By the Whisky Couple

For this, our third look at “Viking whisky,” we go to an idyllic location along a river, on the High Coast of Sweden, in Bjartra. Roughly 480 km (300 miles) north of Stockholm, here stands an old factory where once, during the 19th century, wooden boxes were made for export to England. A huge fire destroyed the factory in 1890. A power station was built on the site about 1912, but only operated 12 years. The buildings were used for storage and then stood derelict after the 1980s. Then, in 2010, the appropriately named Box Distillery started to make whisky on this beautiful spot.

This is an area historically known for its timber industry. Trees felled further up north were floated to the sea via a network of rivers: Little wonder a wood-processing factory once found its place here. But now Mats de Vahl, an artist who originally started an art gallery on site, owns the buildings. A visit to Scotland with his brother Per changed his plans. Both men were infected with the “whisky virus” and decided to rebuild Box and turn it into a genuine distillery. Letting no grass grow under their feet, they immediately applied for the licenses needed. On December 23, 2010, the first cask was filled with new-make spirit. A consortium was set up to participate and generate cash for growing the distillery into a serious business.

Most of the whisky matures in casks containing either 250 or 500 liters. The contents have so far been bottled in a standard 50cl bottle, the design based on an old bottle found in a nearby lake. Customers can purchase 40-liter casks and have them mature at Box: an old Swedish measure was 39.25 liters, that’s why. Box’s customers can choose among different woods — ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, as well as Hungarian, French and Swedish oak. The Hungarian oak, notably, delivers an agreeable spicy note to the spirit.

The temperature in the warehouses can become very cold in winter, up to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Mind you, outside it will then be a whopping -27 Fahrenheit! In winter the river freezes totally and you can walk to the other side. Currently there is warehouse space for 12,500 casks.

The Box Festival is held annually and its 2,000 visitors know how to find this remote place. There is an airport fairly nearby, but many come by car. You may want to stay and fish for salmon in the river after having visited the distillery. There is certainly enough natural beauty to explore in this High Coast region.

In the beautiful visitor center doubling as a restaurant and shop, we tasted various expressions of Box spirit and Box single malt in 2015. It was all very young but had a surprisingly mature character. Buying whisky at the distillery is not allowed, due to the state monopoly on the sales of alcoholic beverages, called Systembolaget. Cleverly, you can obtain empty packaging in which to put a future whisky purchase.

In August 2016 we revisited the place and found the distillery running with the same care and efficiency as before; the main difference was much fuller warehouses. We were pleasantly surprised with a new bottling, the second edition of their Second Step Collection. They produced 5,000 bottles of this release, with 2,000 available for the market outside Sweden. This well-balanced single malt was matured in both ex-Oloroso and ex-bourbon casks with a hefty 51.1 percent ABV, non chill-filtered and no added coloring. The Boxers have also decided to launch a special 70 cl whisky for the international market. Box has outgrown its status as “locavore” and is now ready to conquer the world, just as the Vikings once did a good millennium ago.


Slainte Mhath,


The Whisky Couple



Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:


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