Riding the Wave

Riding the Wave

A round up of Europe's whisky nations

Places | 01 Sep 2017 | Issue 146 | By Hans Offringa

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Whisky can be made anywhere in the world where grain can be grown, a supply of clean and pure water is at hand and yeast can be delivered to order. So why not on the European continent? Since the end of the 1980s the sales of whisky have seen steady growth. Many small distilleries and breweries in Europe, more often than not family-owned, decided to ride that wave. Along with schnapps, gin, fruit liqueurs, vodka and brandy they set their stills to produce a grain distillate. Most West-European countries are home to distilleries that have gone that route. Let's have a look at the different nations that produce whisky, in alphabetical order. In the space allotted to this article it is not possible to touch on everyone; please understand that I also appreciate the efforts of those not mentioned.


The pioneer among Austrian whisky distillers is Johan Heider, who started to make whisky in 1995, in Roggenreith. The same year Reisetbauer in Kirchberg came on steam. The year 2002 witnessed the birth of Destillerie Weutz in St Nikola im Saustal and 2004 Old Raven. Today they are joined by a baker's dozen of liqueur and schnapps producers who all make some small amounts of whisky as well on the side.


The Belgian Owl in Liege is the front-runner in this country. Gin manufacturer Filliers of Bachte makes a whisky called Goldlys. Two other small players are Radermacher in Raeren and Gouden Carolus/Het Anker in Mechelen.

Czech Republic

The Czechs have been around in the whisky world for some time, albeit it mainly on their domestic market. Gold Cock Distillery has been making whisky since 1877 and produces two different expressions. They are hardly seen outside the country, but may show up at Maltstock once in a while.


Braunstein (Copenhagen), Fary Lochan (Give) and Stauning (Skjern) form the three-pointed spearhead of Danish whisky producers. Drinks behemoth Diageo invested £10 million in Stauning, which shows the Vikings are to become an important player in years to come. Braunstein grew from a beer brewery; this brand is slowly beginning conquering export markets. Nordisk, Trolden, Orbaek and Limfjorden are other small distilleries producing limited amounts of whisky and other distillates.


In the 1950s the Finns started making whisky but it took until the 1980s before any product was bottled as such. It was not deemed a success and the operation was closed in 1995. Seven years later Teerenpeli was born in a restaurant annex beer brewery. In 2014 Kyro from Isokyrö joined the ranks, as did Helsinki Distilling Company and Valamo Distillery.


The oldest and most well-known whisky distillery in France is Glann Ar Mor in Bretagne, founded in 1999 by Jean Donnay. Together with his wife, Jean has been trying to build the Gartbreck Distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. Some other French whisky distillers are Claeyssens in Wambrechies, Warenghem in Lannion, Des Menhirs in Plomelin, Meyer in Hohwarth, Lehmann in Obernai, Domaine des Hautes Glaces in Rhône-Alpes, Guillon in La Champagne and Brenne in the Cognac region. In total, managing editor Ingvar Ronde counted 28 in the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2017.


In Germany one can find a plethora of small craft distilleries, each of them producing fruit and grain distillates. The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2017 counts 38 distilleries in total. The oldest one among them is Scraml in Erbendorf, founded in 1818. Since whisky has grown in popularity, many among them want to take a share, even a small one. Almost all whisky distilled in Germany is consumed locally. Some brands are: Blaue Maus from Egolsheim, Slyrs from Schliersee, Finch from Nellingen and Liebl from Bad Kötzting.


For a long time the climate in Iceland was too cold to grow barley, but in the last two decades the temperatures became mild enough. Potatoes were at hand for distilling, but the product thereof cannot be named whisky. However, since 2009 Eimverk Distillery in Reykjavik has produced a true Icelandic whisky, called Flóki.


Italy has been importing great quantities of malt from Scotland for decades and the Campari company even owns Glen Grant in Rothes, Speyside - a single malt that is very popular in Italy. Since 2010 the Italians make their own whisky at Puni. The distillery is located in Glorenza, Southern Tirol and immediately catches the eye with its terracotta colour and cube-like building.


A tiny distillery in a tiny country, founded in 1880 by the Telser family. Originally they produced fruit liqueurs, but added whisky making to the activities in 2006. The whisky is called 'Liechtenstein' and only available in the country itself. That may be attractive tax-wise...

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has two whisky distilleries that have been around for a decade or two. The first one is beer brewer Us Heit located in Bolsward. Since 2004 a single malt called Frysk Hynder has been made here. The next one is Zuidam in Baarle-Nassau who started in the 1970s as a jenever (gin) distiller and soon branched out into the domains of fruit liqueurs and vodka. In 1999 the company began distilling whisky and currently produces single malts and rye whisky under the brand name Millstone. Two handfuls of micro-distillers are spread over the country, for example Kalkwijck in Vroomshoop, Sculte in Ootmarsum and Kampen Distillers in Zeeland.

Unfortunately the Dutch whisky industry also has an example where craft distilling can seriously go wrong. In 2016 Mr Smakman founded Turv Exloo Distillery and neglected all written and unwritten rules when he launched a 3-month-old distillate labelling it 'prime whisky'. Not long after, the SWA and the Dutch authority that deals with distillates forced him to withdraw the product. Smakman reportedly couldn't stomach the defeat and ended his life when setting his own distillery on fire in March 2017.


For many years distilling was a state monopoly in Norway. This changed when Arcus, producer of aquavit and vodka, was privatised in 2009. The distillery in Hagan immediately branched out and now produces Gjoleid whisky in various expressions. In 2012 Norske Brenneri launched its first single malt. Myken Distillery is built on a little island 20 miles from the Norwegian west coast and roughly 15 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Imagine the logistical challenges here!


Spain has long been a true Eldorado for Scotch whisky. The single malt Cardhu especially enjoyed a large following. Consumers preferred to mix it with coke and called it 'whisky-DYC', which sounds rather odd to the English ear. In recent years that drink's popularity has declined. Spain has two distilleries that make whisky. The largest one is Destilerías y Crianza (DYC), founded in 1963. The other one is called Destilerías Liber, founded in 2001, producing a 5-year-old single malt named Embrujo de Granada. These whiskies are seldom seen outside the Iberian Peninsula.


The Swedes are considered 'mature consumers' by the international whisky industry. A new variety of whisky is regularly first launched in Sweden before being presented elsewhere. This happened for example with the Black Grouse, the peaty brother of The Famous Grouse some years ago. In the meantime the Swedes have been distilling their own whisky. Mackmyra started in 1999 in Gavle and can now be found in many West-European countries. Others followed, such as Box from Bjärtrå, Smögen from Hunnebostrand, Spirit of Hven on the tiny island of Hven off Sweden's south coast, Norrtelje Brenneri north of Sweden's capital Stockholm, Gammelstila, Gotland Whisky on the isle of Gotland in the Baltic sea. The latest one is Nordmarken in Holmedal, founded 2016.


In 1999 the Swiss government passed a law premitting whisky distillation. Before then, it was prohibited. Locher in Appenzell has been promoting its Säntis malt for several years. Two other players are Langatun in Langental and Whisky Castle in Elfingen, both founded in 2002. For the rest it is the same as in Germany and Austria - lots of small liqueur distillers making a little bit of whisky on the side
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