Ever since they first heated up their Forsyths stills in 2016, the good people of Germany’s biggest whisky distillery St. Kilian have known but one direction: upwards! The first five years of production were like a rocket ride for them. During that time, they have established St. Kilian as a brand of international recognition and renown. They have won many gold medals at spirits competitions across the globe. They have built strong partnerships with retailers and distributors in Germany and abroad. And, most importantly, they have distilled, matured and bottled a growing range of really fantastic whiskies! For many drammers, the spirit that St. Kilian produces in the small town of Rüdenau has quickly become the epitome of a German single malt whisky that can hold its ground among the best drams worldwide (including those made in Scotland and Ireland)!
On Saturday, 24 April 2021, St. Kilian hosted a special event to celebrate their whisky turning five years old: a Zoom tasting centering around “The very first cask”. Yeah, that is right. The highlight of the seven-piece line-up was a 5 Years Old drawn from the first vessel that St. Kilian had ever filled with new make. The cask in question is custom-made from St. John’s Cross oak with a capacity of 700 litres (that is the biggest size a whisky barrel is allowed to have). It brought forth a dram unlike any I had ever tried! The color is golden and the nose is both unique and intense. The first sniff was somewhat rum-like with a well-pronounced sweetness. Then followed a great mix of aromas such as baked apricots, thick honey, fruity marmalade, various berries and grapes and – as weird as it may sound – Pringles with ketchup flavor. On the tongue, the whisky felt thick and weighed heavy. Its most striking flavors included toffee, orange, lime juice, butter toast, quince jam and fresh oak. Additionally, there was also a bourbon-y touch of modeling clay. The cask strength ABV of nearly 60 per cent was sensable, of course, yet not in a harsh way. I found it to be masterfully integrated. St. Kilian’s first 5 Years Old culminated in a lasting and satisfying finish that had sweetened pastry, creamy caramel sauce and juicy orange slices as well as milk chocolate, black currant and a wee pinch of finely grated black pepper. Oh yes … that was good!
As said earlier, the star of the evening was quite a peculiar pour; albeit one that hit all the right notes for me! So I am really happy that I managed to buy a full bottle if it. If you think about doing the same, I must disappoint you though. All 760 bottles that popped up in St. Kilian’s web shop after the tasting shifted hands in just a few minutes. But that does not mean that all those who missed out will never get the chance to experience St. Kilian’s maiden distillate anymore. The reason for this: Inspired by the solera procedure of the Spanish sherry makers, whisky maker Mario Rudolf and his team only bottled two-thirds of the cask’s content. The rest they filled up with new spirit again. So the next time they produce a bottling from barrel number one, it will still contain a proportion of the inaugural run through the stills. That way, the very first spirit to ever come from St. Kilian Distillery will live on and on and on …
Before and after the centre-piece 5 Years Old, we had a total of six other drams. Three came from the Signature series and three were bottled under the celebrity brand Bud Spencer – The Legend. In their entirety, these five whiskies (Signature Edition Three, Four and Five as well as Bud Spencer Unpeated and Peated) plus the conclusive chili cinnamon liquor (Bud Spencer Feuerwasser) provided a good cross-section of the distillery’s diverse work. Typical of St. Kilian, each of these pours provided an oily mouth feel, a harmonious tapestry of flavors and a fine array of sweet and fruity flavors. Plus a well-balanced influence from the wood. The latter, so we learned, plays a vital role at St. Kilian, which is very eager to experiment with differing wood types and combinations. Currently, the warehouses harbor no less than 232 different (!) kinds of casks!
By now, I have written quite a few words about St. Kilian and its whiskies – with special attention to the first 5 Years Old from that huge, custom-made St. John’s Oak barrel. Yet, I also want to tell you a bit about the virtual tasting, of course. It was really informative and diverting (despite the fact that it ran for more than two hours). In the beginning, a malfunctioning microphone and some unmuted guests produced a few “Spinal Tap” moments. But those were quickly solved; and at least to me they rather felt amusing than annoying. The moderators, Mario Rudolf (Master Distiller) and Thorsten Manus (Brand Ambassador), did a super job. They shared a ton of insights into the history, philosophy, vision and approach of the distillery. And they guided the over 500 participants through the line-up with knowledge, experience and an easy-going attitude. All in all, I absolutely enjoyed this Zoom event. It provided great entertainment, it contained lots of information and it gave me the chance to sip some excellent drops. Plus, I found it to be a great opportunity to grow closer with one of the most go-getting whisky forces in my home country. In this spirit: Go, St. Kilian, go!
Signature Edition Six (Single malt / GER / 3yo / 47.5% / Pino Noir casks / EUR 35)
Bud Spencer Unpeated (Single m. / GER / NAS / 46% / Bourbon & Amar. / EUR 40)
St. Kilian – The very 1st Cask (Single m. / GER / 5yo / 58.7% / St. John’s Cross Oak / EUR 60)
Bud Spencer Peated (Single m. / GER / NAS / 49% / Bourbon & Amar. / EUR 50)
Signature Edition Three (Single malt / GER / 3yo / 50% / Quarter casks / EUR 45)
Signature Edition Four (Single malt / GER / 3yo / 48% / Sherry casks / EUR 45)
Bud Spencer Feuerwasser (Chili cinnamon liquor / GER / NAS / 33% / unmatured / EUR 30)
St. Kilian @ Web: https://www.stkiliandistillers.com/
St. Kilian @ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stkiliandistillers/
St. Kilian @ Twitter: https://twitter.com/stkiliandist/
St. Kilian @Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stkiliandistillers/
*** I was invited to the tasting by St. Kilian Distillers. Thank you. ***