The night before the Stauning Virtual Reality Tour, I was unexpectedly treated to a dram of my choosing at an undisclosed bar somewhere in London. Someone we shall call Bob finds out I like my whisky and invites me to order something ‘significant’. Without any budget radar, I decide a Miyagikyo 18yo at £45 is an appropriate bang-for-buck in the circumstances, but Bob’s has other ideas. The next whisky on the list after the Miyagikyo is a Karuizawa at £180. Bob buys three drams of Karuizawa, one for me, one for himself and one for his mate who hates whisky! Before pouring, the head bartender presents the bottle and highlights its rarity and the gravitas of the moment. There’s some excitement either side of the bar as we get stuck in.
- N: Surprisingly smoky and/or toasted, only a touch farmy to start. Soon enough a long shopping list starts to form but I only note the much later arrival of oniony pickles with intense gingers and ginger cake, if left neat. The sherry cask’s previous contents is rather quiet. This one needs time and a few drams to experiment with and fortunately we have both. It’s an unusual & unique nose.
- T: Bob’s mate’s son joins in, offering a colourfully subjective & unrepeatable yet enlightening tasting perspective. For me, I found this very acute/strong to taste, smoky/toasted again, firmly savoury, spirity, heathery and oaky-dry. This needs and takes loads of water. After a number of whoa there’s, we find out from Bob that 50/50 seems the limit. This dilution brings savoury herbal qualities still with only a little sweetness. It has changed with water but doesn’t add any great significance to the delivery apart from toning down the ethanol. Either way, this is a brilliant and unusual whisky, the smokiness & the oakiness the main attributes – nowhere near over-oaked, just the taste of plain [yet not plain] oak.
- F: Stays smoky, savoury with a bitter-y dry-ish oakiness and a firm likeness [in my mind], to that beautiful 1996 Arran [WLP91]. The finish seems short at first, but with water it’s rather long and waxy. Later, bitter smoky tar, burnt rosemary, heather, fairly drying but the uniquely waxy mouthfeel grows once diluted. Clean yet spirity, light witch hazel conclusion – the ever-formidable 64.5% spirit never far away from the action.
- C: I reckon the Yamazaki 18yo would have suited the host better, but either way, the whisky was almost inevitably going to be trumped by the occasion surrounding it. “I don’t get it”, says Bob’s mate. “Just like background music”, says the pianist.
It turns out I’ve had this before, almost exactly 5 years ago in the same place. My scoring was less informed then but I put it in the same ball-park. Thank you Bob.
Scores 91 points
Early next morning, I’m woken by the blazing hot sun. It’s Pride and the weather is due to hit the high 20’s. I arrive on time for TWE-hosted Stauning Virtual Reality Tour in Covent Garden only to discover TWE have another venue, and the tour is there! I’m tempted go to the SMWS earlier than planned, but so pleased I honoured my previous engagement. My journey from Covent Garden to Great Portland Street by foot followed almost exactly the same route as was being used by the hundreds of thousands of people attending the Pride march. I arrive an hour late but everybody is relaxed and cool in the beautifully air-conditioned TWE shop which has only been open for around 10 months.
I soon get chatting with one of Stauning’s nine original founder’s, Alex Munch and then with Stauning’s UK Ambassador Troels Knudsen. Soon enough I’m sat at the actual table that Stauning’s master distiller has his coffee on in the morning’s and sat on chairs that have been shipped from Stauning’s visitor’s centre. Once equipped with a headset, I find myself sat in front of Alex in heart of the distillery surrounded by 24, 2000-litre Portuguese pot stills. I’m offered a virtual dram which then appears as if by magic in my hand. It’s their 30% barley/70% rye malt whisky at three years of age.
Stauning Rye 2016/2019 3yo  Ob. 50% [50cl] WB84
I have this in my hand for a while but I’m chatting mostly all of that time, so this is my light impression of the whisky.
- N: Weighty, bourbon-ish, grain-sweet and notably waxy. There’s simply nothing out of place here. Before I knew about their original Carlsberg yeast source, I was thinking – full-bodied larger beer, a touch yeasty. Fab!
- T: More of that lovely waxiness with a decent-length chewy journey. With a unique style/character, again, nothing is out of place. Though some pick out the fruitiness, for me it’s about the savoury-sweet grain/beer distillate.
- F: Fairly long waxy chew with little sense of hyperactive cask maturation.
- C: This may be 70% rye, but it’s nothing like US rye. Well played Stauning.
[Provisionally scores 84 points]
- As lunch passes into afternoon, I begin to grasp why people like Jim Murray, Dave Broom and Diageo have shown so much interest in this at-one-time, micro distillery that started with 9 friends with no previous experience in making whisky, producing 200 litres a year in an old abattoir.
- After moving to a bigger facility in 2007-08 [6-8000 lpa], their first single malt whisky was released in 2012. Their produce has since won World’s Best New Make – Stauning Curious TWE and a Jim Murray Liquid Gold Award [LINK], for their 2016 KAOS.
Stauning KAOS 2013-14/2017 Ob. 47.3% [50cl] WB77
- N: I’m looking for similarities to the Stauning Rye and sure enough, there’s the waxiness and coppery savoury grain direction over the fruitiness.
- T: Amazingly sophisticated for a 3 year old, and no STR in sight.
- F: Young waxy, earthy and grainy-led. Sure it’s firmly peaty but the peat smoke is respectfully kept in the background.
- C: Peat can be effective at hiding flaws in young whisky but there’s no evidence of that here. Impressive young stuff with a refreshingly unique profile.
[Provisionally scores 83 points]
I put my name in a box for a lottery draw to win a visit to the Stauning Distillery. Fingers crossed. The odds are excellent. With thanks to the Stauning team and TWE.
On the way out, I see the world’s first bike made from whisky casks. It’s beautiful and just shy of $7000.