The Danish Whisky Boom
The whisky and distillery boom did not stop in Denmark until very recently. In contrast to their Nordic neighbours, Danish producers are no longer subject to an alcohol monopoly with state outlets for beer, wine and spirits. Likewise the extremely high taxes on alcohol are no longer retarding domestic production in Denmark. Every supermarket can offer spirits here and the distilleries can also sell their goods directly. These are relatively recent developments however, although the state alcohol monopoly was given up in 1973 when Denmark joined the European Economic Community (EEC, the precursor to the European Union) the countries domestic alchohol tax remained high until the mid ’90s.
The Reduction of Tax
Since October 1st, 2003, when the Danish parliament halved alcohol taxes and aligned the country with their continental European neighbours domestic production has boomed. Following the tax reduction Danes have been quenching their thirst for domestic alcohol rather than the northern German communities near the border. This reduction in taxes also made it attractive for potential whisky producers to enter the distillation business, despite this most producers took their time, preferring to observe the markets in neighboring countries. Many whisky producers today name Mackmyra in Sweden and Teerenpeli in Finland as their role models, but developments in the German market were also closely followed. Denmark became a whisky producing nation back in 1922, when trials began by the state distillery De Danske Spiritsfabrikken in Roskilde. Laboratory bottles from this period - sometimes even with their contents - are still occasionally auctioned today. Ultimately though this was limited in scake to experimentation as it was quickly apparent that it was cheaper to secure the supply of whisky through Scottish import than via industrial scale production.
The First Commercial Danish Whisky: C.L.O.C.
The tide turned after 1945, because in the post-war period the trade routes were often subject to restrictions and the whisky supply threatened to dry up. In 1952 the first Danish whisky came under the C.L.O.C. brand. on the market. The abbreviation stands for the Latin term Cuminum Liquidum Optimum Castelli, which roughly translates as “the castle’s best cumin liqueur” and refers to Ålborghus Castle, because the headquarters of the state spirits manufacturer was in the North Jutland city of Aalborg. To the chagrin of the Roskild manufacturers, the whisky was not as well received by the population as expected. On the one hand, that may have been due to the name, a whisky called cumin liqueur is certainly an unusual choice. The main reason, however, was probably the taste, which obviously could hardly show any resemblance to the Scottish models favored by the Danish population. So production was inconsistent and eventually ceased in 1974, by which time losses due to cask evaporation exceeded volumes sold!
Vingården Lille Gadegård
The current era of Danish whisky production began on December 27, 2005 on the island of Bornholm, when Jesper Paulsen poured his first malt distillate into a French oak barrel that had previously been topped with a Rondo red wine from his own production. Since 2000 he has been running Vingården Lille Gadegård on the south coast of Bornholm, the only winery on the island to which an adventure farm is attached. Whisky does not play the main role here, which is why only eight limited bottlings have been released so far. Since May 2017, two former wine barrels filled with malt distillate have been maturing there, buried in the vineyard at a depth of around three meters, which were recovered on the evening of June 13, 2020 in the presence of visitors, and then tasted.
The year 2005 was not only the beginning for Jesper Paulsen on Bornhom, it also crystallized as the initial spark of modern whisky production in Denmark. In that year, the two largest and currently most important producers also set their course for production two years later: Braunstein in Køge and Stauning near the town of the same name on the west coast of Denmark.
In 2005 the brothers Claus and Michael Braunstein opened a brewery in a former fish factory in the harbor of the small town of Køge, south of Copenhagen. Even at its inception the intention was always to produce whisky on site. Two years later the time had come. The brand new, 800 liter hybrid distillery from Holstein, a copper kettle with a column with a total of five bobble trays and a dephlegmator, was installed put into operation. From the very first day, organic brewing malt from Denmark and peated organic malt from Scotland were both used.
The two brothers developed an affinity for whisky early on, as they spent almost every summer vacation with their father in Scotland. Until lunchtime, people were fishing in the Spey River or the adjacent waters. When the visitor centers of the surrounding distilleries were open, father and sons pursued the unofficial holiday occasion and their passion. The first Braunstein whisky was bottled in March 2010 and - apart from a few special bottlings that were released for whisky festivals or similar occasions - all bottlings follow an easily comprehensible concept of labeling. Every year two bottlings with a limited number of bottles come on the market, which are marked with two digits for the year, 15 or 16, followed by a colon after which the number of the bottling is listed. The 1 indicates a non-peated version and the 2 the peated version. All whiskies are unfiltered, without caramel colouring and bottled at 46% ABV. Apart from the two regular bottlings, single cask bottlings in the original cask strength are also released from time to time, the labels of which are marked with an ‘e’, the mandatory colon and a consecutive number. Most of the Braunstein brothers’ bottles are now sold in Denmark and Asia, because their whisky was very well received by the Asian market after taking part in the world exhibition Expo in Shanghai in October 2010. At the moment, more than 50,000 liters of whisky are slumbering in their barrels, waiting to be bottled. Since the space in the port of Køge quickly became too small, the barrels are currently spread across four different warehouses.
