Whisky Innovations

How to produce classic Malt Whisky in a modern and efficient way

In summer 2020, I visited the Stauning Distillery in the south of Denmark. I had not obtained information about this distillery before. I only knew that it had been around since 2005 and that it hadn't launched any Whiskies in large quantities before. So why did I visit the distillery at all? Well, I was on vacation with my wife and we can't leave Whisky alone, even when we are on vacation.

What we found there was not even remotely a small rural Whisky distillery. We found an architecturally ambitious and tens of millions of Euros heavy new building in nordic style. No less than 24 stills produce about half a million liters of spirit per year. And this is just the beginning.

I only knew two dozen stills from Tomatin, but most of the plant is now dismantled. If you think about it, there are only two distilleries in Scotland that have set up a similar number of stills: Macallan with 21 stills and Glenfiddich with even 31. However, Stauning has by far the smallest stills with a volume of about 2,000 liters per still. This also explains why the distillery does not produce tens of millions of liters like the large distilleries from Scotland.

Why such small stills? Stauning's first experiments from the early years were carried out on those small stills, that can still be seen in the old still house near the distillery. And small stills produce a spicier Whisky than the well-known large ones. That was something to hold on to.

In the beginning, the barley for the Whisky was still malted on the classic malting floor with a shovel by hand. Once the right malting method was found for the Whisky, it was not possible to buy exactly this malt from specialized companies for the larger production. And a manual production was ruled out for reasons of physical strength. There are weather conditions where the malt has to be turned over every two hours. And for one cycle you need these two hours. It would have been an eternal work, which would not have been beneficial to the health of anyone involved.

What was the solution? The invention of an automatic malting machine that turns the spread malt in the classical way. In the past, I have seen Saladin boxes at Tamdhu that mechanically turned the malt in large concrete vats. Here, it is solved differently: A machine runs on two rails over the malt track and has a rotating rake with many tines, which turns the malt accordingly. The soaking process is omitted. Instead, the spread barley is soaked beforehand via water nozzles on this machine.

An automatic system has also been devised for kilning the malt. The drying floor is also automatically fed with the prepared malt.

But that's not all the innovation. The mashing process, meaning the leaching of malt sugar, is also breaking new ground. Instead of using a Lauter Tun holding many tons, a continuous mashing machine is used. And to ensure longer holding periods at the appropriate temperatures, there are two resting tanks in which the sugar conversion takes place.

A special feature has also been devised for the firing of the stills: Instead of the classic hot steam heating, the stills are directly fired with gas. And with open burners - I have never seen these burners at any distillery before. They were always encapsulated. Here, the heat insulation was not done at the individual burner, but with a small brick wall around a group of stills. The impression was gigantic.

Stauning also thought up special ways for maturation. Of course, their Whisky matures in the usual ex-bourbon and ex-wine and fortified wine casks. But even here special varieties are used here.

Meanwhile the amount of aged Whisky has grown so much that it was possible to switch from the previous 0.5 liter bottles to the usual 0.7 liter bottles. The first large warehouse is nearing completion and the second warehouse will be built soon.

Currently we have received three new bottles from Stauning. Two Single Malts and one Single Blend. The Single Blend does not have that name on the label, but it contains only malt and rye Whiskies from Stauning's own distillery. The two Single Malts differ in the use of smoke or no smoke in the production.

Smoky Whisky also has a special feature again. In the early days, only peat from local bogs was used. Accordingly, the Whisky was called Peated. Today, besides peat, dried heath is also used for smoke production.

If your vacation takes you to Denmark, the Stauning distillery is definitely worth a visit. It was quite by chance that we met two users of Whisky.com during our visit. The best sign that the Whisky has already made its way into the professional world!