especially for those who like a crisp G&T.
A classic Navy Strength at 57.1% ABV, the gin is oilier and more citrus focused than its Merchant Strength sister. There is sharp lemon upfront while juniper almost plays second fiddle. It takes a while for other flavours to emerge, but when they do, almonds and cinnamon compliment the gin well. As classic cocktail fans and navy gin uber-geeks, we love it when a Navy Strength gin works well in Gimlets and Pink Gins. In this light, Strane Navy Strength does not disappoint. It’s not as complex as the Merchant Strength from a flavour perspective, but the strong waxy lemony notes compliment the likes of Angostura bitters well. While its singular profile and high ABV appealed to us at Gin Foundry HQ, it must be said Strane Navy Strength doesn’t quite reach the heights of other Navy Gins nor even their own Merchant bottling. It’s a gin for fans of the over-proof genre but may leave others a little uninspired.
Not for the faint hearted, the Strane Uncut bottling is at 76% ABV. We love drinking neat Navy Gin and we winced a little at the idea of such a high proof bottling, let alone tasting it. Overall, it’s an impressive specimen. They describe it as a mighty explosion and they are not kidding. The gin is rich in juniper flavours, but the overall mouthfeel also has a hefty contribution from sage and mint while lemon peel underpins the finish. Tasted neat, ours was slightly salty too, but that was perhaps from the tears streaming down our faces as our tastebuds were being vaporised. Having breathed fire for the best part of 10 mins after and dribbling like an anesthetised patient emerging from the dentist for the sake of this review – please be warned, it’s tasty gin but approach with care. Unsurprisingly, it is made in very limited quantities and is the least available of the three gins.
Strane Gins are worth seeking out. While none of them have truly enchanted us enough to recommend them point blank, they are more than merely decent gins. There’s a strange charm to the headstrong, almost domineering nature of their over-proof spirits and a decidedly Swedish twang to the outstanding Strane Merchant Strength Gin. The team might openly be whisky makers at heart but they have acquitted themselves well with their gin portfolio. Their trio is a solid contribution to the category and with the distillery’s attention to detail and continued craft focused, small batch approach – they are sure to win over fans across Europe.
2015 marks the beginning of a focus on growing in the UK and across Europe which will mark the first time the brand will have been pushed abroad. With the freshness of their flagship Merchant Gin and its depth of character, many would enjoy it in G&T’s in the years to come. As with all exported craft gins battling a state monopoly however, the wider question is weather they can achieve a price point that’s attractive enough for people to buy it. At almost £40 for 500mls, they are in the higher echelons in the UK’s existing price brackets and with fierce competition for spaces on shelves and back bars alike, it’s going to require some tactical manoeuvring to get any form of traction.
We wish them luck and look forward to seeing how they develop!
For more information about Strane, visit their website: www.strane.se
Say hello on Social Media!
Copyright © Gin Foundry