Tasting Whiskey: Trolden Distillery Old No. 2 – Danish Whiskey Review
I’ve got a question for you… What compels an individual of reasonably sound wit and intellect to set up a whiskey production from scratch in a Danish seaside town of some 65,000 souls? Fortune? Fame? Recognition? Momentary loss of sanity? Since my beloved local brewery announced, some three years ago, the intend to craft a limited release Danish whiskey in my home town of Kolding, I’ve been trying to figure out just what compelled our local, reasonably successful brew master cum master distiller, Michael Svendsen, chose to set up a whisky production in our lovely, sleepy little town and until very recently, I’ve been drawing blanks trying to explain.
It can’t be the money, I can tell you that much. Nobody in their right mind sets up a whiskey production to make a quick buck. Actually, I’m pretty sure whiskey is about the most complicated and expensive spirit production you could chose to pick up. You need to not only find the perfect grain for the project, you also need to soak it just right till it nearly germinates, then dry it again, boil it, ferment it and distill it multiple times over keeping only the best part of the distillate. No, you need to then store it under perfect conditions in oak barrels for a minimum of three years, losing large parts to evaporation during the period, before you can carefully blend it, dilute it and bottle it, hoping to make a buck off the fruits of your labor. The bottom line is, if you count the basic research needed and a bit of trial and error, you’re looking at a period of at least four years before you can start making your money back. At what will probably be considered a pretty steep bottle price because you have nowhere the volume of major distillers and need to price your product accordingly to win back your investment. Add to that a heavy taxation on alcohol in the Kingdom of Denmark and you’ll end up with something that’s an expensive niche product for a limited market at best. No, I’m pretty sure it’s not the money.
Fame and recognition, then? Well, if those were your main drivers, you probably would have started off a little bigger and a little less humble than our local brewer and his limited initial run. Sadly, that leaves us with but one of our initial theories: momentary loss of sanity? Ahem, well, I’ve been fortunate enough to hang out with master distiller Michael Svendsen on more than one occasion and while definitely a delightfully twisted and humorous fellow, I’m pretty sure he’s not crazy, so what then is it that made him do it?
To find out, I went on down to the distillery, knocked on the door, picked up a half litre bottle of the recently released three year old Kolding Straight Whiskey from Trolden Distillery – in an effort to not only support the local heroes that dare try new and exciting things but also in an effort to find out once and for all: What makes this man tick? And what the hell is this Danish whiskey really all about? I brought my precious bottle home and sat looking at it longingly for a few days until I finally found the time and place to give it a taste. And eventually, on a fateful Friday evening, I got my chance and my excuse to pop the cork and do my first (and – at the time of this writing – only) Danish Whiskey review.
I didn’t dive into this alone, though. I brought a new trusty friend of mine, a camera, and sat down to record my impressions uncorking, sniffing and tasting the bottle. The results, in case you haven’t already seen it here on the blog or on my youtube page, can be seen below. The experience taught me a few things. For starters, when you’re doing one take videos, things don’t always work out the way you planned. Secondly, it’s actually harder than you think to taste, ponder and describe what you taste and smell all while talking to the camera. As a consequence, I managed to not only spill water all over the set during the recording, but also had to promise to do a roundup blog post, containing more elaborate tasting notes and more details. And well, here we are. If you’ve not already viewed the video, feel free to do so, or check below for my proper review of Trolden 3 year old and the final answer to the question, what compels a man to take up small-scale whiskey production as a side project?
Danish Whiskey Review: Trolden Old No. 2
Trolden Kolding Straight Whiskey 3 year old is rather an attractive bottle to look at, obviously hand-labeled and hand-numbered bearing the name “Old No. 2” in an apparent reference to a certain Tennessee Straight Whiskey made by a certain Mr. Daniels. The marketing text on the bottle rather humorously tells the tale of a high rye-content whiskey, already remarkably smooth from the day it was little but moonshine aged in “fancy” French oak barrels. Real fancy, that is, like them women they have over there. What really steals the eye, though, upon first inspection is the content of the clear bottle: A golden brown almost light mahogany-like liquid, that looks a fair bit older and more developed than the 2012 birth certificate on the bottle indicates. Honestly, it looks a bit like products put out by less honest distillers who have a way of tainting their wares with caramel color to produce a golden glow of age and maturity. I’m pretty sure this is the real deal, though, and that no caramel was used in the making of this whiskey. How can I be certain? Well, I took the master distiller himself out for a few pints once in an effort to draw some secrets out of him (just kidding about that last part!). I failed horribly, of course, but I did manage to get him to confess to me late in the evening that he himself attributes both the surprisingly mature, dark color and the relatively quick development in flavors, aromas and intensity to the use of small to very small barrels in the ageing process.
