Following on from my previous Stauning post [WLP], I won the Virtual Reality Tour Competition! I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Danish distillery that has gone from a private affair amongst nine friends producing 200 litres a year in an old abattoir, to an established international whisky brand with a Diageo-funded 900,000 lpa capacity distillery in just 14 years. Utilising modern technology whilst adhering to traditional Scottish whisky making methods, Stauning have maintained their true-craft hands-on approach and philosophy of ‘solutions without secrets’ through three evolutions since 2005.
Pronounced using a ‘aww’ sound, Stauning Mark I lies just down the road from where the current distillery stands. Previously situated in an old abattoir [using the meat grinder as a mill], their output was enough to fill one cask every two days. With a desire to expand [a little], they moved up the road to an old farm which now houses Stauning’s visitors centre [pic below].
Stauning’s move to this bigger facility in 2007-08, gave Stauning an output of 6-8000 lpa. Their first single malt whisky was released in 2012. They have since won World’s Best New Make with Stauning Curious, Best Danish [TWE] and a Jim Murray Liquid Gold Award [LINK], for their 2016 Kaos.
In 2013, Stauning were offered investment of £15 million [often reported as 10 or $15m], by Diageo – through their Distill Ventures program – to build a new distillery with a production capacity of around 900,000 lpa. With Diageo pursuing Stauning rather than the other way around, Stauning were able to establish a relaxed and fruitful relationship with the drinks giant whilst ensuring autonomous running of the new distillery. Despite the vast up-scaling, Stauning were adamant to hold onto their core values and maintain the same Danish-centric, hands-on, small batch whisky making standards as their previous distillery Mark II. Stauning’s new alembic stills are closely based on the two pairs used in the original distillery, only now there are 24 of them.
With Diageo’s investment secured, Stauning subsequently ordered 24, 2000 litre, direct-fire thick-lined alembic stills from Abercrombie who simply didn’t know how to build such traditional stills. Lacking the knowledge & know-how, Abercrombie turned to retired employees who had experience of building alembic stills back in the day, to assist with Stauning’s order.
Stauning Distillery Mark III as it is today attracts around 20000 visitors per year, the majority of whom are German.
We touch down at Billund airport early on a Wednesday morning. Billund has an airport thanks to the son of the founder of the Lego Group [Godtfred Kirk Christiansen], who in 1961, established a private runway for his nearby factory. Billund is the Lego capital of the [now non-plastic] building brick and ‘the largest tourist attraction in Denmark outside Copenhagen’ [wiki].
Alex Munch [one of Stauning’s founders], is waiting for us at the airport and holding a board that reads ‘Whisky Loving Pianist’. Most touching. I wish I’d taken a pic. We grab drinks before heading off, first to Legoland HQ [reminiscent of Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House].
If Islay has the wave, Denmark has the smile. According to The Happiness Report, the Danes are some of the happiest people on earth, and indeed it shows. It’s true what they say. ‘Smile a while, and when you smile, others smile. Then there are smiles for miles and miles‘.
Denmark and its people traditionally worked in agriculture. Though it’s said there are “more pigs than people”, there has been a significant move away from agriculture to industry as the country [like so many others], struggles to compete with cheap food imports from China.
Stauning distillery is located in a small village of the same name. Located in the western part of Jutland, Stauning is described [tongue & cheekily I suppose], by whisser as ‘,… found near the rural hell hole of Skjern. It is a desolate regressed part of Denmark, which does seem like it has been forgotten by God,…’ I believe Whisser is actually a big fan of the distillery and its whisky, and describes Stauning itself as ‘a small idyllic place located on the banks of Ringkøbing Fjord’.
Stauning uses only local ingredients for its whisky, which as far as they know, makes Stauning the only completely Danish single malt whisky in production [at time of writing]. Using local peat and even heather, all their grain is grown within a 40km radius of the distillery.
90% of the bread consumed in Denmark is rye, so it made sense for Stauning to make a Danish rye whisky. Rye however is tricky to work with. A standard mash tun is too inefficient/gets too messy to deal with this sticky starchy grain. The solution was to design a contraption closely resembling a mink-skinning machine [right]. Made of stainless steel, this vessel is similar to a tombola-shaped washing machine drum. Eradicating the need for arms & cogs to clean and that clog, the holed drum and one glass blade/wiper allow water to drain away leaving the steeped rye inside.
Stauning were determined to do their own floor maltings but found the traditional manual process typically slow and laborious. Built into what resembles a bowling alley, Stauning’s mesmerising barley turning machine turns 12-13 tonnes of barley per lane. They currently have three [or is it four?] malting lanes.
Stauning have been approached by Carlsberg to distill its Re-Brew beer, a beer made from Carlsberg’s oldest barley strain that was featured in a Warner Bros film [imbibe / video]. Stauning currently use a standard dry yeast for fermentation.
A standard bottle labelling machine could typically cost a distillery or brewery around €1000, but because Stauning’s bottles are tapered, they had quotes for around €6000. How hard could it be thought these innovative engineers? Within an hour, a prototype had been made – out of Lego.
Technological innovation, design and efficiency go hand-in-hand at Stauning, demonstrated by their stunning oak-charred warehouse sheds to the immaculate space-age pipework for example. The distillery is a work of art.
Part 2/2 is HERE