During their summer vacation in Germany, our intrepid Whisky Couple experiences an unexpected whisky surprise. Here’s their story, with a Scottish twist at the end.
Since we spend a good deal of time sitting at airports and in airplanes, we prefer to take our annual vacation with the car. This year’s choice was the Black Forest, where Becky found a beautiful little cottage in Schiltach, almost in the dead-center of the region. Last spring at the Speyside Festival we had told our plans to Robert Fleming when visiting Tomintoul. He insisted we take some Tomintoul and raise a toast somewhere in those dark woods, so our drinking whisky for the journey was arranged beforehand. Our aim was to enjoy some beautiful hikes, take it easy, switch off from social media for three weeks (something we can recommend heartily) and not engage in distillery visits, whisky tastings and the like.
At least that was the plan. Upon arrival we were welcomed by our host Chris, his wife and their five-year-old daughter. They’d prepared traditional Flammkuchen — something approximating German pizza — for us so that we did not have to fend for supper after a long day’s drive from the Netherlands. It appeared Chris had done some Googling after he’d received our reservation and soon the topic of conversation he introduced was … whisky.
Our host turned out to be a sales representative for the nearby Alpirsbacher brewery. The first stages of making whisky are akin to brewing beer, so Chris was not entirely unfamiliar with the process. He suggested we should visit the brewery; this came with a nice surprise. A few years ago, the company had started to make whisky, albeit on a small scale. That piqued our interest and an appointment was made.
Alpirsbacher is a descendant of an eponymous brewery founded in 1880, in a former Benedictine abbey in the village of Alpirsbach. Fourth generation owner Carl Glauner and his head brewer Hans Martin Walz cordially invited us for lunch and elaborate on the history of the family owned company. After a tour of the distillery and cellars, we were invited to a tasting through their distillation history. Their first distillate was what Carl named “Bierschnapps,” distilled from the same wort that will become one of their award-winning beers. Basically, it is distilled beer. Not directly my cup of tea but interesting to try nevertheless.
The second distilled product they brought out was a flavored beer liqueur, which tastes like cinnamon and vanilla, sweet but not cloying. Then, Kloster Whisky was proudly presented (kloster being German for abbey) — a five-year-old single malt. The early batches were matured in ex-bourbon barrels, later ones in new German oak casks. We were pleasantly surprised (see the tasting note below). We were ready to leave, though not before having visited the well-stocked shop on the premises.
Hans Martin stopped us on our way out, inviting us to come and sit in the tasting room with an Alpirsbacher pilsner (very smooth and enjoyable, by the way). He had a story to tell, too, conveying a tale of passion for whisky and family over the next half hour.
On December 23, 1994, his first son Simon was born. At the time Hans Martin owned a brewery called Anker-Braü and he decided to distil some whisky there for the occasion. Witnesses were grandma Sofie and grandpa Guus. The new-make spirit was put into a virgin German oak cask and every year the contents were sampled. After 10 years Hans Martin decided the whisky had picked up enough flavors from the wood, transferred the liquid into a stainless-steel vat and let it rest for another eight years. Then he bottled the entire contents from the vat, designed a label and hand-numbered all the bottles. On the eve of Simon’s 18th birthday, his father waited until everybody had retired and then displayed the bottles — 70 in all — on the kitchen table. The next morning Hans Martin woke up his son, led him downstairs and said “Here is a birthday present for you, Simon’s Single Malt Whisky!”
You can’t make up a story like that! Our host smiled, walked to a cupboard and comes back with a bottle. “For you, number 60.” At first, we stated that we could not possibly accept the gift. After all, it is one of only 70 bottles of a unique whisky distilled by a father for his beloved first-born son. However, Hans Martin refuses to take “no” for an answer and insists we take the bottle, as long as we tell him afterwards what we found of it. We made the solemn promise. Then Carl Glauner came to say goodbye, surprising us with a full bottle of Kloster Whisky, first batch, bottle 125 of only 150. We can take it home under the same conditions.
A week later we decided to walk the Himmelssteig, a serious eight-mile-long hill walk like a roller coaster. In our backpack were samples of both whiskies. We wanted to try them in the region where they were made. Just past the Himmels Bar — where refreshments are offered alongside the trek, cooling in a little stream with clear, cold water — we found the perfect spot, sat down, poured ourselves a dram and noted our impressions.
Then Becky reminded me of our promise to Robert Fleming; magically a small bottle of Tomintoul 16 appears in her hands, to top off our little tasting, bringing Scotland’s liquid pride in miniature suddenly to the Black Forest.
Then there is silence, contented silence. You simply cannot escape whisky, not even on vacation.
Frankly, we don’t mind.
The Whisky Couple
Simon’s Single Malt Whisky 18 Year
Malty, melons, eucalyptus and mango, with a whiff of ground white pepper in the background. A splash of water brings stewed apples to the fore — the whisky is better in balance now. The body gets slightly oily and very smooth. The finish is short but pleasant, with a hint of wood. All in all, an agreeable dram. On a scale from one to ten, we score this unique whisky that will never be made again a 7.8.
Kloster Whisky Five Year
Hans Martin’s sister is the master distiller and only distils Kloster Whisky once every fortnight in small quantities.
Roasted peanuts, a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, fruity apples (Elstar?) and pears (Conference?). Spicy, too with cardamom and nutmeg. Water added brings out pineapple, honey, white chocolate and lime. A charming finish of medium length. A friendly dram with a beautiful balance, scores 8.2 out of 10 with us.
We brought both whiskies back from the Black Forest. At home we organized a small tasting with friends and aficionados to share the remainder of what true love for whisky has achieved.