The radio broadcast on a Danish channel about the production of Scotch whisky developed in 2005 to mark the start of what is currently the largest distillery in the country. Why can’t that also work in Denmark? was the question that a total of nine friends and relatives asked themselves after the broadcast. One member of the brave troop owned a butcher’s shop in Stauning, which immediately gave its name to the future distillery. The butcher’s premises were declared the first experimental zone. Here one found a professional environment, approved by the state inspectors, with technical equipment that could be converted into whisky production.
In 2006 the first experiments began with a small alambic still that was supplied from Spain. The barley came from neighboring fields on the west coast of Denmark, hand-malted and dried over a fire, which was fed with peat from the same area. All ingredients should be as local as possible. The attempts were promising! The team only realized how good they had turned out when they sent a sample to Jim Murray, the author of the annual Whisky Bible, who then spontaneously stopped by. His extremely positive reviews were stimulation and encouragement to approach the project on a slightly larger scale. A farm, just a few minutes outside Stauning, offered enough space and the opportunity to adapt the existing facilities to meet future needs with a lot of personal contribution. The stable was transformed into a malt tennis, which was even automated by the technical skills of one of the group members. A drying chamber was converted into a kiln and the peat smoke generated in the neighboring room was blown through the barley to be dried. The founders carried out almost all the renovations with the help of their friends and relatives in addition to their actual jobs on the weekends, because financial resources were tight and most banks were critical of the idea.
Since the original experiments with the Alambic were so promising, the new distillery was equipped with four kettles from the same manufacturer. These were significantly larger and made it possible to produce around 8,000 liters of distillate per year. And there was another innovation with the move to the new building: rye whisky was also produced for the first time, because rye is grown on a large scale in the area on the west coast of Denmark. In 2009 the distillery went into operation and from the beginning you could watch the whisky makers at work. The number of visitors may not have been that high in the beginning, now it is up to 15,000 a year. In part, of course, these are visitors who have never seen the inside of a distillery and who make a short stop here on their vacation trip. Most of them are whisky fans who are curious about the unorthodox technology used to make single malt and rye whisky. The first bottling came on the market in summer 2012 and was received with great enthusiasm. To this day, the demand for Stauning Whisky cannot be met, although the capacities have been continuously expanded.
Stauning & Diageo
Fortunately for the nine-person team, who all contributed their labor and often their money in the same way, Diageo knocked on their door in 2013. On the one hand, the large corporation was curious about the unconventional way of whisky production, but on the other hand, it also wanted to benefit from the cult status of the distillery, which rolled up the market from behind. The negotiations were tough and lengthy, but in the end the nine partners and Diageo agreed that 25 percent of the company would be transferred to Diageo. This provided the urgently needed financial injection to expand production in line with demand. The nine founding members still have the say, but now, with the same unorthodox technology as before, the construction of a much larger distillery can be tackled. The new building has been right next door since the end of 2018. The previous distillery has been completely converted into a visitor center and shows the entire technology of the initial phase. In the new building, visitors can marvel at the large version, including the innovative, automated malt house, which works just like the smaller version from the first few days. In the almost church-like Still House there are now a total of 24 stills from the Scottish supplier Abercrombie, a subsidiary of Diageos, which are somewhat larger but otherwise resemble their predecessors from the coppersmith of the Spanish manufacturer Hoga. Like their predecessors, they are heated with an open fire, so the style of the whiskies should not change.
The whisky smithy, now known as Nyborg Destilleri, comes from the Ørbæk Brewery, which has been producing organic whisky on a 1000 liter Holstein still since 2009. The first whisky was sold in June 2012 under the brand name Isle of Fionia, named after the island of Fyn, the third largest island in Denmark, where the brewery and distillery are located. Further bottlings under the same brand name followed at irregular intervals until the owners Niels and Nicolai Rømer - father and son - realized that they could only meet the increasing demand with a production facility that is solely dedicated to the distillates. Their eye fell on a former workshop of the Danish State Railways, covering more than 4000 square meters. Until the Great Belt Bridge opened in 1998, freight trains were serviced on location for 125 years, some of which were also used on special ferries and ensured the transport of goods between the western and eastern parts of Denmark. The new road and railroad bridge was barely completed when the workshops were given up and slowly fell into disrepair.
