Where-ever in the world grain can be grown, a supply of clean and pure water is at hand and yeast can be delivered to order, whisky can be made. Since the end of the 1980s the sales of whisky have seen steady growth. Many small distilleries and breweries, more often than not family-owned, decided to ride that wave. Next to schnapps, gin, fruit liqueurs, vodka and brandy they set their stills to produce a distillate from grains. Most West-European countries have used that route. Our European contributing editor assembled an alphabetical overview per country and emphasises this is not a complete list, arguing tongue-in-cheek that ‘it seems to me every new day brings not only a new whisky, but also a new distillery’. Those are the days.
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. 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 small liqueur and schnapps producers who make small amounts of whisky on the side.
The Belgian Owl in Liege is the front-runner in this country. However they are not alone in their endevours. Jenever manufacturer Filliers makes a whisky called Goldlys. The two other players are Radermacher and Gouden Carolus, among other smaller ones.
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.
Braunstein (in Copenhagen), Fary Lochan (Give) and Stauning (Skjern) form the threepointed spearhead of Danish whisky producers. In 2015 drinks behemoth Diageo invested £10 million in Stauning. Braunstein grew from a beer brewery; this brand is slowly conquering export markets and can be found on the DFDS Seaways ferry from Newcastle to IJmuiden. A few others have joined the ranks, such as Aarhus, Aero and Sall.
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. This distillery is located in Yhtiöt Oy. In 2014 Kyrö from Isokyrö joined the ranks. But there is more: the Helsinki Distilling Co, Panimoravintola Koulu and Valamo Monastery Distillery.
The oldest and most well-known whisky distillery in France is Glann Ar Mor in Bretagne, founded in 1999 by Jean Donnay. Other French whisky distillers are Warenghem in Lannion, Des Menhirs in Plomelin, Meyer in Hohwarth, Elsass in Obernai, Domaine des Hautes Glaces in Rhône-Alpes, Guillon in La Champagne and Brenne in the Cognac region.
In Germany one can find a plethora of small craft distilleries, each of them producing fruit and grain distillates. 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 a true Icelandic whisky has been produced, called Flóki.
Italy has been importing a lot of malt whisky from Scotland for decades and the Campari company even owns Glen Grant in Rothes, Speyside – a single malt that is very popular. Since 2010 the Italians make their own whisky at PUNI. The distillery is located in Glorenza, Southern Tyrol and immediately catches the eye with its terracotta colour and cube-like building.
The Netherlands has two commercial distilleries. The first one is beer brewer Us Heit (Frisian for “our father”), located in the old town of Bolsward in the north. Since 2004 a single malt called Frysk Hynder (the Frisian thoroughbred) has been made here. The next one is Zuidam Distillers in Baarle-Nassau, a Dutch enclave surrounded by Belgium, in the south of the Netherlands. Zuidam started in the 1970s as a jenever distiller and soon branched out in 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. Without disqualifying others the following are worth a mention: Kalkwijck Distillers, notable for its female owner/master distiller in Western Europe, Lisanne Benus. She uses barley, corn, rye and wheat from their own estate to make a variety of whisky styles and other distillates. Then there are Stokerij Sculte, Kampen Distillers and IJsvogel.
The Dutch journalist Wieger Favier even wrote a book about the distilleries in the Lowlands, incorporating the Belgians too and came to a stunning 30-odd companies that distil whisky. The book is appropriately called Whisky van de Lage Landen.
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. Arcus has a cooperage on site. More recently they were joined by Aurora, Buran, Det Norske Brenneri, Myken, and Oss Craft Distillery, among others.
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. In recent years its popularity has declined. Spain has two distilleries that make whisky.
The largest one is Destilerías y Crianza (DYC), founded in 1963. Number two is Embrujo, a bit older, but much smaller. 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 Gävle and can now be found in many West-European countries. Others followed, such as Box from Bjärtrå (now called High Coast), Smögen from Hunnebostrand and Spirit of Hven on the tiny island of Ven off Sweden’s south coast. Newer ones are Bergslagens, Gammelstilla and Vattudalen to name a few.
In 1999 the Swiss government passed a law that made it possible to distil whisky. Before that year this practice was prohibited. Locher in Appenzell has been promoting its Säntis malt fairly successfully 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 tiny bit of whisky on the side.
Tekel, Turkish for monopoly, is this country’s only distillery and fully under the control of the government. The eponymous whisky is not sold outside Turkey.