There’s a German website simply titled “whisky.de” which, as the name would suggest, sells whiskies, whisky-related paraphernalia and, in addition, provides a lot of information on whisky production; the English-language equivalent (owned by the same people) is whisky.com.
Over the years, they’ve become a very well-off company and have become very well known with whisky enthusiasts in Germany and, lately, other parts of the world as well (once they’ve bought the whisky.com domain). This also means, however, that they will often have specific bottlings made just for them (usually in a limited quantity) that are sold only on their website and nowhere else — and one of these is the St. Kilian Spätburgunder 3J-2016/2019 which is limited to 504 bottles. As the name would already suggest, it was stored in former, 225 ℓ (≈ 60 US gal.) Spätburgunder (the word for German-made Pinot Noir) casks from a vineyard located in the Lower Franconia region of the German state of Bavaria in the south of Germany; more specifically, the casks were sourced from a vineyard located in the very north of the Lower Franconia region known as Mainfranken (Main Franconia). Virtually all of the ingredients for this whisky (except for the yeast) were sourced locally; this includes the barley.
How their whisky is made
The aforementioned barley is turned into malt inside the distillery; this is then thrown into their mashtun — which has a capacity of 12,000 ℓ (≈ 3,170 US gal.) — and the resulting mash is then transported over into one of their washbacks made of Oregon pine. This mash is what’s actually being distilled in the copper potstills; and speaking of potstills: the St. Kilian Distillery is one of the only (if not the only) German distillery that uses actual, Scottish pot stills produced by the Scottish company ‘Forsyths’ in Rothes.
After distilliation, the resulting ‘raw whisky’ (also known as white dog) is poured into the casks at an ABV of 63.5%.
They also claim not to use chill filtering or artificial colouring.
This particular bottling was distilled on the 4th of May 2016 (which is also the year the distillery opened) and bottled just under a month ago, namely on the 23rd of August 2019; this also means that this is one of their very first, actual whiskies (as whiskies need to have been aged for at least 3 years to be officially called ‘whisky’ in Germany). It was bottled at a rather high 51.4% ABV (cask strength perhaps?) and filled in an unusually small 500 mℓ bottle.
I have been following the progress of this rather new distillery for quite a while now and have been waiting for their first whiskies to come out; and since — I believe it was on Monday — this particular whisky came out recently, I decided to go ahead and buy it and another one (that I will talk about in another post). I have always been a tad weary when it comes to German whisky since most of it is ‘okay’ but I’ve never tasted anything that I would call ‘outstanding’ (at least for a decent price) or even ‘quite good’. Therefore, I had somewhat low expectations regarding it.
Enough chit-chat for now, let’s get down to business!
Firstly, let’s talk about the packaging; the bottle’s design is great because it resembles the potstills used in their distillery (The master distiller said in an interview that he gave the blueprints of their potstills to the glassmaker who then created the bottle from that) even though the rather small amount of 500 mℓ is bit of a nuisance; however, considering the very high ABV, diluting is almost inevitable which, in turn, makes the bottle last longer. The box, however, I find subpar; it’s very feels and looks very cheap and doesn’t protect the bottle from light at all because it has two very big cut-outs so that you’re able to see the bottle within the packaging (see the first picture for a reference). I believe that, if you have to pay nearly €40 for half a litre of whisky, you should at least package it in a slightly more professional box. Therefore, should you decide to buy one of their whiskies, be sure to keep it in a dark place.
The back-label seems well-made and was filled out by hand; the front-label, too, is very well-made. I do, however, believe they should have switched the front and back labels as I think the hand-written label looks much better as a front label than it does a back label.
I am, however, glad about them using a (quite high-quality) cork instead of a screw-cap.
But packaging isn’t what makes a whisky good; so how is its taste? Well, upon opening the bottle you get greeted by an aroma I find difficult to describe; the only thing I can say for certain is that it was a typical “whisky” aroma with something odd about it.
When it comes to colour, I find it to be very dark for a whisky that has been matured for merely three years; this made me think that the colour may have been achieved by artificial colouring, but it hasn’t! As mentioned previously, their box states that they do not colour their whisky nor do they use chill filtration and I must say that I found that quite impressive. I didn’t believe a whisky that’s been aged for just over three years would be able to develop such a deep and rich colour, but apparently it can. This then means that the cask they used probably added quite a lot of aroma and flavour and indeed it has. I poured myself a glass and was surprised by the fact that the alcohol did not come through as agressively and intensely as I’d feared; instead, it stays behind the other flavours for the most part. The main aroma you get from the whisky is quite definitely fruit and wine-like aromas and a lot of barrique and spice to top it off. The aforementioned fruits remind me a lot of darker berries and grapes or ripe apples.
I then decided to add a few drops (approximately two or three) of filtered tap water to the whisky which resulted in it opening up quite a bit as doing so made the whisky reveal a lot more of its oaky and spicy aromas tuning back the fruit. Despite that, however, it was still very wine-y, fresh and quite “zesty”. The fruit aromas that were detectable turned into more of a “bright” fruit, such as apple; the smell in general reminded me a lot of apple cidre. It also revealed some more of the very common oak aromas, such as vanilla. I was, however, surprised to see that, despite me adding cool water, the whisky did not turn cloudy (which is in contrast to the Glenfarclas 15, which turns cloudy very quickly).
Taking a sip, I found it very fruity with a lot of barrique flavour to it but also quite a lot of alcohol. The finish was barrique, long and very warming.
I found that diluting it even further will make the mouth-feel much more pleasant, turning down the alcoholic taste and making it more friendly (oily, sweet, barrique).
All in all, I found this whisky to be a pleasant surprise. I am also an avid wine drinker and enjoyed the barrique and wine-like aromas of this whisky a lot. I think it has a lot of potential and think that an even more mature version of this would perhaps make it one of my favourite whiskies of all time. That’s not to say, however, that I did not like it; instead, I very much enjoyed it and will definitely look forward to drinking some more of it in the upcoming weeks and months.
For people that wish to drink a very complex and intense whisky, I cannot recommend it though; however, for those that are interested in seeing what a German whisky distillery is capable of after just three years then I can definitely recommend it. I can also recommend it to people who enjoy a slightly lighter whisky.
Once I’ve finished this bottle, I will turn my attention to another one of St. Kilian’s whiskies — So stay tuned!