Thirteen years later, they were awakened from their deep slumber, carefully renovated and, step by step, transformed into an impressive distillery with a visitor center and onsite restaurant. The whole area, an abandoned industrial area, which until then made a forgotten and run-down impression, was upgraded and transformed into a modern, central part of Nyborg. The new distillery went into operation in 2017. The previous 1,000 liter system was placed next to its new bigger brothers, each with a capacity of 4,000 liters - again by Holstein - and is now only used for gin and schnapps production. The adjoining hall, through which tracks from old times still lead, has been converted into a tall, light barrel store, in the middle of which there is a former steam locomotive made in Germany.
The locomotive, manufactured in 1940, was used for decades in coal mining near Aachen and later served as a museum railway in Kraichgau and Extertal. Since the distillery opened, it has been the showpiece in the barrel store. Since June 2017, the Isle of Fionia - Ardor range has been supplementing the portfolio with in-house whiskies without any age information. Ardor means something like “passion” or “enthusiasm” and in the context of this series, peaty and peaty whiskies are offered, which also differ optically by their light or dark labels. In addition to the usual barrels such as bourbon, sherry and port, which are used for aging, there are also some whiskies slumbering in barrels made from Danish oak in Nyborg. A first whisky with a finish in such a barrel - probably the first ever in Denmark - was recently launched and was sold out quickly.
Also in 2009, the Fary Lochan Destilleri, not far from Billund Airport, started up. The distillery, idyllically spread over several houses and connected by underground passages that serve as barrel storage, is located in the middle of an almost forest-like property on the outskirts of Farre. The original owner Jens-Erik Jørgensen relied entirely on Scottish equipment and had three Forsyths stills delivered, a wash still and two spirits stills. Shortly before the end of 2009, he used it to distill his first whisky, the malt of which he himself had kilned over nettle herbs. This fuel, which is used in place of the peat at Fary Lochan, goes back to a Danish smoking technique for cheese. The first bottling of such a whisky was released in September 2013. Most of the bottlings are named after the seasons Forår (spring), summer, Efterår (autumn) and Vinter and differ in the increasing intensity of the nettle smoke. Today, around three years after the death of its founder Jens-Erik Jørgensen, the distillery is run by his wife and three children and offers regular guided tours of the extensive grounds.
Since 2011 whisky has been made in Kolding, in the heart of Denmark, around 90 kilometers north of the German border, in the rooms of Trolden Bryghus. With a total of three alambic stills, the whiskies, mainly single malts, but occasionally bourbon-like whiskies are created, with one common factor: 100% of the ingredients come from Denmark. The whiskies are mainly stored in small barrels of 50 to 100 liters, sometimes in bourbon casks with a capacity of 200 liters. However, pre-filled 8-liter barrels for a maximum maturation time of ‘three years and three minutes’ are also offered for sale to private individuals. The first bottling called Nimbus, a classic single malt whisky, hit the market in November 2014. Since then, four more bottlings have been released, either as Single Cask Whisky or Small Batches, which consisted of just three small barrels in total. Around 300 bottles are generally filled from each.
Even more distilleries
Relatively far in the north of Denmark, in Fjerritslev, in the immediate vicinity of the west coast, lies the Nordisk Brænderi by Anders Bilgram. So far, only one whisky has been produced under his name and bottled in 2014, because it usually produces in collaboration with a farm in Thy National Park. This is where the barley comes from and this is where the whisky is matured. Anders Bilgram’s distillery equipment comes from the Black Forest coppersmith Müller, where he also learned his trade. The equipment in the Copenhagen Distillery also comes from Müller, although the 1,000 liter facility is considerably larger than the one in Fjerritslev. It was only recently installed, the city distillery’s whiskies, all of which mature in small barrels of 50 or 100 liters, have been produced in other stills since the beginning of 2015, which were much smaller. None of the whiskies has been bottled so far, but the first bottling is set to appear in autumn 2019. In addition to single malts, whisky made from emmer, spelled and einkorn also ripens in the industrial area of Copenhagen. A novelty on the Danish market that is eagerly awaited. With the Mosgaard Distillery, Gitte and Jes Mosgaard fulfilled their dream of their own distillery in 2015. It is idyllically located in the rural south of the island of Funen, only around 25 kilometers from Nyborg Destilleri. Whisky production started at the beginning of 2016, so that the first two bottlings could already be launched at the beginning of 2019. One of the single malt whiskies was stored in an Oloroso sherry barrel for three years, the other spent two and a half years in a French oak barrel before being given a six-month PX sherry finish.
All Mosgaard products are made exclusively on an organic basis. The stills are custom-made by a small coppersmith in Portugal and are worth a trip just because of their special design. Apart from the mentioned producers and their whiskies, there are of course some brands in Denmark that are made in contract distilleries. There are also other manufacturers who have so far only released individual bottlings or are still waiting for the maturation period to end at least three years. And then there are the Faroe Islands. Although the islands belong to the Kingdom of Denmark, they are not part of the EU and therefore do not have to observe its spirits regulation. A subject well worthy of a separate article.
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