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The Spreewood Distillers – down to earth, down to whisky
Lately I was fortunate to make a day trip 60 kilometers south of Berlin, where the idyllic landscape of the Spree Forest is stretched out into a river delta. The lowland with its unique Microclimate offers the best conditions for maturation of spirits. Here, in the middle of a biosphere reserve, the Spree Wood Distillers have founded there business in 2016. They operate their distillery in the picturesque village Schlepzig where they produce 100% German rye whisky. Behind the »SpreeWood Distillers« are three in the Spirits industry not completely unknown persons. There is Steffen Lohr on the one hand, the former Bartender and brand ambassador for Bacardi. Bastian Heuser again – also a former Bartender and one of the Co-founder of the »Bar Convent Berlin«. Third in the league is Sebastian Brack who invented the successful bitter lemonade brand Thomas Henry and is co-founder of „Belsazar“ Vermouth. Their manifesto:
„In character, in manner, in style, in all the things, the supreme excellence is simplicity“
The distillery is well renovated yet without loosing the typical charm of the region. As you enter the yard, you are surrounded by bricks and a lot of wood, just perfectly matching up with the produced products. The staff still remains the urban Berlin style but is friendly and very versed. I guess it is an easy yet quality driven attitude by the three bosses.
The distillery shall not only provide one with the main good which of course is German rye whisky, furthermore it is a gateway for one-day trips or interested people who want to gain more knowledge about the production of spirits. So one can easily join a guided tour through the distillery.
Besides the possibilities to enjoy a rustic meal with a beer, a piece of homemade cake or ice cream in the restaurant and cafe, one can also have customized events or tastings with cooking sessions on the most beautiful stove in the Stork Club Whisky Lounge. The distillery is clearly focussed on whisky but is also having a nice little range of liqueurs, which will make some awesome drink combinations too. The name „Stork Club“ refers to the location of the Distillery. Schlepzig, is a village amidst a biosphere reserve and is nesting place for many stork couples every year, the club of the Storks!
Sourcing German Rye Whisky
Every great story has to have a great start to even be complete. In this case the main ingredient is the rye growing just around the area of the distillery. No genetic altering or pesticides will be found here, only green fields of happy rye. Most whiskies though are made of barley and rye is a bit more of an underdog. Tastewise it is a question of each individual I guess but the protagonists wanted to work primary with a 100% straight rye. Of course this is a conscious decision being made right from the start and a good one if you ask me. I think to know what is inside the bottle gives you even more pleasure while drinking these spirits. The bottles may cost a little more but the result and for sure the quality in each step is assured by this from the start.
From Rye To Whisky
Depending on the chosen production process and the type of grain used, the grain is malted or unmalted. For many whiskeys, malted barley is the main flavor factor. The quality of the barley is divided from one to nine. Only levels one to three, which account for about 20% of a crop, are suitable for malting. Another ingredient is yeast, more specifically certain strains of the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yeast converts the sugar by enzymes into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The yeast also produces other substances during fermentation, which give the whiskey more aromas.
- preparing the cereal (mainly malting)
- grind coarsely
- distilling (usually twice)
- storage in barrels for a minimum of 36months
Months In Barrels
Not just every whiskey tastes different, but the content of each barrel tastes different than the contents of other barrels. There are three influencing factors responsible for the variety of flavors: the raw materials, the production process and the barrel maturation. Currently the whiskeys are maturing in both Bourbon and sherry casks, as well as in white wine barrels of selected German winegrowers. It seems a little bit like flavor Tetris and science at the same time and each decision leads to another kind of whisky. The massive variety on the market shows exactly this. For me it was of course very interesting just to listen and most of all I am fascinated by experienced craftsmanship. Just for the form, all whiskeys will be made without the addition of colorants and flavors and are bottled waiving cold filtration.
Tasting The Difference
Sure I couldn’t miss a proper tasting while being here. Funny thing is, that we tasted the maturing way of a whiskey before comparing different types. So there was a distillate shown within the process of ripening. Tastewise the flavor went from pure alcohol to smooth notes of caramel and oak with a bit of tannins. Steffen, who is mainly in charge of the distilling said: „we are on a good way as we go, yet not to sure what the result may be at what stage. We give our spirits the time they need until they are just right for us“. Understanding this and acting the same way is from my point of view just the best thing to do and get rewarded with a distinctive product of high quality.
If you ever have the chance to spend a few hours in Schlepzig you will feel that these guys are burning for hospitality and their product. Retail is detail is just the right phrase to be used. Each corner and every drink being served is thought through from a guest perspective. How could it be different after years of experience in the industry. I felt really welcome during my stay.
My personal thoughts
I have learned to be very fascinated by some spirits, amongst them sure is a good whisky, not knowing about German rye whisky yet. After my visit the whole package and story of the distillers kind of got me hooked. Seeing individuals taking a different direction in the way to produce something good regardless of people telling them not to, is something to be honored. I enjoyed myself during my stay and was really thankful for a laid back atmosphere with honest answers. I have tasted great spirits and have learned a lot this day. Whisky requires a lot of knowledge but also a good feeling for the spirit itself. Steffen said they had to learn a lot and are still doing so and by admitting this, these guys are on the way to achieve great things.