Interview

“Turn the whisky world upside down” – Oskar Bruno about the Swedish Agitator Whisky

In an industry that is characterized by tradition, Agitator is breaking new ground. The Swedish distillery is rethinking the production of whisky and breaking with convention. For example, some whiskies are matured in chestnut wood barrels. All products are produced using vacuum distillation, which Agitator uses to create an extraordinary variety of flavors while protecting the environment thanks to the lower temperatures. Agitator is now also represented on the German market with three products: Single Malt Whisky, Argument: Kastanj and Blended Whisky.

We spoke to Distillery Manager Oskar Bruno in this interview – about the whiskies, their differences to Scotch whisky, production and special features, as well as plans for the German market.

Oskar, what was your path into the spirits industry like?

Oskar Bruno: As all important choices, it was one of coincidence. My education as an Electrical Engineer didn’t offer much work in the early 2010s so I started out as a tour guide at a tiny Swedish distillery. When the distillery manager suddenly left, I was promoted to manager. That distillery soon went belly-up, but I had gotten instantly hooked on finding new and smarter ways to do better and more interesting whisky. So when the other co-founder of Agitator called and asked me to join his project I never hesitated.

Whisky and Sweden. What role do spirits play for the country?

Oskar Bruno: Sweden has a long tradition of producing spirits with quality and consuming spirits in quantity… Older days’ Swedish hard spirits are still known for their purity and fresh flavours. In more recent times, that tradition in spirits has blended with another strong Swedish tradition: that of engineering, innovation and business building. The deregulation of production and the international success of Absolut Vodka has paved the way for a plethora of young makers of gin, vodka and whisky. In the world of whisky, Sweden is still a new player, but we’ve already seen a lot of quality whiskies coming out of distilleries across the country.

“Agitator Whisky turns the whisky world upside down” – how do you approach the subject of whisky?

Oskar Bruno: We believe the best whisky hasn’t been made yet. Old whisky makers have their tradition and way of doing things, which results in predictably good whisky. But to make the best whisky – best tasting, best for the climate and environement, best in terms of most interesting experience and so on – you will have to move out of the old paths and try something new. Agitator is always up for thinking differently, but always with the purpose of making things better and because we believe this new way of doing some specific part of the process will lead to better whisky.

Tell us about the production and storage of the whiskies – and the differences to e.g. Scotch whisky!

Oskar Bruno: Because we’re not bound by Scottish whisky regulation, or Scottish traditions, we can approach the production more freely. So we do, for pretty much every step of the process. From the way we grind the malt in the mill (we do it wet, where the Scots do it dry), to the yeasting process (a slow and careful 7 days long process vs the Scots quick 48h process), to the distillation (vacuum pressure for a lower boiling temperature to preserve more flavours as opposed to Scottish high temperature that kills off a lot of the flavours), to the choice of casks (frequent use of active casks like new American oak and Chestnut cask that provide a lot of character and flavours vs the traditional, vs the more common ex-bourbon casks).

You are committed to protecting the environment during production. How exactly?

Oskar Bruno: We only have one planet to drink whisky on so we need to do what we can to protect it. The leftovers from the mill is picked up by a local farmer who feeds it to his cows. The vacuum distillation, with its low temperature, uses far less energy than normal distillation. Same thing with how we have build the flow of the process, where water is being re-circulated to heat and cool respectively where it’s needed. Even the design of the bottles is made to minimize the empty space in the boxes, so we can fit up to 50% more bottles on a pallet, reducing transport emissions.

You are launching three products in Germany. The Agitator single malt whisky is your flagship product. Tell us about the whisky!

Oskar Bruno: Agitator Single Malt, soon renamed The Swedish Malt by the way, is what the Agitator distillery was built for. The whisky is distilled under vacuum, as all our whiskies. It is aged on four different casks: ex-bourbon, chestnut, new American oak and sherry casks. And thanks to an efficient production, we have been able to price it to be affordable for everyone. It’s just an excellent single malt whisky at a very nice price.

What is special about Agitator Argument: Kastanj?

Oskar Bruno: Kastanj is “chestnut” in Swedish, and the chestnut cask is something of a signature cask for Agitator. They’re not allowed in Scotland, where you can only use oak casks. But within the EU, all types of wood can be used for whisky. Chestnut casks creates an amazing fruity and nutty character to the whisky. It’s a little different, but it has quickly become one of our most popular single malt whiskies in Sweden.

The best-selling Agitator whisky in Sweden is the blended whisky. What makes the product so successful?

Oskar Bruno: We are pleasantly surprised at how quickly the Agitator blended whisky has been embraced by Swedish whisky drinkers. It’s only been available for a little less than two years. The base of the blend is our single malt, but when it’s paired with a carefully crafted grain whisky, we notice how the flavours become even more approachable and enjoyable – the slightly peated tones are milder but vanilla and exotic fruits become more apparent. And I think the price is important for this type of whisky too.

What are your hopes for Agitator in the German whisky market?

Oskar Bruno: We’re excited to learn what German whisky drinkers think of Agitator. There are obviously a lot of great whisky available here, and Germans know what quality looks like and what it’s worth. But we also think the German whisky drinkers, like their Swedish peers, are curious to try something new and different.

Which distribution channels are used to market the products in Germany? 

Oskar Bruno: We’re actually starting off with 100% online sales, through Amazon. This way we can offer affordable prices and convenient shipping to all over Germany. We can also introduce new products as soon as they are requested by the German customers. There are three products available now but we plan on launching a handful more throughout this year.

What’s coming up this year? Are there any special plans – internationally and for Germany?

Oskar Bruno: We will be launching new and exciting products – both whisky and other spirits – in Germany. And if all goes well we will expand in to new countries too. But Germany, and obviously Sweden, is a priority for now. It’s a big whisky ocean and we’re still a small Swedish fish swimming against the current. It takes a lot of effort but to see our Swedish whisky being shipped out across Germany is incredibly exciting.

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+++ We would like to thank Oskar Bruno for the open and very interesting interview! If you also have an interesting brand, then we should talk. Just send us an e-mail with the subject “about-drinks interview” to redaktion@about-drinks.com – we look forward to hearing from you! +++

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