And speaking of aromas, can we talk about aromas for a while? The first thing I noticed when pouring this baby was a distinct hit of fruit. I initially identified it as red apple in the video tasting, but given some time and thought, it took on more of a pear-like note but still with hints of apple. Like your arch-typical Speyside whisky but with a bit more jazz. Given even more time in the glass and a few more sniffs, Trolden Old No. 2 also gave off fresh notes of lightly toasted wood and a faint smell of vanilla, another typical oak raging aroma. Underlying aromas included some fruity/bready rye notes, dark, dried fruits and a whiff of alcohol that, at 45% ABV and after only three years in cask, was quite noticeable but not entirely unpleasant.
Given the first taste, first impressions on the tongue were surprisingly sweet and malty components, chased by and – honestly – incredible fruitiness with more immediate notes of apple and pear followed by a toffee/caramel like sensation, more malt and a trace of oak. There was a burn, too, from the alcohol which, frankly – given the age of the product and the ABV – wasn’t too surprising. It’s not an entirely unpleasant one, though, and on a slightly cooler fall or winter day, it would probably be quite welcome and comforting. The flavors, by the way, were rather lingering as Trolden Old No. 2 has a somewhat thick and oily mouthfeel that basically covers the mouth and leaves the aftertaste swirling around the mouth for quite a while.
Thinning it down a bit…
Are the prospect of strong alcohol notes scaring you off and having you worried about trying a product such as Trolden Old No. 2? Fear not, there’s a trick for that! As a final test before passing judgement on Trolden Old No. 2, I turned to an old Scottish trick to get past the, to some, quite noticeable alcohol: a mere splash of water. Yes, I added water to whiskey. I know thinning alcohol is considered a sin to some, but really, the Scots do it all the time. Some of them religiously. A mere splash of water in your whisky, it is said, opens it up and brings it together, releasing more aromas and subtle flavors. I’m not sure I totally agree on this part, but one thing I will agree on is that it definitely dampens the pungency of the alcohol, allowing other flavors to shine through a bit more vibrantly. And Trolden Old No 2 is a perfect example of this theory: with a splash of water added, the alcohol note mellows to next to nothing, flattening the complexity ever so slightly, but creating a much smoother, much more fruity dram, perhaps hinting of things to come with a bit more time in the cask. With a splash of water, the fruitiness and rye-powered sweetness shone bright in a way that actually surprised me a fair bit and made me tip my glass to the idiot savant who dedicated 3-5 years of his life to create something as seemingly crazy as this; a truly unique Danish whiskey of surprisingly complex dimensions.
This was my first time tasting a 3 year old whiskey and I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but Trolden Old No. 2 proved quite a surprising acquaintance. Granted, it’s young, immature and a little rough around the edges and it might even sting you a little on your first date. But give it time, air, thought, understanding and maybe a little water and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the complexity and potential it has to offer. Is it worth it at almost $100 per bottle asking price? Well, that really is up for you to decide. The price might seem steep, I’ll give you that and you certainly can get much older, much more famous and much more mass-produced bottles at the same price. But this isn’t your average mass-produced large batch whisky, and thank God for that. If you want something a little different, something rare – a bit of whiskey history, really – then Trolden Old No. 2 or something equivalent from your local area might just be something for you. I’ll certainly be hanging on to my piece of Danish distillery history and hope that new expressions will be made available as it lies aging in those little, old oak casks. If it continues to evolve for the next 9-15 years in the way that it has for its first three years, we should have interesting things in store for us.
Is it really worth it? Well, I’ll leave that for you, dear reader, to figure out the answer to that question. If you’re serious about trying it out. Come seek me out, and I might trade you a sample for something equally special…
Having thus almost answered the question of worth in a decidedly cryptical manner, that leaves only one of our initial questions unanswered: What on earth makes the man tick? What compells a man to create his own whiskey from scratch as a side project? Well, looking at it after a few years of thought and a few sips of Old No. 2, I believe what makes this particular man tick is a desire – bordering on need – to create, and to perfect. A desire to experiment and try new things, fail with some, do them over and then produce the best results you possibly can. There is no sane, logical reason for creating your own niche brand whiskey. It’s entirely a labor of love, but a good one at that and one that I am happy, nay proud, that someone undertook here in the most unlikely of places. Trolden Whiskey will turn a profit eventually, I’m sure of it. The product is simply too good not to peak the interest of geeks and connoisseurs alike. But for Michael, I don’t think that’s the main driver for doing this. I think it’s rather a question of him creating his perfect dram and sharing it with the world. I can’t think of any other reason why someone would take on a project like this. But I’m glad someone did!