Fate is a cheeky lady. And an unpredictable one, too. When she interfers, even the most solid plan can dissolve within seconds. You don’t believe me? Ask the three friends Steffen, Stefan and Bastian from Berlin. On a fateful day in 2016, they drove to the small town of Schlepzig to buy a cask of whiskey. Suddenly, Fate chipped in … and when the trio returned from their field trip, they had not just bought a cask, but an entire distillery!
While I already knew the adventurous origin story of Stork Club Rye Whiskey from the internet, I recently had the pleasure of hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth. The person telling it was co-founder Steffen, who welcomed my girlfriend Dini and me to a private tour of Stork Club Distillery (formerly known as Spreewald Destillerie) on 15 July 2020. Over a hot cup of coffee and a yummy piece of cake, he told us how he got to know his partners and how they proceeded from running a marketing agency to being distillery owners. He also explained to us why they decided to focus on rye whiskey. Reason one: It is the most popular crop grown in the federal district of Brandenburg, where Stork Club Distillery resides. Reason two: Back when it all started, no one else was making rye whiskey in Germany – at least not as their core business. The advantages were clear. On the one hand, this gave Stork Club a unique positioning on the market. On the other hand, it connected the distillery (and its spirit) especially close to the soil on which it stood. “We wanted to do something that was true to the region and true to ourselves,” Steffen pointed out.
With our bellies filled and our caffein addicition satisfied, Dini and I followed Steffen around the premises. Our first stop was the hall where the milling, mashing and fermenting takes place. While we checked out the equipment, our host told us about the different ingredients that go into Stork Club Rye Whiskey. He also explained what procedures they undergo before they are ready for the distillation. With that knowledge, we hopped over to the still house. There, Stork Club Rye Whiskey is being made on two hybrid stills. Steffen, Stefan and Bastian inherited the older one by Carl (650 litres), when they purchased the distillery. They added the newer one by Kothe (1,000 litres) to further expand their capacities. After all, the three friends had big plans right from the start. Drawing inspiration from the United States rather than Scotland, they went for a Kothe still because Koval in Chicago had a similar set-up. “We are big fans of their rye,” Steffen lauded.
After we had seen the stills, we were especially curious for the spirit that emerges from them. At the moment, Stork Club makes two different sorts of rye whiskey, namely Unprocessed Rye (“Roggen-Rohfrucht”) and Malted Rye (“Roggenmalz”). To show us the difference between the two mash bills, Steffen let us nip the corresponding new makes back to back. Whereas the Unprocessed Rye is spicy, peppery and in-your-face, the Malted Rye is fruity, chocolatey and smooth. In regard to their character, they are both very clean and clear. This is not a coincidence, as Steffen spelled out: “When we bought the distillery, we went all in. Though we inherited some casks from the previous owner, we cannot wait for ten or twelve years before we bring our own whiskey to the market. We have to sell it after three years. Thus, we leave no stone unturned to make sure that it is of exceptional quality. During the distillation, for example, we only take the heart of the heart.”
Another beneficial factor for young whiskey is top-class wood. Here, Stork Club also spares no effort. We learned this at our next stop: the warehouse upstairs (which is one of three cask storage facilities currently in use at the distillery). There, we found several dozen casks lying in deep slumber. Most of them were custom-made vessels created from first-fill American oak and first-fill German oak. But here and there, we also stumbled upon other barrels, such as a refill Laphroaig hogshead from which Steffen poured us a dram with a valinch. Though it was only one year old, the liquid inside had already absorbed a lot of flavors from the cask. This was only half-surprising. Due to the bigger temperature swings, spirit matures quicker in Germany than it does in Scotland, for example. The angels’ share is also slightly higher. It amounts to round about 4 per cent per year.
Our tour ended in the tasting room above the gift shop, where we watched a cool promo film that the distillery’s new owners had produced to show where they came from and where they are heading. If this had been a regular tour, it would then have culminated in a degustation of Stork Club’s core range. As we had the pleasure of being Steffen’s guests, however, we were treated to a variety of single casks. Except for a wee sip from a German oak cask, I took them as “driver’s drams”. Mind you, I still had to drive back to Berlin afterwards. In the meantime, however, I already tasted two of the samples I brought home with me – a 3 years old from a sherry cask and a 3 years old from an Islay cask. They were both really impressive with a neat complexion, a strong character and a distinct cask influence. To me, there is no doubt about it: Stork Club is up to something big! They have the passion, drive and know-how to take their dream to the next level. They have a fantastic product that cuts a fine figure in any setting or situation, be it in a tumbler in a bar or in a nosing glass at home. And they have a beautiful distillery that is absolutely worth checking out. The next time you are in the Spreewald area (about 75 minutes by car from Berlin), I strongly rye-commend you to pay them a visit! You won’t rye-gret it … and yeah, I know … my puns are horrible. So you better grab a glass of Stork Club Rye Whiskey to ease your mind again. Cheers! Or as we say in Germany: Prost!
Name: Stork Club Rye Whiskey (Spreewood Distillers)
Type: Whiskey distillery
Admission: 25 Euro (for the tour and tasting)
Address: Spreewood Distillers, Dorfstraße 56, 15910 Schlepzig, Germany
Opening hours: Check the website for tour dates & shop opening hours
More info: https://stork-club-whisky.berlin/ (Website)
*** I was kindly invited to the distillery by Stork Club Rye Whiskey & Alle Vögel Fliegen Hoch. ***