Scandinavia has slowly been developing into a hotbed of small whisky distilleries with the Swedish guys and girls from Mackmyra at the forefront since 1999. But a small country south of Sweden is rapidly becoming an interesting niche player as well; and seen as serious by greats in the industry as witnessed by Diageo's recent £10 million investment in Stauning Distillery.
Stauning Distillery sits on the northwest coast of Denmark, in a region called Jutland and has been around for nearly a decade. In August 2006 the first distillate ran from their pot stills, manufactured in Spain. Currently Stauning produces three types of whisky: unpeated single malt, peated single malt and, rather unusual for this part of the world, a malted rye. The nine founders, a group of friends, aged between the early 30s and late 50s, form an eclectic group: four engineers, a doctor, a butcher, a teacher, a chef and a pilot. They are proud of their Danish heritage and exclusively use local barley, rye and peat. Stauning Distillery can be visited on specific dates and by appointment only. Currently the tours are conducted either in Danish or in German.
More information can be found at: www.stauningwhisky.dk
Denmark is the old Viking Country, once ruled by the famous King Canute, who managed to unite his kingdom of Denmark with that of England, Norway, and parts of Sweden, way back when in the 11th Century. Coincidentally, his grandfather Harald Bluetooth's name lives on in many IT products as a protocol for wireless communication. Harald erected the so called Jelling rune stones in honour of his father, old King Gorm, who is considered the first official ruler in Denmark. Jelling lies in the dead centre of the country and these 10th Century stones, covered with runes describing Harald's great deeds, are still intact today. Loosely translated the inscription reads: "King Harald bade these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity."
The old Vikings are long gone from Britain and the mainland of Europe, but a new invasion seems at hand, a peaceful one this time. Stauning is not the only company that set out to distil Viking whisky and the others are detailed overleaf.
First, not too far from Jelling in the village of Farre, we encounter Fary Lochan Distillery, the brainchild of Jens-Erik Jørgensen. Inspired by a visit to Edradour in Scotland, he knew exactly what he wanted: a small farm distillery in a rural area. In the course of 2009 Jens-Erik started building and saw the first spirit running from the stills on the 31 December that same year. He waited until 2013 to open Fary Lochan to the public and launched his first 3 Years Old single malt simultaneously. The malted barley is imported from Scotland. Part of it is smoked at the distillery, to create a smoky malt next to a non-smoky one. Jens-Erik uses nettles as fuel instead of peat, inspired by his mother, who produces smoked nettle cheese, in the old fashioned way.
Everything is small at Fary Lochan, from the 'malting floor' - a wooden platform covered by a tarpaulin that is half open - to the little malt mill, formerly used at a farm to grind cattle feed. The wash and spirit still were built by Forsyth's, modelled after those of Edradour. Theoretically the little distillery can produce about 14,000 bottles of whisky annually, but Jens-Erik and his crew are expanding rapidly. Currently the company is too small to have an international distribution network, so all output is sold locally.
Fary Lochan produces four styles of whisky: summer (non-smoked), autumn (1 ppm, with an ex-sherry finish of six months), winter (15 ppm) and spring (7.5 ppm). We tasted a 4 Years Old summer at 46% ABV and a 3 and a half Years Old winter at 54% ABV. Both were tasty but rather young and fiery. We trust Fary Lochan's future whiskies will benefit from ageing a few years longer.
A pleasant evening was then had with a small group of Danish whisky aficionados in Torve Hallerne, a very nice hotel in the centre of Vejle whose bar houses the Danish branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This was followed by a restful night, and we then headed west towards Copenhagen. About 45 minutes south of the Danish capital we enter the beautiful old city of Køge, home of Braunstein Brewery and Distillery. The company was founded in 2004 by the Poulsen brothers, Claus and Michael. The latter, responsible for sales and marketing, receives us cordially at the premises in the old harbour. We settle in the beautiful tasting room and Michael tells us the story of Braunstein.
Heirs to a steel construction company founded by their great-grandfather, Claus and Michael were confronted with 'an offer we couldn't refuse' in around 2000. A large competitor bought them out and suddenly the brothers were men with money. Being entrepreneurs they found a new challenge and bought a former grain warehouse in the old harbour, intending to begin a distillery in it.
