Whisky with a Bavarian twist Slyrs tastes of mountain lakes, forests and blue skies - By Mehmet Toprak
Until now, aficionados have called Slyrs whisky more a mild drink for beginners. But Bavaria's only single malt distillery is now trying to play with the big-name whisky producers worldwide.
You couldn't really say that Germans are whisky drinkers. But the number of German fans of the liquor has steadily increased over the past few years. Just look at the large number of German cities that are hosting whisky festivals - like Finest Spirits in Munich.
There, whisky aficionados meet to talk shop and try exquisite labels like peaty Caol Ila from the Isle of Islay off the Scottish coast, the slightly sweet Knockando from the Scottish Highlands and Irish Jameson. And then there is Slyrs.
Slyrs comes from Bavaria in southern Germany, more precisely, from the Slyrs distillery at Lake Schliersee, the only Bavarian single malt whisky distillery that produces significant quantities. Pronounced "shlooers," the whisky takes its name from the lake.
The 86-proof liquor smells and tastes cool and fresh, with a hint of vanilla - reminiscent of the lakes, mountains and forests in the countryside it comes from. Master distiller Florian Stetter of Lantenhammer Distillery got the idea to produce his own whisky when he traveled through Scotland in 1994.
He envisioned it as an entirely independent brand from the beginning, and he already had an idea for its taste and aroma. "We wanted a whisky that tasted lighter and less peaty than some Scottish brands, and was fresh and fruity as well," said Slyrs master distiller, Hans Kemenater.
Kemenater uses regional ingredients, for example, mountain spring water from Bavaria and brewer's barley from Franconia. He uses beechwood instead of peat to kiln-dry the barley, which gives Slyr whisky its distinctive flavor.
Kemenater has only forsaken his homeland in one area. The 60-gallon barrels in which the distillate is stored for at least three years are made of white oak from the US. "It is more porous and releases aroma better," said Kemenater, 28.
He learned his craft at the family-run Lantenhammer Distillery, just a stone's throw from where the Slyrs Distillery is located today. Kemenater started out making Kirsch and the other fruit-based spirits typical of the region. When Lantenhammer founded its Slyrs affiliate, he switched to whisky.
Since the first vintage was sold in 2002, Slyrs has become a force to reckon with on the German whisky scene. The company produced around 40,000 bottles in 2009. Nevertheless, whisky aficionados sometimes turn their noses up at what they call a beginner's whisky. They miss the multiplicity of aromas they say characterizes a good Scotch.
Some also complain that the family operation has compensated for inferior quality with skillful marketing. That is not entirely false but the jury is still out. Stetter and his master distiller, meanwhile, are regularly sampling a new batch that is due to hit the shelves in 2015.
The product is a 12-year-old Slyrs that offers more maturity and should have more complexity. The new whisky could also impress aficionados who still only accept more established brands such as Caol Ila, Knockando or Jameson. But then, underestimating Bavarians is never a good idea.