Since we spend a good deal of time sitting at airports and in airplanes, we prefer to take our annual holiday with the car. This year’s choice was the Black Forest, where Becky found a beautiful little cottage in Schiltach, almost in the dead centre of the region.
Last spring, at the Speyside Festival, we had told our plans to Robert Fleming when visiting Tomintoul. He insisted we take some Tomintoul and raise a toast somewhere in those dark woods, so our drinking whisky for the journey was arranged beforehand. Our aim was to go on some beautiful hill walks, take it easy, switch off from social media for three weeks (something we can recommend) and not engage in distillery visits, whisky tastings and the like.
At least that was the plan. Upon arrival we were welcomed by our host Chris, his wife and their five-years-old daughter. They’d prepared the traditional Flammkuchen dish for us so that we did not have to fend for supper after a long day’s drive from the Netherlands. It appeared Chris had done some googling after he’d received our reservation and soon the topic of conversation he introduced was, of course, whisky.
Our host turned out to be a sales representative for the nearby Alpirsbacher Brewery. The first stages of making whisky are akin to brewing beer, so Chris was not entirely unfamiliar with the process. He suggested we should visit the brewery and came with a nice surprise. A few years ago the company had started to make whisky, albeit on a small scale. That piqued our interest and an appointment was made.
Alpirsbacher is a descendant of an eponymous brewery, founded in 1880, in a former Benedictine abbey in the village of Alpirsbach. Fourth generation owner Carl Glauner and his head brewer, Hans Martin Walz cordially invited us for lunch and elaborated on the history of the family owned company. After a tour of the distillery and cellars, we were invited to a tasting through their distillation history. Their first distillate was what Carl named Bierschnapps, distilled from the same wort that will become one of their award-winning beers. Basically it is distilled beer. Not directly my cup of tea but interesting to try nevertheless. The second distilled product they brought out was a flavoured beer liqueur, which tastes like cinnamon and vanilla, sweet but not cloying. Then, Kloster Whisky was proudly presented (kloster being German for abbey) – a five-years-old single malt. The early batches were matured in ex-Bourbon barrels, later ones in new German oak casks. We are pleasantly surprised and are ready to leave, not before having visited the well-stocked shop on the premises.
Hans Martin stops us on our way out, inviting us to come and sit in the tasting room with an Alpirsbacher pilsner (very smooth and enjoyable, by the way). He has a story to tell, too. He conveys a tale of passion for whisky and family during the next half hour.
On 23 December 1994 his first son Simon was born. At the time Hans Martin owned a brewery called Anker-Braü and he decided to distil some whisky there for the occasion. Witnesses were grandma Sofie and grandpa Guus. The new make spirit was put into a virgin German oak cask and every year the contents were sampled. After 10 years Hans Martin decided the whisky had picked up enough flavours from the wood, transferred the liquid into a stainless-steel vat and let it rest for another eight years. Then he bottled the entire contents from the vat, designed a label and hand-numbered all the bottles.
On the eve of Simon’s 18th birthday, his father waited until everybody had retired and then displayed the bottles – 70 in all – on the kitchen table. The next morning Hans Martin woke up his son, led him downstairs and said, “Here is a birthday present for you, Simon’s Single Malt Whisky!”
You can’t make up a story like that! Our host smiles, walks to a cupboard and comes back with a bottle. ‘For you, number 60’. At first, we state that we cannot possibly accept the gift. This is one of only 70 bottles of a unique whisky distilled by a father for his beloved first-born son. However, Hans Martin refuses to take no for an answer and insists we take the bottle, as long as we tell him afterwards what we found of it. We make a solemn promise. Then Carl Glauner comes to say goodbye, surprising us with a full bottle of Kloster Whisky, first batch, bottle 125 of only 150. We can take it home under the same conditions.
A week later we decide to walk the Himmelssteig, a serious 13 kilometre long hill walk like a roller coaster. In our backpack are samples of both whiskies. We want to try them in the region where they were made.
Just past the Himmels Bar – where refreshments are offered alongside the trek, cooling in a little stream with clear, cold water – we find the perfect spot, sit down, pour ourselves a dram and note our impressions.
Then Becky reminds me of our promise to Robert Fleming and magically a small bottle of Tomintoul 16 appears in her hands, to top off our little tasting, bringing Scotland’s liquid pride in miniature suddenly to the Black Forest. Then there is silence, contented silence. You simply cannot escape whisky, not even on holiday.
Frankly, we don’t mind.
Simon’s Single Malt Whisky18 Years Old
Malty, melons, eucalyptus and mango, with ground white pepper in the background. A splash of water brings stewed apples to the fore – the whisky is better in balance now. The body gets oily and smooth. The finish is short but pleasant, with a hint of wood. An agreeable dram. On a scale from 1 to 10 we score this unique whisky a 7.8.
Kloster Whisky5 Years Old
Hans Martin’s sister is the master distiller and only distils Kloster Whisky roughly once every fortnight and in small quantities.
Roasted peanuts, a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, fruity apples (Elstar?) and pears. Spicy, too with cardamom and nutmeg. Water added brings out pineapple, honey, white chocolate and lime. A charming finish of medium length. A friendly dram with a beautiful balance, scores 8.2 out of 10 with us.
We brought both whiskies back from the Black Forest. At home we organised a small tasting with friends and aficionados to share the remainder of what true love for whisky has achieved.