Whisky was not alien to them. Their father and grandfather happened to be true Scotophiles and took both boys to Scotland at an early age, where they learned to salmon fish in the river Spey, staying in the famed Craigellachie Hotel. Dad and granddad also visited various distilleries to buy whisky by the cask - a practice they continued until 2010.
Michael and Claus (the nose of the company) immediately wanted to build the distillery in the grain silo, but the Danish government refused to grant them a licence. The brothers changed course and managed to get the paperwork for a small beer brewery on the site, from which they began to produce in 2004. It took them another year to convince the government that the license should be broadened to distil whisky. So, 2005 is the official founding year of Braunstein Distillery.
Currently eight people are employed. They all have multiple functions and remarkably enough they all earn the same salary. Whoever is prepared to give tours to visitors - at the time of our visit in 2015, at least 12,000 whisky enthusiasts had found their way to Braunstein - will be given a bonus. Distilling takes place six days a week, from 4am to 6pm. Apart from whisky, Braunstein also produces gin, vodka and aquavit and beer, of course - very tasty beer as we found out that same day.
Braunstein produces a non-peated whisky with barley from a maltings in Jutland. The malt for their peated version travels along an interesting road. Danish barley is transported to Port Ellen on Islay, where it is malted, dried with peat smoke and returned to Køge. The distilling equipment consists of a hybrid pot / column still, which can take 1,250 litres per batch. A third whisky is something of an oddball: Danish Corn Whisky, distilled from Danish corn - about 5,000 litres annually. The annual production is currently 80,000 litres of spirit and approximately 15,000 bottles of whisky. At the moment Braunstein is limited production-wise by Danish Navy safety regulations, since the distillery stands in an important harbour.
Braunstein does not mature its whiskies on-site but in various warehouses spread over Denmark, often part of beautiful old castle estates. Michael explains that the owners of such estates offer them long lease periods for affordable prices. Hamlet's former castle Kronborg in Helsingør holds a number of their casks, too. It will come as no surprise that Crown Prince Fredrik is Braunstein's patron.
At the time of our visit, 600,000 litres of Braunstein whisky was maturing at various warehouses throughout the country, mainly in first-fill Bourbon barrels and sherry butts. They also use rum casks on a smaller scale. Michael smiles when he tells us that Braunstein purchases them full in St. Croix and sells the rum to the Swedes, before filling them with their spirit. Annually the brothers fill about 100 - 150 small casks from 200 litre casks that held whisky for at least five years. Interested whisky enthusiasts may buy these casks and decide where they mature and when it's time to bottle.
For their official range, the Library Edition, Michael and Claus decide in unison when casks are bottled. Every batch differs from the previous one. Most whisky is bottled at around 46% ABV and is diluted with a very special kind of water, coming from a glacier in Greenland, where Braunstein holds a 25 year lease on a former fish processing factory. Large chunks of ice naturally calved off from the glacier are sized down into 800 kilo blocks, melted and filtered, poured in 25,000 litre containers and shipped to Denmark every six weeks via the Royal Greenland Shipping Company. One cannot resist tasting that kind of stuff, which we did in one of the old grain warehouses of the Vallø Castle, a five minute car drive from Køge. We tasted the following cask samples:Ex-Bourbon barrel, 48 ppm, 2008, 61% ABV:
fruity, medicinal, elegant; with glacier water added, more creamy.Ex-sherry cask, unpeated, 2007, 61% ABV:
spicy aromas, yeasty, tropical fruit, toffee, and prunes.Corn whisky, no age statement:
toffee, vanilla, cedar wood, sweetish with a vanilla milkshake finish.
When departing after many hours - Michael is a very agreeable storyteller - our host hands us a beautiful book in which the philosophy of Braunstein is written down, accompanied by beautiful photography and a foreword by good old Charles MacLean - in Danish! - what a polyglot he is...
Braunstein's philosophy about making whisky is pretty straightforward: whisky is for everybody; each person may learn to appreciate whisky, but not everybody will like Braunstein whisky, which is no problem for the five Poulsens. They create their own style of Danish Whisky, and as long as you've tried it, it is fine with them. We enjoyed it!