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Stauning Whisky

A doctor, a butcher, a teacher, a helicopter pilot and four engineers walk into a bar. They realise there’s no Danish whisky to order and they decide to do something about it.

No, that’s not a joke, but the story of how Stauning Whisky came into existence. Founded in May 2005, it’s the oldest whisky distillery in Denmark and has spent the last fifteen years nobly flying the flag for its country’s whisky, impressing critics, award show judges and consumers alike.

Stauning began life as a true craft distillery, operating out of a slaughterhouse owned by the butcher of the group. Barley was sourced from a local farmer and peated on a grill in the smokehouse, the cold store was used for floor malting, the grist was minced in the meat grinder, fermentation took place in an old picking vat and distillation occurred in two small wood-fired pots stills. Despite a bank suggesting they open a bakery instead, the founders decided there was sufficient promise in their spirit to expand. Money was raised to buy a farm and they turned it into a small distillery in 2007.

You would think this would be the point to ditch the malt MacGyver approach and upgrade the equipment, but no. What started as a necessity in the abattoir became the bedrock of Stauning’s philosophy, with locally-grown grain, experimental floor-malting, and small direct-fire-heated stills becoming the secret behind the character of its whisky. It had terroir, it was Nordic, and was good enough to attract Diageo, which acquired a minority stake in 2015. Around £50 million of investment later and by 2018, Stauning was able to open the doors to Denmark’s first purpose-built distillery.

Today, Stauning sources rye and barley from farms within 9-12 miles of the distillery. It peats about 25% of the grain it uses and, again, sources that peat locally from three different suppliers, one being a neighbourhood peat museum. It’s described as being Highland in style, more sweet and floral than the medicinal kind you’ll find in Islay.

There are two buildings dedicated entirely to floor malting, using malt-turning machines designed by the team and made by a local blacksmith. The team spreads 10 tonnes of barley or rye out, then a spraying mechanism adds water to wake the cereal up. Vertical rotating arms gently rotate the grain to ensure even absorption. This means the steeping and germination both take place on the floor. Originally this was done to avoid shovelling and getting monkey shoulders, but several other distilleries have actually asked if they can copy the process, such has been its success.

Stauning also has its own method and equipment for mashing. Back in the farm days, the team built a washing machine-like device and when scaling up, found a piece of giant machinery in the Netherlands that would imitate the technique. The grain and water is mixed in a large vessel, which is then pumped to a vertical filter drum, where the liquid is drained off (and pumped to washbacks), and the wet grain is moved into a second vessel. Water is added to this vessel and mixed with the grain, then it’s pumped to the filter drum where filtration happens again. The liquid is then pumped to the washback and wet grain back into the first vessel where a third lot of water is added so the final filtration can take place.

Fermentation at Stauning occurs over a long three-to-four days using a dried strain of Danish yeast, favoured for its ability to create fruity, honey and cereal notes. The spirit is then transferred to 24 small copper pot stills, 16 wash stills and eight spirit stills each at 2,000 litres capacity. In the previous distillery, 1,000-litre stills were used and Stauning was keen to retain the same character, so this unusual set-up and process of double-distilling its whisky using direct fire were retained. The distillers credit this with adding a very special character to this whisky, creating a Maillard reaction akin to roasting a chicken instead of boiling it.

Every whisky is matured in five on-site warehouses and bottled without chill-filtration. No regulation or history to follow allowed Stauning to be expressive with its wood policy. Ex-bourbon and new virgin American white oak casks are favoured, but mezcal, Cognac, calvados, Moscatel, Madeira and vermouth casks have been used too. All the whisky you’ll taste is around three to five years old, but Stauning defies convention again by electing not to use age statements, bottling to flavour, not age. The distillation and bottling date are what’s on the bottles.

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