European Whisky: Beyond Scotland & IrelandBy George Koutsakis
The mention of European whisky may transport you to weathered distilleries in the Highlands; or perhaps the isles of Scotland. Maybe the emerald isle of Ireland, which has been making a powerful comeback in recent years, might be the image you conjure.
Elsewhere, France, with its long history of brandy distillation, is enjoying a huge whisky boom. Yet, whisky production there only began in the 1980s.
But what of the rest of Europe? Most countries in Europe don’t enjoy a long history (if any) of whisky-making. This poses the question: is this blank canvas a detriment or a great opportunity?
Italy – Puni Distillery
In the north of Italy, surrounded by the Italian Alps, one may come by a very unique building: a modern, 13 meter-tall, cube. This structure encases the Puni distillery—Italy’s first and only whisky distillery.
Puni Distillery / Photo Credit: Puni
The distillery was established in 2010, with distillation kicking off two years later. A family business through and through, Albrecht and Daniela Ebensperger founded Puni, with help from Jonas and Lukas, their two sons.
Since its establishment, the Puni distillery has managed to make a name for itself across the globe. But how, after only 4 years of distillation?
The pure Alpine water, local grains, and distillation techniques are, of course, a huge part of the process. Puni only uses rye grown locally in the Vinschgau Valley; a cultivation practice which spans back centuries.
The extreme temperature fluctuation in the area, between summer and winter, is what allows Puni whisky to mature quicker, delivering complex flavors from a young age. Similar temperature-led quick maturation arises in other regions across the world, like Japan, Taiwan and India.
Beyond its futuristic building, Puni’s spectacular bottle designs were created by Italian designer Christian Zanzotti.
For a taste of Puni, we recommend the distillery’s first single malts. First we have the Puni NOVA. Released in 2015, after three years of aging, this spicy, sweet whisky brings complexity beyond its years. Look for notes of banana, honey and oak.
The Puni ALBA, also 3 years old, is a bit smoother. Depth and wine notes come from the partial maturation in Sicilian wine casks. The palate delivers notes of wood, earth and a touch of spice.
Sweden – Mackmyra Distillery
In 1998, over a conversation between friends during a ski trip, the idea for Sweden’s first whisky distillery was born.
Mackmyra Whiskies / Photo Credit: Mackmyra
By 2002, the distillery team had decided on two recipes, and production kicked off. When Preludium 01, Mackmyra’s first limited single malt, launched in 2006, it sold out in less than 20 minutes. The distillery’s reputation has only skyrocketed since.
Mackmyra sources all of the ingredients used for whisky-production, excluding the yeast, within 70 miles of the distillery. Maturation takes place in bourbon, sherry and Swedish oak casks. Many barrels used are custom-made 100-liter casks.
Since production began, demand has steadily increased. So much so that in 2011 the company established a second distillery just miles from the first. The new site can produce 1.8m bottles a year, triple the capacity of the first site.
In spring 2017, a milestone for Swedish whisky came about in the form of the Mackmyra 10 Year. As Sweden’s very first age-statement expression, the release launched with 20,000 bottles. Of these, 60% were bought by Systembolaget, Sweden’s government-owned retail chain of liquor stores. The remaining 8,000 bottles were exported.
Wales – Penderyn Distillery
Whisky-making took place for centuries in Wales, until the art of distillation faded away, finally ceasing in 1894.
Penderyn Whiskies / Photo Credit: Penderyn
Then, at the start of the millennium, Penderyn launched in the small town of the same name. With its first sales in 2004, Penderyn became the first distillery to produce whisky commercially in Wales for over a century.
The distillery has seen great success since it launched. Its whiskies are exported all over the world, to countries including Australia, Japan and Russia. After receiving the seal of approval from the Prince of Wales, the distillery’s visitor center opened in 2008. The site now hosts over 40,000 visitors per year.
Producing primarily single malt whisky, expressions by Penderyn include the flagship Madeira Finish, the Portwood, Sherrywood and Peated. The Madeira Finish recently received a new bottle design, showing the distillery’s initial move to a more modern brand image.
In the next few years, Penderyn plans to open a second distillery in Swansea. As the expansion takes place, we expect to see much more of Penderyn whisky in liquor stores across the globe.
It’s the era of enlightenment for whisky in Europe, and we’re hoping more countries will enter the whisky scene soon. Will it be from Eastern Europe, or maybe more of the Mediterranean? Who will start distilling next?